High School

Research, Positivity, and Purpose Make P2 a Winner

By Peggy Gordon

Every year our administration reminded us that we must teach character education to the students in our care at the Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center. Every year we received resources for teaching character education, and every year we struggled to figure out how to implement the videos, articles, and “ideas” we received. To be honest, I just didn’t feel connected to any of the ideas we were getting. Of course, there are many reasons for teaching character education in schools, such as developing good citizens and helping students get along with others, but I always felt that there was something we weren’t doing that was key to the whole character education effort. Then my PE teacher came to me one day about four years ago and said, “I’ve found this new program called The Positivity Project. I think we should check it out.” He sent me information on the program, and I watched the introduction videos. We talked about it, and decided this was what we were looking for: a research-based, positivity-focused program that is well-defined and serves an easy to identify purpose – to build better relationships. We have been using P2 for about four years now; we were even able to continue using it during the pandemic when teachers were at home sharing lessons via the computer. 

The first thing I appreciate about The Positivity Project is the body of research that reinforces the power of the twenty-four character strengths and #OtherPeopleMindset. If you’ve ever been asked by a student, “Why do we have to do this?” you can appreciate research-backed ideas! I like that this isn’t just a few recent studies or surveys but a decades-long, ongoing research project that tracks a wide variety of data. It also expanded to include women and the offspring of the original group. When you ask kids what they think will provide them the most happiness in life, they never say “good relationships.” The Positivity Project reinforces that idea with solid information in a format that is meaningful and shareable with students. This is how we start our P2 program every year. I repeat it many times throughout the year as well as a point of focus because our population changes all the time, and it’s just a great starting place for answering, “Why do we do this?”

The second aspect of The Positivity Project I appreciate is its ability to blend seamlessly with our behavior management system. About ten years ago our facility took a hard look at what we were doing with our kids to manage behavior. As you can imagine, a juvenile detention facility has its share of behavior problems. People trained in corrections have a certain mindset that is based on safety, security, and often, punishment. While we have to maintain safety and security, our superintendent also felt that we have to consider the welfare of our youth in detention, and to that end, she brought in a team to help us shift our behavior management program to PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Once our program was designed and the staff was trained, the benefits we saw were immediate. Placing the focus on a positive outcome for detainees completely changed how people interacted with kids and one another.  The number and length of consequences dropped drastically. When I examined The Positivity Project, I saw immediately its connection to the framework of what we were already doing here. In fact, we were able to blend the #OtherPeopleMatter ideas right into our classroom rules that focus on Respect for Self, Respect for Others, and Respect for the Environment. Likewise, we are able to tie in the weekly character strength to our behavior management system as well as our curriculum.

The third appreciation I have for P2 is its well-defined purpose. This goes back to that original question of “Why do I have to do this?”, we often hear from kids. “What’s in it for me?” can be answered by simply stating that identifying, strengthening, and using your own positive characteristics to approach life will lead to a happier life. We have watched kids transform again and again, from disrespectful to respectful, from challenging to cooperative, and from ungrateful to grateful, just by modeling appropriate behavior, sharing learning experiences, and using character strengths to build relationships. My only male teacher uses our weekly discussion to talk to our boys about societal expectations and what it really means to “be a man.” He shares insights and ideas with them and tries to help them understand that gestures such as showing kindness and practicing forgiveness are not signs of weakness, but of immense strength. I stand in awe of the conversations he has with these young men some days.

 I can honestly say I have never felt so good about a character education program in my teaching career. I can actually see this program working every day. Each week that we touch on new strengths, we are all reminded of our potential to be better human beings. We have truly seen a transformation in our program since we began using The Positivity Project.

Peggy Gordon

Peggy Gordon earned a B.A in English from Shepherd College, an M.A. in Reading and an Ed.S. in Supervision and Administration from University of Virginia. She has been teaching and working at the Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center for twenty-three years. In addition to teaching English, she is the administrator of the education program and the librarian. She has also taught history, science, math, art and technology over the years, but is happy to report that she now has fully certified teachers to take her place.