Case Study Format For Psychology Students Living

Abstract

This applied case study centers on two aspects of Peterson’s research as introduced into a large K-12 school in Australia: (i) creating enabling institutions and (ii) applications of character strengths. The paper describes five character strengths initiatives. Four of the strengths initiatives have been integrated into existing school experiences such as English curriculum, school sport, student leadership, and counseling. The fifth initiative involved a brand new program which introduced a Positive Education Curriculum for years K-10. We describe these five initiatives and then explain how students at the school may experience these in a more holistic and integrated way. We hope that this article will act as a fitting tribute to the legacy of Christopher Peterson.

Keywords: schools, character education moral education, strengths, positive psychology

Introduction

As one of the founders in the field of positive psychology, Christopher Peterson’s research has contributed to the rapid growth of positive education, defined as the application of positive psychological interventions in educational settings (Green, Oades, & Robinson, 2011). This paper focuses upon two of Peterson’s contributions – as applied to schools – enabling institutions and character strengths. We write from a practitioner lens and present a practical paper that shares some examples of the ways in which the Values-In-Action (VIA) classification system was embedded in various facets of a Kindergarten-12 school such as English curriculum, school sport, student leadership, counseling, and a new Positive Education curriculum.

Schools as enabling institutions

According to Peterson (2006), positive psychological interventions should not only be applied at the individual level but can also be directed at the institutional level to develop what he termed ‘enabling institutions.’ In his conceptualization of an enabling institution, he argued that virtues should be present within individual members of an institution and at the collective level. Peterson (2006) argued that schools need to be enabling institutions. More specifically, he identified ‘The Good School’ (p. 284) as one that fosters academic excellence whilst also contributing to moral fulfillment and he stated that schools must include ‘much more than the teaching of multiplication and verb conjugation’ (p. 284). According to Peterson (2006), schools must have moral goals that guide their members to be caring, responsible and productive people in society. While Peterson acknowledged the importance of ameliorating suffering and negative experiences in schools such as bullying, substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors, he urged schools to go beyond this ‘police department’ (p. 284) mode to put in place practices that systematically build character and well-being.

Character strengths in schools

How can schools be enabling institutions that build virtue? One approach may be to foster the development of character strengths. Character strengths are defined by Brdar and Kashdan (2010) as ‘pre-existing qualities that arise naturally, feel authentic (and) are intrinsically motivating to use’ (p. 151). Peterson (2006) argued that ‘we should develop and use as many strengths of character as possible’ (p. 157) and he also advocated that schools are ideal institutions to teach character. Character education seeks to insure that a student’s academic abilities are developed in unison with his/her character (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Lickona, 1993) which aligns with the positive education movement (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009). Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, and Smith (2006) argue that the experiences that students have at school can build character.

In order for schools to explicitly teach character, a well-planned curriculum is needed and the same level of research and planning that currently goes towards developing curricula for traditional academic subjects is required for developing character education (Waters, 2011; Waters & Scholes, 2013). Yet, Berkowitz and Bier (2004) argue that the field of character education lacks solid theory and research. In support of this claim, Leming’s (1997) review of 12 character education programs concluded that there was a lack of explicit theoretical perspectives for character education.

The school in the current case study turned to Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) classification system of virtues as a guiding framework for a strengths-based approach because of the theoretical development and empirical backing of the classification system. The VIA framework was developed by Peterson and Seligman (2004) with advice from a team of 40 contributors following five years of research development that used diverse research methods in order to find if there were a set of character strengths that are ubiquitous and morally valued across cultures. The development of the classification system included analysis of all major world religions for the virtues written about in scriptures, analysis of classic children stories from various cultures in order to identify the virtues displayed by the positive role models in the story, exploration of accounts of virtue by philosophers such as Aristotle, examination of contemporary virtue inventories (e.g. the Boy Scout codes), and analysis of the empirical research.

Following their analyses of the above sources, Peterson and Seligman (2004) theorized that there are six overarching virtues that are valued by all human beings. Within these six virtues, there are 24 subordinate, empirically measurable, character strengths: Humanity (love, kindness, and social intelligence), Wisdom and Knowledge (creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective), Temperance (forgiveness, self-regulation, prudence, and humility), Transcendence (hope, humur, gratitude, spirituality, and appreciation of beauty and excellence), Justice (leadership, fairness, and citizenship) and Courage (zest, bravery, perseverance, and honesty). 1

Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) theory has been tested empirically and it has been found to be positively related to well-being outcomes in youth samples. For example, in a cross-sectional study conducted with middle school students in the United States of America, Park and Peterson (2008) found that the character strengths of persistence, honesty, prudence, and love were negatively correlated with aggression, anxiety, and depression. Duckworth and Seligman (2005) looked at the specific character strength of self-discipline and its relationship to academic performance in eighth graders in USA. The results of their longitudinal study showed that self-discipline out-predicted IQ on academic performance. In a sample of Croatian university students, Brdar and Kashdan’s (2010) cross-sectional study found significant, positive relationships between the strengths of zest, curiosity, gratitude, and optimism/hope with life satisfaction, subjective vitality and a pleasurable, engaging, and meaningful existence. 2 In a cross-sectional online study of 501 Australian high-school students (aged 15–18 years), temperance, vitality, and transcendence were positively associated with well-being and happiness (Toner, Haslam, Robinson, & Williams, 2012). 3 These studies show a positive relationship between character strengths and well-being. However, the cross-sectional designs mean that causal conclusions cannot be drawn and it is still unclear if character strengths lead to well-being, if well-being fosters character strengths, or if the relationships are influenced by a third, unmeasured, variable.

