The Virtues Programme

The mission of the Virtues Project is to provide empowering strategies that inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life. The Virtues Project originated in Canada in 1991 and is now practiced in over 100 countries across the globe. Frankton School has been involved with the Virtues Project since 2005. 

A core principle of the Virtues Project is that everyone has the virtues-gifts of character within them. Virtues can be defined as ’those habits of the head, heart and hand that enable us to know the good, love the good, and do the good’ (Ryan, 2007) Virtues are non-denominational, culturally inclusive and have no gender bias.

In 2018 we were affirmed by the Education Review Office who stated that “The school prioritises the virtues programme which is based around restorative practice and focuses on building healthy relationships. Students can speak confidently about virtues and how they, contribute to their safety and sense of wellbeing.”

At Frankton School we focus on using the language and strategies of the virtues to develop character within ourselves and others.

These strategies are:

Speak the language of the Virtues: We use virtues language to acknowledge, guide, correct and thank.

Recognise teachable moments: We use opportunities in everyday events to help ourselves and our students recognise the virtues needed to manage daily challenges.

Set clear boundaries: We set clear personal and professional boundaries based on respect and responsibility. We use the language of the virtues to communicate our boundaries, so that expectations are clear and specific and that our consequences are relevant, specific and educative.

Honour the spirit: We honour and respect each individual for who they are. We respect the unique experiences and perspectives that make each of us who we are. Honouring the spirit frees us from being judgemental.

Spiritual companioning: We are deeply present when we listen to others.  We do not judge or try to fix. We listen with compassionate curiosity to help others make meaning and create their own solutions. When we companion others we build trust.

The Virtues Project is not about the practices or beliefs of any particular religion.  It is based on the simple wisdom of the world’s diverse cultures and religions about living by the best within us – courage, honour, justice, kindness and all of our innate virtues.

It is easily integrated into our existing culture and children learn within the context of what they experience in daily interactions within classroom and playground.

It is also important that character education appeals to the diverse learning styles which children have – visual, auditory, kinesthetic etc.

The 5 Strategies of the Virtues Project

  1. Speak the Language of the Virtues

  2. Recognise Teachable Moments

  3. Set Clear Boundaries

  4. Honour the Spirit

  5. Offer the Art of Spiritual Companioning

Expression among indigenous cultures and Maori is “I see you.”  To see a child in light of his or her virtues is to nurture the moral champion within that child.  Teachers have enormous power in children’s lives.  This comes primarily from the value you see in a child’s being – whether you see a child in a positive or negative light.  American Indians of North America speak of the “Four Medicines” or personal powers we have:

The Power to See
The Power to Hear
The Power to Speak
The Power to Act

Awaken the Virtues in Every Child
It’s really important to find SOMETHING about each student which you can legitimately appreciate and enjoy.
Every child needs to see someone’s eyes light up in recognition, with a look which says “I see you, and you matter to me.”
By identifying a virtue and naming it, you will see their eyes light up in recognition – of their own value.

Three fundamental ways to use the power of language to awake the innate virtues in students, thereby bringing out the best in them:

To ACKNOWLEDGE or praise them for a virtue they have practiced
Correct and GUIDE or prepare them to practice a virtue
To CORRECT or remind them when they have “forgotten”  themselves and failed to practice a virtue, when they’ve down  something wrong or made a mistake.

The Latin root of the word “virtue” is “Virtus” meaning strength, power, capacity, and energy.  Naming a virtue encourages its mastery and communicates the message “You have this power.  I see it in you.”  Don’t dilute the power of acknowledgement by adding a lecturette about how the child should try harder.  Just let the acknowledgment stand.

  • The Language of Virtues is Specific, Clear, and most important of all, easily internalized.  It builds authentic self-esteem without over-dependence on approval.  General terms “good girl” etc., are too general for children to internalize and promote people-pleasing.  Giving specific virtues acknowledgment, is different than making general statements of praise which can create guilt.  It is not helpful to label a child in any way, positive or negative.  We don’t say:  “You’re such a kind boy”.  We say “It was kind of you to show our new student where to sit.  I’m sure it made him feel welcome.”
  • Speak the Language of the Virtues to Guide – “Don’t run”, focuses on running, “Stop fighting” focuses on fighting and doesn’t give them a positive focus for what you want from them.  Focus on what we DO want them to do is far more likely to obtain positive results.  “Be considerate.  Walk in the hallways” encourages them to walk.  “You need to work that out peacefully” encourages peacefulness.
  • When a positive statement of what we do want from them is linked to a virtue, it has the greatest impact.  It engages their moral and spiritual awareness. At times we can ask for a commitment to practice a virtue:  “Please raise your hand to show you are ready to be considerate.”

