Friday, May 20, 2016

Teaching for Character

How do we teach character traits?  This is an interesting question. I see it play out so well in our independent schools and not necessarily so well in public schools - and why is that?

This article in Atlantic, How Kids Learn Resilience,  really tries to get at why it's so hard to teach character in public schools.  Part of the problem, the author says, lies in the things that children have learned from a young age at home - that set them up for success or failure early on, and part lies in the way our public schools typically reward and punish children and how ineffective that method is.

It is true that we are a self-selecting group in many ways in independent schools, with children who are already skewed to success - with the right kind of support at home to give them the tools for their future success.  But I believe that at Parker, it is how we teach - and how we create a school culture - that is the difference maker when our results are compared with public schools - and even with other, less effective independent schools.

Last night was Project Night at Parker.  In Pre K, children's sculpture, painting, narrated books and treasured art, were on display along with a slide show of their year of exploration and discovery.  Jump down the hall to the gym, where our 8th grade students were giving their thesis presentations.  This is a clear illustration of the "bookends" of a Parker education.

The autonomy, the fun and the exploratory nature of the Pre K leads directly to the ability of 13-year-olds to stand in front of an audience and succinctly and with passion, defend their reasoning about complex social justice issues that they chose to delve into - Gun Control, Racial Profiling, the Death Penalty, to name a few.  The poise and confidence, the underlying resilience and perseverance to research and write a 15 - 20 page paper, and the intellectual and public-speaking chops that it took to accomplish the presentations is a testament to effective school culture.  It is not an accident that Parker students can do this.

It is the result of giving students autonomy, support, and space to explore (and "fail").  It is the product of critique, self-evaluation and real responsibility.  Students will be more likely to display positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence and growth is how Paul Tough puts it in the Atlantic article.  It is the antithesis of traditional reward and punishment systems.  It is beautiful to see.

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