The use of VIA character strengths framework to foster well-being in school students is relatively new and in addition to the four cross-sectional studies discussed above, three school-based intervention studies have been published. The Strath-Haven Positive Psychology program uses Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) VIA framework and was evaluated by Seligman et al. (2009) with 347 year 9 students in the USA using randomized control trials. Students were randomly allocated to Language Arts classes that contained the character strengths curriculum (intervention group) or the standard Language Arts classes (control group). The strengths program assisted students to identify their signature character strengths and to increase students’ use of these strengths in daily life. Pre-test to post-test between group comparisons revealed that the students in the character strengths curriculum reported greater enjoyment and engagement in school and these results endured through the two years post intervention at the end of the program. But there was no change in their levels of depression and anxiety. Teacher reports suggested that the program improved the strengths in students that related to learning and engagement in school such as curiosity, love of learning, and creativity. This is an important finding because teachers were blind to which students participated in the intervention group.

Proctor et al. (2011) examined the impact of Strengths Gym on life satisfaction, positive and negative affect, and self-esteem in middle school students (Year 8 and Year 9) from two schools in the United Kingdom. The Strengths Gym is a character strengths program that is based on the VIA framework. The researchers tested the effectiveness of the Strengths Gym using a quasi-experimental design which compared changes in satisfaction, positive affect, negative affect, and self-esteem over time between the intervention group (n = 218) and the control group (n = 101). Adolescents who participated in the character strengths-based exercises experienced significant increases in life satisfaction and positive affect from baseline to post-test when holding baseline levels of life satisfaction, age, gender, and grade constant. There were no effects for negative affect.

Madden, Green, and Grant (2011) designed and evaluated a strengths-based coaching program for primary school children (Grade 5; N = 38) in an all-boys, private school in Australia. The program was based upon the VIA character strengths framework and used the VIA-youth survey (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006). A within-subject design was used to evaluate the program whereby students were pre-tested and post-tested on hope and engagement. At post-test, students reported increases in hope and engagement. However, the study did not use a control group and so the authors cannot suggest causal interpretations. It may be that these increases in hope and engagement occurred due to factors other then character strengths.

Caution is required before generalizing the results of these studies given they were conducted within specific school settings, at only a few year levels and only tested in schools that are in Western countries. A greater body of evidence is needed to evaluate the use of VIA strengths framework across junior, middle and senior schools, across different school systems (e.g. public schools and private schools), in different countries, and with students of various cultures. We hope that this body of research will grow over time and a recent bibliometric analysis of the field of positive psychology shows that research in positive education is on the rise (Rusk & Waters, 2013) which suggests that we may see more research on the use of character strengths in schools.

Although it is clear that more substantial research is required into the effectiveness of the VIA framework (Quinlan, Swain, & Vella-Brodrick, 2012), the school presented in the case study below was satisfied with the positive results of the early research, and, thus, became an ‘early change adopter’ of the framework. There is an important tension to acknowledge here between the timelines taken in research to replicate the initial affirmative findings of the VIA Classification system and the desire for schools to employ positive practices. Ideally, implementation of the VIA in schools would happen only after the positive research findings have been replicated over time. However, it is not always feasible for schools to wait for the slow research process to unfold and schools’ do not wish to deprive their students in programs that might boost well-being.

The school in this case study is aware of the need to keep abreast of new research and to adapt the character strengths initiatives as new findings come to light by following a continuous improvement model. The school has a number of staff members who hold PhD’s and Masters Degrees and are trained in research methods, this team have taken on responsibility to keep abreast of ongoing research on character strengths and to use this research to continually adapt and improve the character strengths program.

In this paper, we seek to contribute to the growth of the field from an applied approach by presenting a case study that describes examples of strengths-based school initiatives. The paper describes five character-strengths initiatives. Four of the strengths initiatives have been integrated into existing school experiences such as English curriculum, school sport, student leadership, and counseling. The fifth initiative involved a brand new program which introduced a Positive Education Curriculum. The five initiatives will be described below.

The case: St Peter’s College, Adelaide, Australia

St Peter’s College was established in 1847 and is a K-12 private, boys’ school (enrollment n = 1299) in the city of Adelaide, South Australia. The school hosts both day and boarding students and is a non-selective school founded by the Anglican Church. In 2011, the Headmaster, Simon Murray, and the Senior Leadership Team, in consultation with the Council of Governors, made the decision to adopt positive psychology as a key approach to underpin their new strategic direction. Recognizing that the school had over 160 year history of fostering character development focusing on science of strengths was a key philosophy adopted across the school. In the past three years, character strengths have been woven into five student initiatives at the school. Some of these initiatives include the larger student body (e.g. sport and the Positive Education Curriculum) whereas other programs have been used with smaller, specific samples (e.g. eighth grade English Literature, senior school student leaders, and students who seek counseling).

Character strengths in English literature

In the study of English literature, students are expected to engage with the meanings and themes of literature. Teachers assist this process by applying a variety of interpretative tools in order to understand the authorial intent behind its composition. At St Peter’s College, teachers in eighth grade and eleventh grade have applied the VIA Character Strengths Model as a further tool to explore whether an understanding of character strengths deepens students’ text analysis of characterization in film and fiction writing.

Character strengths lessons were designed based upon Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) model. Students completed the Youth version of the VIA character strengths survey, thereby finding out their five dominant strengths, and well as their rank order profile of all 24 character strengths. The class was given an opportunity to discuss their signature strengths in pairs, encouraged to reflect on whether they would recognize those strengths within themselves. This process was then widened and applied to the whole class. Students were asked to write their names on five stickers and then place their stickers on their top five strengths across a display board that contained the whole 24 strengths. This allowed the students to communicate their strengths in a social and interactive way, as well as giving them an insight into similarities between different boys. The class then examined the group’s strengths profile as a whole.

This class activity was followed by a homework task, which required boys to reflect on an event in their past which saw them display one or more of their signature character strengths. This memory was then to be recounted in writing for homework.

In eighth grade, the students use the VIA framework to analyze Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and Franz Kafka’s novella ‘The Metamorphosis’– two works selected because of their artistic merit and thematic congruency. In eleventh grade, the students explored the characters in Shakespeare’s play ‘King Lear’ using the VIA Classification system. First, the teacher discussed plot, thematic motifs, and characters in order to secure a basic understanding of the text with students. The students were then asked to write analytically (following the Statement – Evidence – Analysis structure) about how the writer/director presented the characters in each work. Specifically, students were asked to explore the characters from a ‘character strength’ perspective.

