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.

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