1. Speak the Language of Virtues to Correct

Give a Virtues  Correction to stop misbehaviour, restore justice and build  conscience, eg “How could the two of you have worked this out  Peacefully instead of fighting?

  • When you correct behaviour by focusing on a virtue you are practicing assertiveness rather than aggression.  You are modelling Justice.  To say to a student who’s bullying others “You’re such a bully, I’m calling your parents, and you just can’t treat people that way” is name-calling, labelling, shaming and non-specific.  It fails to educate.  To say to a student who is bullying “Jarrod, you need to be peaceful.  How can you be a friend to other children even when you’re angry?  How would a friend act?  What kind of person do you really want to be with others?”  This way you are calling the student to the virtues of peacefulness and friendliness and holding out hope that he will indeed respond because he HAS the virtues within him.
  • We need to focus on virtues rather than judgemental statements of good or bad; we are creating a context for character, a climate of meaning.  At the core of every meaningful action is the intent, and that intent is always reflective of one of the virtues.

Name the Act, Not the Actor –

How to Give a Virtues Acknowledgement

  • I see your kindness in helping our new person settle in, Sally.
  • I honour you for your kindness in the way you helped Sally.
  • That showed a lot of kindness when you helped our new student.

How to Give Virtues Guidance

  • We need to be kind to our new student.
  • You need to be patient while you wait to go into the hall.

How to Give a Virtues Correction

  • Please be kind to Sally, not teasing but friendly.
  • What would be a kind way to say that?

2. Recognise Teachable Moments

Virtues are the best tools for Social  skills, since they embody the reason one must interact well with others  – to be kind, to be caring, to be a good friend, to be respectful and so  on.

  • Be a Teacher, Not a Preacher – One of the greatest gifts you can give your students is your commitment to bringing out the best in them.  Ask them what Virtue do you need? This can help students to recognize the Teachable Moment, whether facing academic challenge or at a time when they need to change their behaviour.
  • Use Virtues, Not Labels – e.g someone bringing homework in late, “Hey Day Late, it’s about time you remembered your homework.”  Instead, the teacher has the opportunity to recognize the student’s mastery at that moment, by saying “Joe, good reliability!  You turned in your homework on time.” In speaking the Language of Virtues in this Teachable Moment, you are reinforcing the practice of the virtue the student has shown are giving them an anchor for the meaning of what they have done.  The meaning is in their reliability, or self-discipline, or orderliness – the personal practices which produced the act itself.  This inspires students to act on the gifts within.
  • Be a Conscience Maker, Not a Conscience Breaker – the goal of a virtues-oriented educator is to help students build a strong conscience.  Many young people today believe that something is right “as long as you don’t get caught”.  Punitive approaches to character building have produced a combination of fear of authority, people-pleasing, rebellion and free-floating guilt.  Some habits that make Conscience:-
    • Using “Time Out” constructively e.g replace naughty chair with “Courtesy” Chair, or the table of respect, commitment, consideration, responsibility etc.
    • Naming virtues when you see them practiced.
    • Calling students to a virtue that needs to be practised. eg “I call you to the virtue of..”
    • Giving consequences when they are called for
    • Noticing and acknowledging efforts to improve

3.  Set Clear Boundaries – Create a Safe Haven

 A Virtues Project  school offers:-

  •   Naming virtues, not shaming
  •   Mentorship, not censorship
  •   Reflection, not rejection
  •   Restitution, not retribution