The teachers observed that study of characterization using the VIA classification framework allowed student to ‘more readily step into the life of the character and to understand how the character feels.’ The teachers’ assessment was that students were more easily able to relate to characters from ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ ‘The Metamorphosis,’ and ‘King Lear’ because they could identify character strengths in the text characters that were also in themselves. Students also drew similar conclusions about the use of the VIA Classification system as a useful learning tool in English Literature. For example, one student commented:

I think that you can relate it to your own life. If you take the test and see what your own character strengths are and then you look at any fictional character like King Lear who is such a big and powerful character; but, you can still see that maybe if he finds it hard to express love. It makes you think, well where do I fit in expressing love and having love for other people.

A strengths-based approach in sport

Sport is a central and high-profile aspect of the culture at St Peter’s College. Sport is used as an activity to form school spirit and to connect positively with teachers outside of the classroom. Every student is required to play at least one school sport, training sessions are held at school, and all teachers are required to coach a sport. Many boys are in multiple sports teams. Research has shown a significant relationship between optimism and sporting performance (Lane, Thelwell, & Devonport, 2009; Norlander & Archer, 2002; Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thorton, & Thorton, 1990), yet some of the coaching of sport at St Peter’s College was occurring from a deficit-based approach with coaches focusing on correcting the weaknesses and errors of the student athletes rather than building up strengths and optimism.

In 2011, the school conducted a systematic review of coaching methods. Following this review, they worked with Mr Mathew Scholes 4 to implement the Positive Sports Coaching © (PSC) program. PSC was introduced as an innovative and positive way to coach sport that was aimed to enhance individual student engagement in sport and aligned with the overall well-being goal of the school. The program is built around the science of character strengths, optimism, and process praise. The program equips teachers, coaches, and players with strengths-based approaches for building sporting skills, team dynamics, and student well-being.

The school invested in training all Directors of Sport, the majority of teacher-coaches, and the key external sports coaches in the first half of 2012. The school also trained all students from year 8 through to year 12. Student sports captains and leaders were given two additional two-hour workshops and a one-hour debrief session with the Director of the PSC program.

The strength-based principles of the PSC program have been in place at St Peter’s for 18 months and the students, teachers, and parents are reporting positive benefits. One theme that has been reported back to the Director of Sport and the Director of Well-being and Positive Education is the use of strength-based praise amongst students on the field with many students now commenting, in the midst of the game, on the strengths that they see in other players such as courage, persistence, and team work. The coaches have infused strength-based language into their written game reports and this has broadened the types of players who now receive mention at the end of the game to include those who showed sporting prowess and those who showed strength of character. One coach commented on his focus of the role of character strength of forgiveness and has reported that the boys now quickly forgive each other for mistakes during the game which then allows them to re-focus more successfully on game strategy. He has also found that because forgiveness has become a major strength of the team’s culture, that boys feel more confident to take risks during the game which has extended their skills.

Students have observed that a strength-based approach has encouraged them to be more resilient following a loss because they draw upon strengths such as hope and persistence. Students made comments such as: ‘I am able to see the strengths of my team more easily;’ ‘We focus more on our strengths and how to use these to win and encourage each other now;’ and ‘Team spirit is much stronger since using the positive wheel.’

Using character strengths with senior students who hold leadership positions

Under the direction of the School Captain and Vice-Captain, the St Peter’s College student leadership group has explored leadership concepts using the VIA character strengths profile (Park et al., 2006). The School Captain and Vice-Captain invited the student leaders from all year levels in the school (n = 37) to participate in a half-day workshop to complete the VIA survey and used this as the starting point to co-create their leadership vision, mission, and goals for the year. The school leaders reflected on their signature strengths and how these can shape their individual leadership and form the collective leadership characteristics of the team. The student leaders were invited to reflect on the following questions: (i) When do you feel that you are able to use your strengths? (ii) Do you think any of your character strengths will inhibit your role as a leader? (iii) How can you use your strengths to spot the strengths in others? We believe that the student leadership strengths model enabled the team to quickly connect with each other and focus on how the dominant strengths of the team could either enhance or inhibit the group achieving their vision, mission, and goals.

Staff working with these students observed that the VIA model encouraged the student leaders to consider their roles from a ‘character’ perspective so that students see the operational/task aspects of their students leadership (e.g. monitoring the junior boys adherence to uniform regulations) and see the need to build character strengths and relationships in junior students (e.g. using wisdom to helping the junior boys with their studies). The student leaders were encouraged to consider how leadership can be improved by incorporating strengths such as forgiveness, humility, love, and temperance.

Strengths-based approach to student counseling

Character strengths can act as protective factors which help to mitigate psychopathology and enable flourishing (Park & Peterson, 2008). The school counselors have adopted a strengths-based approach and have worked hard to ‘re-language’ their counseling practice and expand their vocabulary to highlight student strengths, to frame problems from a strengths perspective as well as helping students to see potential strengths in their weaknesses. For example, a student who sees the counselor for his difficulty in sitting still in class or because he plays too roughly in the school yard can be helped by the counselor to understand these problems from deficit-based explanations (e.g. a lack of patience, lack of self-discipline, and lack of focus). But, the counselor can also facilitate a strengths-based interpretation such as having too much zest. Through this approach the student learns about his problems, but also about his strengths how his zest is a good quality but requires tempering in certain situations.

By adopting a strengths-based approach, the school counselors have now added therapeutic techniques from well-being therapy (WBT) to supplement cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) (Ruini & Fava, 2012). What this means is that the previous focus on assisting students to identify unhelpful and dysfunctional beliefs is now complemented with assisting students to surface adaptive strengths-based thinking. For example, if a student comes for counseling because he is experiencing distress in balancing his homework with his non-school obligations, the counselors will use CBT to help the student identify unhelpful or dysfunctional beliefs such as ‘I can’t cope with all the pressure’; ‘I am not smart enough;’ or ‘I am going to fail.’ By bringing these unhelpful thoughts into the student’s awareness, the counselor is able to help a student identify his automatic negative thoughts patterns such as: over generalizing and over personalizing.

