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Group study guide

Virtue education works best when done with a community of like-minded friends, such those found in educational contexts, discipleship groups or formation groups in a theological school. This site is meant to be a tool to help both participants and leaders of such groups.

Here you will find a study guide for leaders. It is not meant to be prescriptive, but may be useful if this is your first time leading a group in a virtue education project.  There are, in fact peculiar dynamics in virtue education and you may benefit from some general suggestions and 30-week programme.

General suggestions

Let’s start with some general suggestions.

  1. Lead differently.  Leading a group in a virtue education project is a peculiar task and you need to tailor your leadership style accordingly.  This is not, for example, as set of TedTalks or a Bible study group where you as a leader talk most of the time and others engage with questions.  Nor is it a prayer or therapy group where everyone has a turn to talk about what is happening in their lives. It is a group of like-minded adults that have independently decided to work on their character and to be accountable to each other.
  2. Lead as a guide-on-the-side.   Since each person in your group has made a personal commitment to grow in virtue, there is a sense in which everyone is self-led, self-motivated and responsible for themselves.  Your role as a group leader is not to drive the herd, nor to stand up and call others to follow you.   You are there to facilitate, coordinate and to create a context of accountability.
  3. Habituation will be the hardest part. Once you have walked with the group through the initial excitement of #1 – Envision and the discovery phase of #2 – Test, you will enter the long walk of #3 – Habituate.  There will not be much happening in terms of novelty, as each group member is simply putting their plan into practice with constancy and waiting to see the gradual development of moral habits.  This can be boring, and can represent the point of distraction, de-motivation and quitting.  But this is where the real change happens and it will be your challenge as a leader to keep prodding and providing contexts where the group can encourage each other toward completion.
  4. Don’t be impatient.  Do you remember Donkey on the long journey in the cartoon Shrek? He was continually asking ‘Are we there yet’?  Don’t do this.  Refrain your group from continually checking on their growth during habituation.  In most cases it will be so slow and imperceptible that it will be a useless exercise.  Focus instead on constancy.  Then, when the right time comes after months of habituation, lead in the activities of #4-Reflect and growth assessment.
  5. Careful of group size.  This kind of project may not work well in a very large group.  If you have more than a dozen or so in our group, you might consider having more than one group.

A 28-week programme

Here is a suggested programme that can help you lead your group through a virtue education project.

Don’t be frightened by the figure 28 weeks!  If you have less than 28 weeks available, cannot meet every week or have shorter meeting times, feel free to adjust planned meetings or assign individual work.   It is best however not to shorten the practice time iof 16 weeks, as this is a necessary ‘incubation’ period to develop new habits around virtue.

This programme might also be organised as a retreat, where you meet once to concentrate on the first and second phases, assign the practice phase to individual work, and then meet again for the final phase.

Week 1:  Start here
  • Introduce the project and emphasise the practical nature of it.
  • Introduce the site virtueducation.net.
  • Use the materials in #1.1 Start here .
  • Go through and discuss the five outcomes of virtue education.

Week 2:  Why character and virtue?
  • Introduce the first phase that entails more theory.
  • Use the materials in #1.2 Why character and virtue.
  • Invite definitions of virtue, take some time to search the internet and share findings.
  • Talk about character and how the virtues are related.
  • Discuss the importance of virtue education.

Week 3:  Exploring the roots (1)
  • Introduce the importance of exploring the roots of virtue education.
  • Use the materials in #1.3 Exploring the roots.
  • Discuss the vision of Aristotle and of other global traditions in virtue.  Invite contributions that might enrich the list.
  • For Christian groups: Initiate a discussion on how virtue is present in Christian theology and in the Bible, give some examples and discuss them.
  • Assign homework for next week where everyone brings at least one example of virtue from a tradition or from the Bible.

Week 4:  Exploring the roots (2)
  • Tap into the resource  Virtues in the Bible and investigate further on what the Bible has to say about virtue. You can also use some of the suggested ideas in #1.3 Exploring the roots.
  • Non-Christian groups might, as an alternative, tap into the resource Selected Resources on Virtue or explore TedTalks on the virtues.
  • This activity can last more than one week if you’d like to explore deeper.  You can also come back to this exploration later,  as something to keep the focus on virtues alive during the Habituation stage (see below).

Week 5:  Committing to the plan
  • The purpose of this meeting is to make a commitment as a group.
  • Explain the outline of the four-stage plan in #1.4 Committing to the plan.
  • Initiate a discussion around the checklist.
  • Lead the group in making a commitment.  This might be in writing, or verbally to each other.  Also include in a commitment to openness and sharing results and struggles in the group.
  • Christian groups can consolidate this commitment together in prayer.