The Virtues Project is an Holistic Approach to preventing violence by creating a culture of character, an atmosphere of inclusive friendliness, mutual trust, caring and kindness where these virtues are valued as much as academic achievement.  Integral to a culture of caring is a disciplinary system based on peace and justice, focused not on retribution but restitution.  The way authority is used – the leadership style of teachers, senior leaders and principal, and admin staff – are the key in creating a culture of character.
The Virtues Project is An Educative Model of Authority – it teaches that authority should never be a power struggle, never be about dominance or people-pleasing and the core principle of virtues based discipline is ALWAYS USE AUTHORITY IN SERVICE OF OTHERS.  This fits in with our mission of being active citizens, locally, nationally and globally at Frankton.
The goal of effective authority is to enable children to develop their own inner authority, a sense of personal responsibility and accountability.  It empowers them to make conscious moral choices.
Authority is Leadership – The element which shapes the culture or climate in the classroom is the leadership style of the teachers and administrators.  Do they use their authority to overpower or to empower?  Are they merely punitive or are they educative?  If we are willing to accept the responsibility of leadership as service, we must sacrifice the wish for our students to like and agree with us at all times.  A good coach doesn’t consult an athlete about whether he feels up to a regime of swimming every morning at 5 am.  A good coach takes the responsibility to take the athlete to the edge.  There is an appropriate way for teachers to use authority and not with the outmoded authoritarian approach.  In the educative model of authority, the boundaries are rules for living – not mere retaliations or punishments.


Where would you like to be?  See examples at the end of the booklet.

Establish Restorative Justice by Listening – when we identify the virtues needed in a disciplinary situation, we’re helping to focus the student’s awareness on meaning and mastery.  What did the student’s action mean?  What was the meaning or intent behind their behaviour?  They always have a reason and needs to be heard before you can redirect them to a virtue they could have used to replace helpless anger or attention-seeking behaviour.
In retributive justice the teacher or administrator is a detective asking
What was the crime?
Who did it?
How should they be punished?
In restorative justice, the teacher or administrator is a mentor asking
What happened?
Who was hurt? (including the perpetrator)
What do you need?

For full restitution to be made, the questions to be asked are:
What virtue could have been practiced?
What amends can be made?

Restorative Justice is all about the importance of RELATIONSHIPS – the maintaining, building, restoring, re negotiating.  At Frankton we build on Restorative conversations – ways of speaking that apply certain ideas.

The meanings and names we give to events relate to who we are.

  • We perform our identity in the conversations we have with others.
  • Restorative Justice is to do with concepts discourse, agency (personal power – able to act in a way consistent with our beliefs/values), power and knowledge and is based on constructivism.  We live our lives through stories. We take certain roles/positions within these stories.  How we name something determines the action e.g. The little guys, out in the playground running up to each other and pulling down pants. Their behaviour could be labelled as silly behaviour or sexual deviance.  Who has the power to name determines the consequences of who benefits.  What becomes sayable? Doable? Hearable?  What kind of intervention will you follow.  What kind of relationship between ….and……becomes available?  NB Examine the names given to events.  RENAME – REFRAME for another perspective – this opens up other possibilities for practice.
  • What kind of values, beliefs and assumptions are behind the name?  Instead of making a judgement ask curious questions that allows others to elaborate, expand, clarify, give more details (these are scaffolds) to check for meaning.  Do you mean……..  Sometimes it’s difficult to get to the truth.  The reality of dealing with children and adults is that:-
  • We expect that people will see the world differently and they will name different realities.
  • There will be many truths about the same event and no-one will have ‘the truth’.
  • There will be contradicting participants of the same event.

We don’t always have to do for a solution.  Curious questions give the parties an opportunity to talk and get in touch with their beliefs and values.

What can we do?

  • Accept that different people might make different meanings of the same   events.
  • Inquire about each person’s version of events.  Let them tell their story.
  • Ask questions with genuine curiosity rather than make assumptions (be curious about their version of events rather than trying to establish the truth)
  • We can have conversations with each other that aim at shared understanding and the exploration and articulation of different meanings.  (notes from Maria Kecskemeti’s paper Restorative Conversations)

4. Honour the Spirit

  • Virtues give us a common language for addressing the spiritual dimension.  It is essential in a pluralistic society in which children may or may not be religious, and if religious, are likely to be of different religions.  Religion is a specific code or system of belief.  Values are things we think are important and tend to be culture-specific.  Virtues are universally valued by all cultures.
  • The most empowering way to create a safe, caring respectful, learning environment is not only to require it but to inspire it.  In speaking the Language of the Virtues and finding the Teachable Moments each day, we are Honouring the Spirit in our students.