In taking a strength-based approach, the counselors have added to their practice and, after surfacing and disputing unhelpful and dysfunctional beliefs they can use a WBT approach and ask questions that help to surface adaptive strength-based thoughts. For example, they may ask the student to talk about a time where the student did successfully balance their homework with their non-school obligations, ask the student what strengths they used at that time and ask the students to explore what they were thinking at that time. Examples of adaptive thoughts that might be surfaced from these positive examples include: ‘This is really tough, but if I use good time management skills and reach out to my friends, I will cope with this’ and ‘In the past I have achieved balance by using my strengths of self-regulation and hope.’ In this way, the counselors have helped the students to dispute the negative thoughts and have helped to connect the students with their own positive and adaptive thinking. The student can use this adaptive thinking the next time he experiences challenges.

The strengths-based approach has also expanded the diagnostic surveys given to students so that in addition to the standard measures of depression, anxiety symptoms, and stress levels, the school counselors also now administer the character strengths surveys and uses other positive psychological interventions. The interventions undertaken with students are now taken from the positive psychotherapy work of Seligman, Rashid, and Parks (2006) and Rashid (2009). This includes positive introductions, where the student is asked to identify his strengths, gratitude journals, family tree of strengths, savoring assignment, and putting strengths in action plan.

Positive education curriculum: From welfare to well-being

After 18 months planning, internal and external consultation, and staff training, St Peter’s College launched whole-school Positive Education curriculum. After significant professional development in well-being St Peter’s College staff have recognized that the world their students will graduate into will be one with many challenges. It was no longer satisfactory to rely solely on the traditional pastoral model (which was designed over 90 years ago). 5 Instead, the school recognized it could be doing more to systematically teach well-being competencies in order to prepare students to face adversity as well as assisting them to thrive during good times in their lives.

The St Peter’s College Positive Education curriculum is a developmental program that takes place within the School’s Anglican context. Overall, the curricula’s purpose was to enhance existing traditional pastoral approaches at the school with evidence-based approaches demonstrated to have impact. The aim was to boost students’ positive experience of school, engagement with learning, and develop their social-emotional development in an organized way (Noble, McGrath, Wyatt, Carbines, & Robb, 2008).

St Peter’s College Positive Education curriculum is unique in that it adopts a whole school systems approach to well-being and character strengths embedded within the schools strategic direction. Rather than relying on a handful of isolated programs, the curriculum is scoped and sequences and is linked to the School’s overall vision, mission, and operational goals in a coherent theoretical framework. Integration of the Positive Education curriculum was achieved by first educating the staff in the benefits of positive psychology and resilience 6 to de-mystify the program. Next, a collaborative inter-disciplinary team of over 55 staff in Junior and Senior Schools from K – Year 10 designed the Positive Education Curriculum.

The Positive Education curriculum includes one timetabled lesson per week (50 min) that focuses on teaching a systematic set of well-being capabilities employing four well-being programs and is reinforced in traditional pastoral models and student–mentor relationships throughout the school. In designing the curriculum, staff considered existing evidence-based programs that aligned with positive education programs, used contemporary well-being theory, and took a strength-based approach including McGrath and Noble (2003) Bounce Back! For Reception – Year 5, Boniwell and Ryan (2012) Personal Well-Being Lessons for Secondary Schools in Year 7, Gillham, Reivich, and Jaycox (2008) Penn Resilience Program in Year 8 and Reivich et al. (2007) Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum in Year 10.

This curriculum is taught from Kindergarten – Year 10. In each of these year levels, the students are introduced to the VIA framework in ways that are developmentally appropriate. For example, in the Junior School, a number of activities have been devised to connect students with character strengths including: strengths hands where teachers ask students to write their names on a traced version of their own hand and then write their top five strengths on their fingers as well as an example of how they use their strengths in the palm; strengths trains with each caboose representing a student’s strengths; strengths stars showing that students can ‘shine’ when they use their strengths; strengths trees for each class that forms a forest of strengths in the entrance to the Junior School with trees from all classes represented; and strengths shields to represent the strengths students can use when adversity strikes; Australian Rules Football shirts that nominate students strengths and form a visual representation of being part of the ‘class team’ that knows its collective strengths.

In the middle years, strengths activities have included the following: completing the strengths survey, exploring the difference between strengths and talents, spotting individual and class strengths, discussion of signature strengths in context of real-life and hypothetical scenarios (social, sporting and class room) clustering students into groups of ‘virtues’ and inviting them to compare the virtues each students identifies with, reflecting on paragons of strengths and reflecting on the strengths of others.

Bringing it all together

In order to outline the strengths-based changes that have been undertaken at St Peter’s College over the past three years, we have written about each of the initiatives separately so that teachers, school leaders, and administrators can gain ideas for how to infuse character strengths in particular areas across the school. Yet, in practice, the school has adopted the ‘shotgun’ approach to strengths suggested by Fordyce (1977, 1983) in that it has used multiple initiatives rather than one universal program. The students have, therefore, been exposed to character strengths via multiple initiatives across contexts. Over time, what we have observed is that these separate initiatives have combined to create a cultural tipping point where the strengths initiatives across the school are fusing to create a strengths-based culture. In this way, we believe we are moving towards Peterson’s (2006) ideal of an ‘enabling institution’ which fosters strengths within the individual members and also at the collective level.

In considering these new approaches through the eyes of our students, a typical picture may be a boy learning about his own character strengths, the character strengths of his fellow students, and the character strengths of his teachers through the Positive Education curriculum (Kindergarten – Year 10). The student then explores the use of his strengths on the sports field as well as having his strengths identified and valued by the coach after the game. If he is a sports captain (28% of students are sports captains), he will receive additional strengths-based training. If he is a student in a leadership position (23% of students in the school are in leadership positions), he will explore his own strengths and how these can be deployed in his leadership role. In eighth and eleventh grades, he will analyze famous characters in English Literature through the VIA model. If he requires assistance from the school counselors, they will use traditional diagnostic models to make clinical assessments but will also administer the VIA to help him explore how he can use his signature strengths to cope. Given that all staff have been trained in the VIA model, it is hoped that there will be many informal, spontaneous strengths-based conversations in the corridors, study hall, library, school yard, drama class, sporting field, and so forth.