Week 6:  Prepare and take the Virtue Test
  • This meeting marks the second stage of self-assessment.
  • Read James 1 and discuss the importance of self-assessment.
  • Use the materials in #2.1 Preparing for the test to explain how the Virtue Test works.
  • Take the Virtue Test together: #2.2 Take the Virtue Test.  Everyone should have their own device to take the test.  Allow about 20 minutes.  This is best done in silence as the questions are randomised and each group member will be answering different questions at any given time.
  • Make sure everyone has their results (also check emails) but do not discuss or share them at this point. Create some anticipation for the next week.

Week 7:  Understand your results (1)
  • In this meeting the group will share the results of the Virtue Test and interpret the results.
  • Let everyone share their test results from the previous week.
  • Discuss the numerical meaning of the test and why the test needs to be tested.
  • Go through the ‘think vices’ section and engage with the table on excess and defect.  Allow each group member to think aloud on their results in the light of this further information.
  • Use the materials in #2.3 Understand your results.

Week 8:  Understand your results (2)
  • It is good to have two weeks to think about the results before making a choice.  This week you will look closer at each virtue and lead in making a choice.
  • Briefly go through the description of each of the 13 virtues that are linked in #2.3 Understand your results. You might want to create small groups and then allow sharing together.
  • Then instruct everyone to select the one virtue they are thinking of working on and to take some time to search further on the internet. When the are done, allow some sharing.
  • Use the materials in #2.4 Select a virtue to lead everyone in the group to make a choice related to a virtue they wish to work on.
  • Assign the project of creating a visual reminder for the following week.

Week 9:  What habituation is
  • Here you are introducing work in stage 3.
  • Explain and lead in discussions around the materials in #3.1 What is habituation?
  • Give everyone some time to begin drafting a habituation plan.
  • Homework for next week: begin working through the  questions in #3.2 Planning for virtue.

Week 10:  Planning for virtue
  • Let everyone share their draft plans from the previous week.
  • Engage with the materials in #3.2 Planning for virtue.
  • Give extensive time in the meeting for personal work for everyone to complete their habituation plan using the suggested list of questions.
  • Ask everyone to share their plan with the group.

Week 11:  Beginning habituation
  • This meeting marks the beginning of the actual habituation practice.
  • Let everyone share their draft plans from the previous week
  • Go through the final tips in #3.3 Just do it and share commitments to a time frame, reminder mechanisms, accountably dynamics, journalling ideas and (for Christian groups) prayer support. Also mark a date where your group will complete the habituation time frame.
  • You might organise a small group event to mark this beginning, such as a special commissioning meal.

Week 12-27:  Practice habituation
  • This is the longest stage in which nothing really happens beyond the regular habituation of each group member.  A good indicative time is about 4 months (15 weeks).
  • During these weeks you may meet as a group to do other things, or you may not meet at all.
  • If you do meet regularly, you may consider digging deeper as a group into the topic of virtue, using the some of the Additional Resources in this site (see navigation menu) or other resources.  At each meeting, make sure you have a time to report on how habituation is going.  This does not need to be something long. Actually, the shorter the better.  It can even consist in simply ‘going around the circle’ and sharing if habituation during the past week was ‘focused’, ‘distracted’, ‘forgotten’, etc.
  • If you do not meet regularly, set up some sort of weekly contact to check on each other’s habituation practices.  This can be as simple as an instant messaging group where you, as group leader, simply ask everyone on a Sunday evening how the past week’s habituation went.

Week 28: Test again
  • Convene your group again on the date you established in week 11.
  • Talk about the end of the habituation stage and about this fourth and final stage of reflection.
  • Ask everyone to pull out their previous results and explain the purpose of testing again as outlined in #4.1 Test again.  Then have everyone take the test again (this should take about 20 minutes).
  • Then lead the group in comparing each of their results following the instructions in #4.2 Compare results.  Discuss the two possible outcomes and ask each group member to share whether their second score was higher or lower.
  • Homework for next week: everyone produces a piece of reflective writing following the practical guidelines described in #4.3 Write about your growth.

Week 29: Writing about growth
  • Everyone should come prepared to share a piece of reflective writing that they have produced during the week (instructions in #4.3 Write about your growth).
  • Share briefly about why this is important and ask the group if they found the experience beneficial.
  • Then ask everyone to share one or two highlights from their piece of reflective writing with the group.

Week 30: Celebrate and plan
  • This is the final meeting.  See #4.4 Celebrate and plan what comes next
  • Plan to do something special with the a group to celebrate.  Frame this as a Sabbath activity.
  • Take some to discuss together what comes next.  This might be individual plans or a new cycle of group activity.


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