Life Compass

Stress Tests of Character

How Stories Help Students Navigate Stress Tests of Character
We all face stress tests of character. In life, challenges are inevitable. How we respond is a matter of choice . . . or rather small choices over time that build habits of character. 
 
When we are under pressure -- when our brain is flooded with stress hormones -- we often encounter the biological drive to fight, flee, or freeze. 
 
In these moments, it’s easy to fall back on old habits, overreact, or give in to instinct. But as philosopher Dr. Steve Tigner wrote, these stress tests “put individual characters on trial in their most revealing ways, showing -- or betraying-- what they are really like . . . [They are] the test of heroes.”
 
How we respond to stress can give us a chance to grow -- and, in turn, this growth gives meaning to challenges. It allows us to say:
 
  • That was a tough project, but I am proud that I persevered and stuck with it.
  • It would have been easy to cheat on that assignment, but I chose integrity. 
  • I made it through that difficult situation; I am more resilient than I realized.
  • I chose to be kind even though the other person didn’t make it easy!
  • I was scared, but I chose to be brave, because it was the right thing to do. 

Virtues That Help Us Navigate Stress Tests
 
Stress tests highlight the practical need for developing character strengths such as courage, integrity, tenacity, respect, and compassion -- virtues that help us withstand the storms of life. 
 
Virtues that Support Academic Excellence
Virtues that Strengthen Relationships
Virtues that Help Us Navigate Challenges
  • Tenacity
  • Attention
  • Thoroughness
  • Curiosity
  • Intellectual honesty & humility
  • Empathy
  • Compassion 
  • Kindness
  • Respect
  • Gratitude
  • Courage 
  • Self-Control
  • Responsibility
  • Integrity
  • Hope
 
 
The Power of Storytelling
Virtues such as courage or integrity are not static. Courage will not look the same in every situation. True character education is multidimensional and dynamic -- sensitive to both the context and complexity of human experience. We learn more about character from a life than a lesson. 
 
That’s why storytelling is such a powerful character education tool. Stories capture lives.
 
Also, Our brains love stories because
  • stories are appealing, motivating, memorable.
  • stories help us develop a vision of who we want to be and how we want to interact with others. 
  • stories give us an opportunity to see how other people navigate life’s challenges for better or worse -- particularly their stress tests of character.  
  • stories help students see the scientists, mathematicians, and the people who occupy their history books as real people who struggled with internal and external challenges, just like we all do. 
  • stories can vividly show what virtues and habits look like in the real world -- and highlight the practical wisdom required to make strong choices under difficult circumstances. 
 
How to Use This Curriculum Resource
 
This curriculum resource offers tools and strategies that you can use in your classroom to help students navigate stress and develop their own character. We want to help students build the habits they need to make choices that align with their values when they face stress tests of character.
 
Each sample lesson is developed around the following structure:
  1. Objective
  2. Opener
  3. Activity
  4. Reflection
 
 
Use these additional tools to integrate lessons on Stress Tests of Character across the curriculum.  Offer students even more practical strategies to navigate challenges and learn to thrive.
 
 
 
 
 

The Stress Tests of Character was made possible with the generous support of a grant from the Kern Family Foundation and our partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

Copyright © 2020 LifeCompass Institute for Character & Leadership. All rights reserved.

For more information on this and other resources, visit The LifeCompass Institute.