Of course, we do not want to paint a falsely optimistic picture. Creating strength-based change at our school has been a complex and lengthy process. There has been healthy skepticism and some teachers have adopted the strengths-based approach more quickly than others. It has taken three years but we are now at the stage where nearly all students and staff in the school have identified their signature strengths.

Conclusion

Christopher Peterson played a foundational role in the development of positive psychology and positive education. Characteristically humble, in our personal conversations with Chris, he always delighted in hearing our stories of how we used the VIA framework with young people to develop greater virtue, self-efficacy, and well-being. The hope that schools, their staff, and students could reimagine their futures as enabling institutions through a strengths-based approach energized him and reaffirmed his mission to help us appreciate that ‘other people matter.’ We hope that this article is an adequate legacy to Professor Peterson and we know that his legacy lives on in the lives of hundreds of students and staff at St Peters’ College, Australia.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the support of Simon Murray (Headmaster) of St Peter’s College, the Senior Leadership Team, Zoë Alford (St Peter’s College School Psychologist), David McShane (School Counselor), the English Department, all staff, John Vrodos (School Captain) and Tom McNeil (Vice-Captain).

Notes

1. For more detailed information about the VIA, including peer reviewed research on its use, visit the VIA website at www.viacharacter.org

2. Brdar and Kashdan’s (2010) factor analysis suggested four overarching virtues, rather than six. The four virtues were defined as Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness. The twenty-four character strengths were all validated in Brdar and Kashdan’s factor analysis.

3. Toner et al. (2012) found a five-factor virtue structure: Temperance, Vitality, Curiosity, Interpersonal Strengths, and Transcendence. The twenty-four character strengths were all validated in the factor analysis.

4. Positive Sports Coaching: www.positivesportscoaching.com.au.

5. Pastoral care is an approach common in many Australian Independent Schools. It refers to systems, processes, and ways teachers nurture students beyond teaching traditional academic lessons. Each student at St Peter’s College will belong to a House and have a mentor who liaises with the Head of House and others. The objective is to insure that students don’t fall between the cracks and communicates regularly with parents. The team includes teaching staff, clergy, and counselors.

6. One hundred and fifty staff were trained in positive psychology and resilience by a team from the University of Pennsylvania.

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A Case Study Involving Influenza and the Influenza Vaccine
This interrupted case study presents a discussion about the benefits of the influenza vaccine between Mary, a nursing student, and her coworker, Karen. Karen is not convinced by Mary’s arguments in favor of vaccination, and she counters with seve...


A Diet to Die For
This clicker case is designed to lead students to a conceptual understanding of oxidative phosphorylation (and, by analogy, photosynthesis). Students begin with a pre-class handout that presents background information on DNP, a weight-loss drug that wa...


A Question of Responsibility
Most students are aware that asbestos is a health hazard, but don’t know that “asbestos” refers to a variety of minerals with both useful and harmful properties. In this case, students answer questions they have about asbestos in the ...


A Search for the Right Answer
In this role-playing case study on Parkinson’s disease, students learn about brain injury and brain repair mechanisms, the physical and psychological effects of a degenerative disease on a patient and her family, the ethics of fetal tissue resear...


A Simple Plan
This case study introduces students to Dr. E.L. Trudeau, who performed a seminal early experiment validating the germ theory of infection. Part I introduces Trudeau's Rabbit Island experiment, which is simple and easy for beginning or non-major student...


Abracadabra
This case introduces students to HIV, its life cycle, treatment, and problems associated with treatment options. The case, which incorporates critical thinking skills, active learning, self-directed study, and peer-to-peer learning, was developed for u...


African Illness: A Case of Parasites?
This case is based on a British patient presenting to a hospital with an array of symptoms after returning from an African safari. Students learn about potential causes of the symptoms based on the patient's potential exposure to parasites endemic to A...


Agony and Ecstasy
This interrupted case study explores the scientific, legal, and societal complexities of repurposing an illicit substance, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as "Ecstasy" or "Molly," into a clinically accepted medicine for treating po...


AH-CHOO!
As the carbon dioxide concentration of our atmosphere increases and our climate warms, the hay fever season seems to be getting longer and more severe. In this case study, students assume the a role of a public relations specialist contracted to commun...


All That Glitters May Not Be Gold
In this decision case, a congressional staffer must weigh a number of competing concerns and issues, including popular reactions to genetically modified organisms, in deciding how to present information to her boss, an influential congressman drafting ...


An Infectious Cure
This four-part interrupted case on phage therapy was developed for a freshmen non-majors course in molecular biology. The case begins with a story inspired by real events where Europeans imposed a treatment for cholera on the unwilling population of an...


And Baby Makes Four
This case study is based on stories reported in the media and is used to examine biological and ethical dimensions of assisted reproductive technologies, specifically egg donation and gestational surrogacy.  The case follows an Indian woman as she...


Anencephaly in Yakima
This case study explores the recent (2010 - 2016) outbreak of neural tube defects, specifically anencephaly, in a rural three-county region of Washington state, particularly Yakima, WA. The case study focuses on the biological aspects of teratogens tha...


Anthrax Attack!
This case study presents a fictitious bio-terrorist plan to release anthrax in the United States. Students are assigned character roles and, through research, role-playing, and teamwork, develop a plan to minimize or avert the attack. The case is appro...


Antibiotic Resistance
Resistance to antibiotics arose very shortly after these "wonder drugs" were first introduced.  This case study examines resistance to the most commonly used antibiotics, penicillin and its derivatives.  In particular, it examines a recent st...


Antibiotic Resistance in a Russian Prison
In this case study, students will have the opportunity to model the spread of tuberculosis and development of antibiotic resistance in a hypothetical prison environment. After reading a brief handout and viewing a short video, students play a simulatio...


