Covid-19: an opportunity to develop character?

Sponsored: David Hodgkinson, secondary teacher, school governor and educational consultant, explores the importance of character strengths during the pandemic, and how William Shakespeare, Ada Lovelace and Gandhi can help

Students and teachers are feeling their way towards the end of an unprecedented academic year. Schools have been working hard to ensure there is enough support in place, but is there more we can do for our students?

Do these difficult times also offer an opportunity to help our students through the pandemic and beyond in developing character strengths like resilience, kindness, courage and persistence?

The pandemic has presented us with a defining moment to inspire our students to address their fears, and to teach them character. It is an opportunity for them to recognise and develop their strengths and true capabilities.

For independent schools, the development of character is at the centre of their educational ethos. Many have well-established programmes, which can rely largely on face-to-face teaching, and be difficult to replicate through remote learning. Amazing People Schools is a valuable resource for schools across the world. Amazing People Schools is based on a simple notion: great things come from great people.

To find and emulate greatness, you need to study such people, and be acquainted with their significant character strengths. Greatness is not measured in terms of financial wealth, but rather in terms of wealth of character. Dr Charles Margerison, the founder of Amazing People Schools, once suggested to me that it would be helpful for children to visit a museum, such as the Ashmolean in Oxford, and consider what it would be like to spend time with Elias Ashmole, the man whose vision is reflected in that building.

What qualities did Ashmole possess? Dr Margerison’s theory was that some understanding of the visionary insight which Ashmole possessed would inspire and enable future generations to follow his example, and to create something of lasting value.

Amazing People Schools takes just this approach, presenting people who have overcome all sorts of challenges to achieve extraordinary things. It features inspirational men and women from around the world including Harriet Tubman, Ada Lovelace, Shakespeare and Gandhi.

On the website, students can reflect on the character strengths of outstanding individuals through short first-person stories and complementary audio-visual materials. Pupils can see the character strengths in action, and their significance in that person’s life and work.

Worksheets, lesson plans, assemblies and other educational resources offer opportunities to reflect on and consider more deeply each characteristic. There is some fun to be had in the avatar builder, quiz and card collection. This content brings these giants of history alive and enables them to be seen in a practical way, taking it beyond theoretical discussion.

Amazing People Schools leads students to see that the characteristics themselves are key to success, and that such characteristics can be developed through practice which builds mental ‘muscle memory’. You first need to know what they are and what they involve, before putting them into practice. With practice comes strength, just as it does with physical exercise.

All this, like pursuing academic studies seriously, requires application and hard work. Great teachers draw out the latent potential of each individual and inspire their pupils to rise above any short-term or limited views which they may have of themselves. Often, such limiting views arise due to a lack of cultural capital or from a sense of not needing to work hard. Both mean that the true potential of an individual is not realised.

Teachers, though, include those from the past who have set great examples, and inspire us to aim higher. Seeing that those who have gone on to great things have themselves struggled, either emotionally or intellectually, can be a great inspiration for a pupil who is struggling with the next assignment from school.

“Amazing People Schools leads students to see that the characteristics themselves are key to success, and that such characteristics can be developed through practice”

Resilience is a much-used word in education, but how do we teach it? We can talk about it – or we can see it in action.

Charlotte Brontë epitomises resilience. Her life was far from happy. She had to hide the fact that she was a woman to get her work published, and yet she was a literary genius whose work is much read today. Her experiences can inspire us all to see that, however difficult the situation, to succeed we must keep going. This is resilience in action, not mere theory.

Amazing People Schools resources present powerful characteristics in a simple yet profound manner that speaks directly to young people. The assemblies, lessons and activities on offer can inspire the next generation to aim high – higher than they may currently think possible.

“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education” – Martin Luther King Jr.


Amazing People Schools contains everything prep and secondary schools need to build their own cross-curricular character and wellbeing programme in the new school year. Sign your school up for a free trial.


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