5.  Offer the Art of Spiritual Companioning

  • Companioning is walking along with another, not pushing or pulling them, but being present to them and offering them clarifying questions which help them to find their own wisdom.  It’s called “spiritual” because it goes beyond problem solving to the meaning, intent and virtues of a situation.  It strengthens character by calling on the virtues at the heart of the matter.  Spiritual companioning is given in a spirit of trust in the other person’s process, seeing others as spiritual champions capable of learning their life lessons.

The 7 Steps of Spiritual Companioning

  1. Open the Door – initiate the conversation, ask door opening questions as: “What’s up? “What’s happening?” “What is it?” “What kind of a day are you having?”
  2. Offer Receptive Silence – gives others space to speak fully to tell whole story without interruptions.
  3. Ask Cup-Emptying Questions – your goal is to help them empty their cup, get to the heart of the matter, ask open-ended questions and show the utmost non-judgemental curiosity.
  4. Focus on Sensory Cues – don’t detract or distract – give attention, if they are describing something, repeat back to them phrases that describe their physical sensations.
  5. Ask Virtues Reflection Questions – What would be a kind and assertive way to solve this?  What does your integrity tell you?  What feels like the right thing to do?  What would give you the courage to…?  What is a fair way for you to make amends?  What do you need?
  6. Ask Closure and Integration Questions – These 2 questions help the person to integrate thinking and feeling and to reach closure.  What has been helpful about talking?  What is clearer to you now?
  7. Give a Virtues Acknowledgment – always end with this e.g “I see your courage.”  “I honour you for your loyalty to your friend and your integrity to do the right thing.”  “You showed humility in taking responsibility for what you did.”
  • What if Kids Go Silent?  Adjust your attention so that you are focused in a warm, compassionate, detached way.  They will feel your tension if you are waiting for them to say something.  They will also feel your peacefulness of your silent companioning.  Ask door opening questions.  “What’s happening with you?  If the silence continues, as “What’s the hardest thing about talking?”  If you are running out of time and they are still silent, say “Whatever it is seems really hard to talk about.  I just want you to know I’m here if you need me.”
  • Companioning Someone in Anger – Companioning is not agreeing or disagreeing.  It is hearing someone’s point of view fully in a detached way, making no judgements, just totally curious to hear it all!  Bear in mind that most anger stems from helplessness and an individual feeling that their sense of justice has been offended.  “I hate this f…ing school!” Ask “what do you hate?”
  • Don’t Get Furious, Get Curious – If a child’s expressing anger towards you, you want to avoid escalating the anger by reacting with your own.  You may decide to ask something like “I can see that you are upset.  What would help you to accept this situation right now?”  Don’t argue or explain their point of view.  Get curious about what their perception is.
  • Set Boundaries – companioning is an attitude, many companioning situations are very brief, e.g looking at a wound and commenting on how it looks, “That’s really swollen.”  It is important to put boundaries around when you companion.  Do not companion if you have not got the time or energy at that moment.  If you have limited time listen and tell the person “I can spend 10 minutes with you,” or “I only have 2 minutes but I will give you my full attention for that time.”  Take responsibility for allowing time for closure by giving a warning – “We have 2 minutes left.  What do you need to say?”  Always end with a Virtues Acknowledgement specifically related to what you’ve shared.  “I really see your courage for facing this tough problem.”  “I honour you for your honesty with yourself.”


  • NB This is a quick brief overview of The Virtues Project.  The Educator’s Guide has excellent activities for teacher in classroom and across the school.  One of the targets in our Charter that we report to the Ministry is on Behaviour Management.  Our results in the Virtues Help Room show a downward trend in physical aggression incidents in the playground.
  • 2005 was a year of teachers experimenting with the Virtues in their classrooms.
  • 2006 Professional Development for all staff and a Virtues Implementation Plan school wide developed with Staff


Special acknowledgement to Linda Kavelin Popov’s “The Virtues Project Educator’s Guide.” Thoughts and notes compiled by Judy Dixon for Frankton School Staff. for resources, more information