Bad Blood
The ethics of human experimentation are explored in this case about the infamous syphilis studies performed at the Tuskegee Institute from the 1930s to the 1960s. Sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, 399 African American men with syphilis were ...


Biological Terrorism
In the weeks following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed to individuals in government and the news media. Thousands were treated for exposure, and five people were...


Bringing Home More than a Medal
This case study was inspired by the Zika virus outbreak that occurred around the time of the 2016 Olympic Games. Many athletes were fearful of attending because of the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly in infants. This concern, however...


BSL-4: Authorized Personnel Only
This case study is based on the 2014 Ebola epidemic that spread to multiple highly populated countries in West Africa, making it the largest and most devastating outbreak in the history of the virus. The storyline, inspired by a compilation of factual ...


Campus Outbreak!
This PowerPoint-driven case study follows the progress of three undergraduate students as they attempt to model the rapid spread of an influenza outbreak to determine whether their local newspaper's claim that "40% of the campus has the flu" is accurat...


Cancer Cluster or Coincidence?
In this interrupted case study students analyze the complexities surrounding identification and confirmation of cancer clusters. The case challenges students to consider the evidence from two different perspectives; a local family physician representin...


Cell Phone Use and Cancer
In this case study, students analyze a scientific study, first by analyzing news articles reporting on the research and then by reading the original research article. In working through the case, students identify the basic elements of a scientific stu...


Chickens and Humans and Pigs, Oh My!
Influenza is a common topic in the popular press and a point of interest for many students.  This case study was written to promote interdisciplinary connections between upper division virology and immunology classes.  Students that participa...


Childbed Fever
This case describes the pioneering work of Ignaz Semmelweis and his efforts to remedy the problem of childbed fever in mid-19th century Europe.  Its purpose is to teach students about the scientific method by "dissecting" the various steps involve...


Chimpanzee Droppings Lead Scientists to Evolutionary Discovery
This interrupted case study focuses on the research of Dr. Beatrice Hahn, who investigates DNA sequences in chimpanzee droppings in order to explore the origins of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Students first consider the types of data that c...


Closing the Gap
In this problem-based learning/role playing case, students apply their knowledge of the biology of HIV/AIDS and antiretroviral therapy to developing foreign aid policy for the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. The case was created for a non-majors...


Coffee and Cigarettes
This analysis case explores second-hand smoke and its impact on the decision to institute a smoking ban in the outdoor seating area of a popular coffee bar.  In working through the case, students discuss the medical, ethical, legal, and societal i...


Danielle's Difficulty
The incidence of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), including severe infection, has increased in both institutional settings and the general community. This case study presents the story of an elderly woman who spent time in a hospital and...


Decoding the Flu
This "clicker case" was designed to develop students' ability to read and interpret information stored in DNA. Making use of personal response systems ("clickers") along with a PowerPoint presentation, students follow the story of "Jason," a student in...


Dengue in the Landscape
This interrupted case engages students in issues contributing to the increase of dengue fever in Jamaica. The overall goal of the case is to make clear the connections between land use management and public health, specifically dengue fever. Students l...


Disease Along the River: A Case Study and Cholera Outbreak Game
This case study centers on an active teaching game that simulates a cholera outbreak among five villages along a river, similar to the Haitian outbreak of 2010. By enacting the behaviors of fictional villagers, students learn how trade, travel, sanitat...


Dr. Collins and the Case of the Mysterious Infection
In this case study, Dr. Collins must diagnose and prescribe treatment for a young patient with a serious infection. Students receive pieces of the case in a progressive disclosure format and answer questions about bacterial infection, antibiotics, and ...


Drug Wars: An Epic Tale of Asthma and Bacterial Pneumonia
This case study is based on real events that the author experienced with her 10-year-old daughter. Although the names have been changed, all of the events (symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, types of healthcare professionals) are recorded exactly as they...


Earthquakes Damage Cells, Too
Cholera is a commonly explored disorder when teaching transmembrane transport. Expanding on this theme, this case study also introduces intracellular and extracellular signal transduction, the physiological basis of rehydration treatments, and provides...


Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario - Is There an Effect or Not?
This case is based on an actual news release reporting on research about the effects of eating Lake Ontario fish contaminated with PCBs. Developed to teach students about statistical analysis and experimental design, the case has been used in a senior-...


Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario - The Clicker Version
This is a “clicker” adaptation of another case in our collection, “Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario: Is There an Effect or Not?” (2001), written by the same author. It encourages students to examine how scientific results get prese...


Ethnomedicine in Latino Communities of Madison
This PowerPoint-delivered case study guides the reader, a hypothetical student intern with the City of Madison (Wisconsin) Public Health Department, as he/she assists a physician who was awarded a grant to investigate the use of herbal medicines by Lat...


Face the Fats
This clicker case introduces students to the biochemistry of lipids through the story of Pete, a college student who begins to consider his nutritional fat intake after watching a commercial for the cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin. In this case, stud...


Family, Culture, Medicine
This four-part problem-based learning case examines cultural conflicts between Western medicine and non-Western traditional healing practices. Students consider notions of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism through the lens of social institutions, i...


Farmville Future?
Life has changed for the rural residents of Farmville County since the arrival of four concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); the air has an odor, wildlife has decreased, and illnesses are on the rise. One of the town's residents has become ac...


Fat Facts
It's Mother's Day and Dolly, a high school senior, is making a Mediterranean salad for her mom, who is a college chemistry major and who likes to take every opportunity to teach Dolly what she has learned in school. Today is no exception, as she guides...


From Cow Juice to a Billion Dollar Drug, With Some Breakthroughs in Between
Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Despite the successful management of diabetes with purified animal insulin, potentially severe side effects were abundant, and alternative ways to produ...


Hidden in Plain Sight
As nonliving entities, viruses face specific challenges when replicating in a host.  Avoiding the host immune system is something that every virus aims for in order to successfully reproduce itself and infect another host.  Many viruses repli...


