Positive Mental Health Outcomes Produced by Character Group – Year 5 Leadership

My name is Matthew Bates and I am the resident counsellor for Character Care. I have been a team member and lead facilitator with Character Builders for the past 2 years. Character Builders frequently facilitate leadership and team building programs within school environments. There are certain year levels which are seen as leader cohorts, typically: grades 6, 8, 9, and 12. Leading into these school years, Character Builders provides programs tailored to prepare and develop student’s leadership identity, both individually and as a cohort. Recently I had the pleasure of working with year 5 students who were embarking on their final days of the school year, heading to grade 6.

Over my time serving as a facilitator, I have continuously witnessed the educational benefits of Character Builders programs. Students collaborate to identify positive character traits which are valued within their community. The interactive experiential learning allows the students to then implement these skills in a variety of activities. To conclude, students reflect on how their individual and communal character integrates into their preferred leadership style. By critically thinking and applying their experiences, students finish the program equipped to be leaders for their school and community.

From a mental health professional perspective, a variety of emotional and social intelligence dynamics are also enhanced. During the program, students are encouraged to communicate with others who are not necessarily in their usual social circle. Students are required to work together in order to complete challenges set for them. Under these circumstances, students must listen to each other, communicate effectively and encourage those around them. By days end, comfort zones have been extended and new relationships formed. Expanding one’s communication skills and abilities to converse with unfamiliar peers enriches social intelligence: a pivotal skill for leadership, working in the real world, and developing friendships.

Additionally, Character Builders incorporates public speaking activities into the program. Space is provided for students to present their strongest character traits and why these can be used for their desired leadership roles. Allowing students to rehearse an ‘off-the-cuff’ speech provides an avenue to emotional intelligence. Jerry Seinfeld’s famous joke about public speaking comes to mind: “Research shows how people fear public speaking over death. Meaning, people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.” Understanding how our bodies will react to fearful situations allows reflection to devise strategies for future instances where public speaking will be required. Considering the activity is performed in a safe space, students are able to test their abilities to speak in front of peers and without a script. Reflecting on our heart rate, breathing, speed of time, stance, vocal rate, and body language enables students to understand the normality of nervousness. At conclusion, facilitators unpack these reactions to equip students with knowledge, reflection, and confidence to speak publically.

Finally, the power of peer affirmation and validation. To conclude the day, Character Builders share how students were inspiring throughout the day, followed by students complimenting each other on their leadership qualities. During this exercise, a combination of social and emotional learning unfolds. Now that students have interacted differently to everyday school life and spoken publically in front of their peers, these skills are interwoven for the final act. My recent observation saw a remarkably empowering moment. One particular student was quite anxious to present during the public speaking activity. The lead facilitator guided the student through the process and was able to complete the task. When students were complementing each other during the final activity, this particular student received multiple affirmations from her peers. The cohort was inspired by the student’s courage to push boundaries. To have a cohort express their emotions socially presents the power of encouragement, confidence boosting, and self-esteem. The student will now move forward knowing they are accepted and appreciated by the cohort. The group as a whole, expressed terrific growth from beginning to completion in the realm of social and emotional intelligence: areas our modern society desperately requires attention.

From my experience working with year 5 students exemplified the benefits of the presented dynamics. At Character Care, our services are designed to extend on the applications from Character Builders in a therapeutic context. We believe and understand the power of group dynamics to develop character within individuals which best prepare people for their life issues. In our approach, therapy doesn’t have to conform to typical ways of finding our desired future. We incorporate experiential learning to push boundaries and comfort zones to build confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, and respect for others and most importantly, themselves.