Friday, July 8, 2016

Finding voices of compassion

These fine young people graduated from Robert C. Parker School in June.  We sent them into the world beyond middle school carrying with them, among other wonderful traits, compassion, perspective, a quest for social justice, caring and respect for others and themselves.

As a school leader, I feel anguished by local and global acts of terror, violence and murder, and ugly public expressions characterizing "the other", in a way that goes beyond my personal outrage and sadness.  I wonder if the voices of sanity, of inclusion and compassion, of justice and understanding can become louder?  I wonder if what seems like an escalation of violence can fuel an equally strong rejection of violence?

Our school is a privileged place where every student is loved and has the opportunity to grow.  So many children do not have these advantages - and because the world is such a complex place, we feel helpless to make it different.  How can we help to create a world where there is kindness, justice and peace?  What else can we do but  give our best in our quiet corner?

As we engage in conversations around the dinner table, in the car, at our places of work, on social media, we can express the complexities of our emotions, our fears and our hopes.  We can together try to unravel the motives, the problems and the injustices and imagine solace and solutions.  We can help each other find a voice and help our children find theirs.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Building character starts with heart

In a recent NY Times Op-Ed, The Building Blocks of Learning, David Brooks says, "Education is one of those spheres where the heart is inseparable from the head."

Good educators know this and it is an unspoken rule in a successful classroom - the teacher pours time, love and attention into the child and the child deeply desires to be worthy of that caring and attention.  This bond is what develops character in a child.

As independent school educators, we secretly scoff at the public discussion about character in schools.  You've seen the programs - the "Character Trait of the Week".  Does that actually build character?

What does build character are qualities that are inherent in the culture of the school - the very essence of the daily experience.  It should be intentional - as much as we can make it so.  At our school it comes in the form of a commitment to intrinsic goals and to a balanced set of values.  It is stated in our motto, our mission, our values and our statement of diversity.  It is practiced through many interactions between teachers and students, discussions among faculty and administrators, and much self-evaluation.

One of our administrative goals this year is to examine our culture of compassion. What does it mean?  Are we modelling it?

Checking in with students is one way to assess whether they are absorbing the character traits we strive to build in them.  In a recent conversation about how kids prepare to succeed in high school, a seventh grader told me, "Here, learning is fun.  When we get to high school we don't have to learn how to be motivated and work hard, because we already know that.  We have some freedom here and so we know how to handle ourselves."

I think she nailed it pretty well.  Intrinsic motivation, taking responsibility, confidence, loving to learn - these are  many of the most important things we can teach.  They don't come from the character trait of the week - they are addressed through the heart, and are woven throughout the life of the school.