Holes in the Matter
This case centers on a fictional group of young adults who studied abroad together in Scotland as college students. A number of them develop disease symptoms and die a few years after the trip. The cause of death is determined to be a prion disease. Ap...


Hunting the Ebola Reservoir Host
This one-hour introduction to the study of infectious diseases uses recent research on the Ebola reservoir host to motivate students to consider the characteristics of a viral host species and how it can be identified. Presented in the form of an inter...


I Can Quit Anytime I Want
This “clicker case” explores the biological basis for the temporary euphoria that accompanies drug use as well as certain aspects of the biological basis of drug dependency. The case is called a clicker case because it is designed for use w...


I Don't Need a Flu Shot!
In this “clicker case,” Ryan, a college student, receives an email from the campus health education office urging students to get a flu shot. Ryan thinks it is too late since he just had the stomach flu, and besides, even if he did catch it...


Inactive Brains
Two speakers have been invited to a town hall meeting to help decide a hotly contested issue. A grant has been awarded to the school district with the stipulation that the money be dedicated to only one program. School officials wish to use the funds t...


Indigenous Knowledge and the Search for Medicine
This case study is based on a real scenario in which a high-profile ethnobotanical study in Chiapas, Mexico, ended when local and international organizations accused the managing researchers of biopiracy. Students will explore how the Maya Internationa...


Is it a Lemon or a Lyme?
This dilemma case was designed for a junior level immunology course. It could also be used in a microbiology or bacteriology course where the emphasis is on treatment as well as disease. Although the case revolves around a particular microbe that cause...


Is the Data Dirty or Clean?
This case study challenges students to differentiate between anecdotal evidence and science-based evidence related to human health. The case uses a "flipped" approach in which students watch two preparatory videos prior to attending class. The fir...


Katrina's Troubled Waters
This case study explores some of the health issues brought to light during the flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. The case encourages students to think about a variety of problems that can occur when humans are exposed to unsanitary f...


Let's Get This Course Started
The first day of class is often a reading of the syllabus, even when active learning approaches are used throughout the rest of the term. This interrupted case uses the first day to model the expectations of a course that uses case method approaches. S...


MDR Tuberculosis
In this case study on multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis, students consider ways in which to preserve health as a human right without subjecting already marginalized communities susceptible to the disease to further discrimination. Students learn ...


Michael's Story
This interdisciplinary case study introduces us to the Greens, a family with a recently diagnosed autistic child. Autism is one of several disorders grouped within the acronym ASD, or autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children have problems with comm...


Microbial Pie, or What Did You Feed the Neighbors?
The Emergency Room seems busier than usual, and the cases coming in are all too similar.  Everyone seems to be suffering from the same symptoms - abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.  Once the hospital staff identify the bacteria ca...


Mini Cases in Psychoactive Drugs and Their Effects on the Brain
Designed for an upper-level psychology class titled Brain & Behavior, this series of mini-cases can be used in any undergraduate course that covers the major classes of commonly abused legal and illicit psychoactive drugs from a biological...


Modern Frankenstein?
This interdisciplinary case study uses the format of a progressive disclosure to explore certain advances in biotechnology and evaluate them within the framework of societal needs, concerns and pressures.  When faced with a heart valve transplant,...


Morgan: A Case of Diabetes
This case teaches about the causes and effects of Type 2 diabetes by working through the various options available to a young Native American woman suffering from the disease. The case can be used in a variety of settings, including nutrition classroom...


New Ways to Breathe
This case study follows a young cystic fibrosis (CF) patient named Lucas. Through Lucas's story and interactions between his parents and pediatrician, students learn about the scientific background and basis of CF. By reviewing email correspondence bet...


No Longer Fond of the Local Pond
When an elementary school teacher calls in sick to work, she finds out that she is not the only one who will be missing school that day.  Children from her fifth grade class have also become ill and parents are calling to report the absences. The ...


On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
In this case study, developed for an introductory environmental studies course, students grapple with the issue of air pollution, specifically the causes and effects of haze and smog as ubiquitous, persistent air quality problems that plague urban and ...


Patient Zero
Emerging diseases and potential pandemics make the news nearly every year. Students (and everyone else) may wonder where new infectious diseases come from, how scientists assess the risk of a pandemic, and how we might go about preventing one. This cas...


Pesticides
By simulating a public hearing, this case study requires that students sift through and organize information on pesticide use presented to them from the perspective of different stakeholders. The case asks a fundamental question, Can we do without ...


Resistance is Futile - Or Is It?
While the majority of people are prone to HIV infection, some individuals remain uninfected despite repeated exposure. This case study is based on the landmark paper by Paxton et al. (1996) that uncovered some of the mechanisms of protection against HI...


Resistance Is Futile, Or is It? The Clicker Version
This clicker case is an adaptation of a case by Annie Prud'homme-Généreux that was originally published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science titled "Resistance Is Futile ... or Is It? The Immunity System and HIV Infec...


Resurrection
This case study examines the molecular methods that were used to reverse engineer the 1918 influenza virus strain in order to try and solve the mystery of why it was so deadly. The story starts in the 1950s with the unsuccessful attempts to culture the...


Retro Goes Modern
This case study considers the evolution of HIV from SIV, as well as the evolution of HIV within humans by mutation rate. It also discusses the immune evasion proteins NEF and VPU, and how anti-retroviral drugs act to stall viral replication. Finally, t...


Return of the Whoop!
This interrupted case study outlines the history of pertussis or whooping cough, a disease that in the early 1900s claimed the lives of more people than diphtheria, scarlet fever, and measles combined. Whooping cough continued to afflict and kill a lar...


Revolt on the Tuberculosis Ward
Monique is a 30-year-old Haitian woman with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis who has been transferred from a tuberculosis sanatorium to a large general hospital in Port au Prince after developing a secondary infection with Bacteroides fragilis ...


Sex and Vaccination
This case study focuses on the controversy surrounding the decision by Texas Governor Rick Perry to mandate the compulsory vaccination of girls in the Texas public school system against the human papillomavirus (HPV) prior to entering the sixth grade. ...


Shannon and Jake
This case was developed to teach first-year medical students the basics of medical ethics. It describes a situation in which a family physician is treating a teenage patient for a sexually transmitted disease. Based on information she gives him, he is ...


Sick on a South American Sugarcane Plantation
This case study familiarizes readers with a disease that affects millions of people in Central and South America while illustrating a relatively uncommon route of transmission.  The narrative is based on reports of oral transmission of Trypano...


Statins Stat!
This case study describes a visit by "Naomi" to her physician, who upon seeing Naomi's bloodwork decides to prescribe her a cholesterol-lowering agent, a statin. The case discusses (1) the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as atherosclerosis...


Streams of Coal or Streams of Death?
Mary Beth was raised in Western Pennsylvania, an area where thousands of abandoned coal mines have led to extensive contamination of streams and associated ground waters. Aquatic life has clearly suffered, but the health effects on people living along...


Sunny Skies and a Lurking Microbe
Based on a true story, this case study chronicles the development of a wound infection that began as a minor cut that occurred while carrying out a typical household task (moving furniture).  Identifying the causative agent ultimately took three s...


Super Bug
Sam, a pre-med college student, routinely gets dialysis and develops a urinary tract infection. The infection is from a bacterium that the news media is calling a "superbug" from India. Sam does some internet searches to find out more information about...


The 1st New Disease of the 21st Century
This case study uses a PowerPoint (~1MB) combined with role-playing to present the epidemiology and pathophysiology of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Students learn about the etiology and pathophysiology of the disease, and then argue differ...


The Case of a Tropical Disease and its Treatment
This case study highlights the epidemiological and socioeconomic factors associated with a disease which plagues thousands of people in Central and South America.  The case follows the story of Adrian, a banana plantation worker in southwestern Co...


The Case of the Newborn Nightmare
Three newborns left in the care of "Dr. Mark Maddison" have developed a mysterious rash. Under increasing pressure from hospital administrators and distressed parents, the doctor must diagnose and treat the infants. Students are given discrete pieces o...


The Dilution Effect
In this case study students are provided with information for piecing together the story of how forest fragmentation and biodiversity loss can affect the risk of Lyme disease transmission to humans. The case introduces the dilution effect, a widely acc...


The Evolving Genetics of Disease Resistance
This interrupted case study for the flipped classroom applies evolutionary genetics research to human health. Students learn about a naturally occurring, but rare, allele of the CCR5 gene, CCR5-Δ32, which provides resistance to ...


The Haemophilus Vaccine
This case study focuses on a young mother whose child attends a day care center where there has been an outbreak of bacterial meningitis. The case explores the need for health care workers to provide relevant medical information and advice to patients,...


The Medicinal Use of Marijuana
Whether marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes has been contested for decades. The claims, counter-claims, issues, and judgments in this high profile controversy make it an excellent candidate for “intimate debate.” While simi...


The Modern Caveman’s Dilemma
During the Paleolithic era, human life expectancy was only 33 years—roughly half of what it is today. We owe our more extended lives in part to better hygiene, medicines, and more plentiful foods. Yet some people aspire to return to that earlier ...


The Mystery of the Blue Death
This historical case study describes the story of John Snow’s discovery of water-borne transmission of cholera in 19th-century London. Designed for use in a Global Health class, the case explores cholera outbreaks and their causes as well as mode...


The Never-Ending Contamination
This case study discusses a possible national security crisis of a terrorist group stealing radioactive materials in an attempt to build and detonate a dirty bomb over a densely populated metropolitan area. Specifically, this case discusses radioactive...


The Unfortunate Nurse
Dengue (pronounced "deng-ee") is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, usually Aedes aegypti. It is common in tropical regions, especially Southeast Asia, India, South and Central America, and Mexico. There is conc...


The Water in Weberville
This case study presents a realistic example of drinking water contamination within a fictional local community and leads students through an abbreviated human health risk assessment. Students are provided background information about the extent of the...


The Write Weight
Kasey is a busy undergraduate student who is struggling with her body image and wants to lose weight. To aid in this process, Kasey keeps a food and activity journal. Students review Kasey's food and exercise choices, calculate Kasey's daily caloric in...


To Spray or Not to Spray
In this case study, students grapple with the complex issues surrounding the use of DDT to control malaria in the developing world. In their examination of the issue, students consider risk/benefit analysis and the precautionary principle, two techniqu...


To Vaccinate, or Not to Vaccinate
The case was prompted by a newspaper story about a couple who refused on religious grounds to have their son vaccinated even though vaccination is a requirement for admission to the public schools. It explores the issues surrounding the necessity and c...


Tragic Choices: Autism, Measles, and the MMR Vaccine
This case explores the purported connection between vaccines in general, and the MMR vaccine specifically, and autism. Students examine results from the 1998 Lancet article that ignited and still fuels the anti-vaccine movement; students are t...


Tuna for Lunch?
This case examines mercury bioaccumulation and biomagnification within the context of the human health impacts of ingesting food (specifically, fish) contaminated with mercury. It was inspired by a 2009 USGS report on mercury in fish, sediment, and wat...


Under the Knife and Completely Aware
This case study is based on a newspaper article about the suicide of Sherman Sizemore shortly after he underwent an exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery).  After his surgery, Sherman experienced symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disor...


Vaccines, Social Media, and the Public Health
While the "vaccine controversy" has made headlines since the late 1990s, the emergence and popularity of social media has created a public opinion space bursting with pseudoscience, debatable claims and anecdotes regarding the value and importance of c...


When Work Makes You Sick
This case study was inspired by a real-life scenario, and follows the story of Roberto, a migrant farmworker whose health is impacted by the usage of pesticides on a farm.  With the help of a health care provider, Roberto becomes aware of the effe...


Why Was the 1918 Influenza So Deadly?
In this intimate debate, students examine the causes of the devastation wrought by the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. Students consider whether the 1918 flu was exceptionally deadly because of its biology, or whether prevalent geopolitical-socioecono...


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