Breaking into the Heart of Character (book review)

Our Norwood Summer Reading selection for this year is Breaking into the Heart of Character by David Streight, Executive Director of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education. The first sentence of our school mission statement declares: Norwood School’s mission is to ensure that each of its students grows intellectually, morally, physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually, while preparing to function productively and generously in our pluralistic society. Naturally, a book on the heart of character through moral development is a perfect complement to our initiatives in Character and Spiritual Development. (This is also one of the committees that I serve on with great pride.)

It is a short book, chock full of ideas and research surrounding the concept of Self-Determination Theory as defined by the work of Dr. Edward Deci. The three main principles of this theory revolve around the concepts of Autonomy, Relationships, and Competence. When our human needs are met in these three areas, we can build healthy moral development. The book stresses the need to build intrinsic motivation for our daily life and work, specifically, our work with students. It offers practical suggestions for working with our students to develop their sense of these three pillars and offers research in each individual area.

I found this book to be filled with “yes!” and “uh-huh” moments. It aligns perfectly with my educational philosophy of helping students develop themselves rather than dictating every moment of their lives and learning. He quotes from the Character Education Partnership 11 Principles of Character Education, “When teachers promote moral and performances values such as academic integrity, intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and diligence, students are better able to do their best work and gain greater autonomy, competence, and self-confidence.” (p. 20) This is it, in a nutshell, the entire book!!

The concept that we can be our best selves (and our children can be their best selves) when our needs of autonomy, relationships, and competence are met seems like a no-brainer, but it takes intentional practice in the day-to-day of schooling to remember these elements. We must be intentional practitioners of character development. Striving to know our students, to understand the motivation behind their behaviors and choices-this helps build relationships. We must provide opportunities for our students to have true elements of choice in their learning-and may I selfishly add innovative choice-so that they develop a sense of ownership or autonomy. We must provide effective feedback that focuses on the strengths of our students and allows them to see areas for growth in a way that is constructive and developmental so they will build their internal sense of competence. This is a lot to ask of a teacher juggling 16+ children and many subject areas and differentiation. But, it is our task. It is our task to be responsible for the whole child and this means the moral development of children is paramount to academic learning. They are intertwined as a mass of roots and branches-character as the roots and academics as the branches.

Each chapter of this book offers keen reminders and suggestions for implementing strong character development. I won’t go into them in detail because Mr. Streight’s work should be required reading for administrators, educators, and parents looking to develop their children to be independent, morally sound, and competent individuals. I will however, quote his last paragraph-as I think it is the “Charge” statement for all of us:

“Schools whose missions point to academic excellence, character, self-regulation, motivation, or well-being may even see a moral duty of their own to implement relevant practices. These practices are not a curricular add-on; they are not one more thing on a teacher’s “plate.” They do not even call for an extra assembly, and they especially do not call for the purchase and distribution of stickers or stars. Rather, they are all easily implemented, necessary, and available for use by every professional educator, in every class, every day.”(p.96)

And with that, I say, Amen!!

Further Resources based on Breaking into the Heart of Character.


Conference Choices

This Friday I will be attending the NAIS annual conference in National Harbor, MD. I am very excited about this conference as there are more sessions that interest me than I could possibly attend in one day. (Friday is the special “teacher day” where teachers are allowed to attend for a reduced rate. This is such a blessing as it is an expensive conference and it is coming from my own funds.) I’m not even allowing myself to look at the Wednesday and Thursday sessions because I know there are so many things I’m missing out on by just attending on Friday.

I am writing out my schedule plan for Friday today so that my Type A-ness can be in the right place at the right time. Oh, but what to choose!!?? For example, at 8am on Friday there are sessions on Arts vs. Athletics, Anxiety in Adolescent Girls, Women in Leadership, Global Learning, and Scheduling and Time. All of these are applicable to my current and future job positions and all sound interesting. What a nice dilemma to have; so many choices that it makes it difficult to choose.

I am particularly excited about seeing/hearing Geoffrey Canada speak at the end of the day on Friday. His work in the Harlem Children’s Zone is admirable and inspiring. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say to the independent school community.

No matter what I attend, I’m glad that I have this opportunity to learn and network with a large contingent of the independent school community. I have attended many a local conference and workshop but this is my first national conference since OPERA America in 2003. I hope to see a Klinger or two from KSI Class of 2008. I also look forward to spending part of the day at the C,S,&A LINK conference to make connections with schools from around the country and world.

I plan to blog or tweet as much as I can from the conference. Let’s hope the wifi signal is good! If you are attending, send me a tweet and we can meet up!

Do you TED?

We had a snow-cation last week with three consecutive snow days. I don’t typically like missing that much school but I did enjoy the way I was able to play catch up with my PLN/PD resources. I caught up on 200+ blog posts on my reader and found an array of resources to share. (I’m sure my colleagues just loved having two or three “check this out” emails from me upon return yesterday.)

I also watched a good handful of TED talks both sitting on the couch and while running on the treadmill. I am in love with these talks. It has provided an intellectual stimulation that fits with my fast-moving brain. Snippets of inspiration or innovation that keep my mind swirling with possibilities. The vast array of topics allows me to explore a variety of ideas some of which are in my wheelhouse and some of which are not, but I find help me access new ideas in a positive way.

TED is not new. The talks have been around for several years and are exploding globally through TEDx events. If you have not “TED’d”, I highly recommend it. They are free via their website, YouTube, or my favorite, the iPad app.

To get you started, here is a talk I watched last week that reminded me to stay on the sunny side of life, no matter what the situation.

If you don’t TED, you should; you’ll be glad you did!

23 Things

This year our school is embarking on self-paced technology professional development!! This is very exciting for me because I would love for all of my colleagues to share in the amazing things that technology can do to transform instruction, student engagement, and student achievement. (I will not spend this post waxing poetic.)

Our fabulous technology coordinator, has brought the 23 Things program to our building. A lot of the “things” are familiar to me, but a few are not, so I’m excited to find new adventures. I’m also thrilled to be available to my peers for 1:1 mentorship as needed. So much of my instruction does not use technology (at the K-4 level we focus more on traditional creation of music/dance) that to see it burst out in core content classrooms would be fantastic.

To my peers, YOU CAN DO THIS! I BELIEVE IN YOU! I WILL NOT GIVE UP ON YOU! (yes, I’m shouting this at you!)

(consider this week 1 and 2 for me!)

Square Peg/Round Hole.

On Tuesday, our faculty had the privilege of learning from Dr. Judi Harris, of the College of William and MaryDr. Harris is a leader in the field of educational technology and there was much to be learned from her. Perhaps the most engaging and “touchstone” element of her presentation was the three-part test for the value of using technology to enhance or further a curriculum goal.

While I do not want to infringe on her copyright of the test, its basic gist is: Is it feasible? Is it Appropriate? Does it provide a Relative Advantage?  Needless to say it provoked in me the idea that just because I understand how to use and am excited about a particular online tool it does not mean I must immediately use it. I’ll call it the square peg/round hole concept. If I am going to use a piece of educational technology, say a wiki or a voicethread, will is enhance or further the curriculum goal or is it just a “cool new thing”.  Likewise, is the use of such a tool going to increase student achievement.

The ubitquitous concept of increasing student achievement is such a fine line in a school discipline where my students are not actually assessed on their academic achievement. My middle school students are assessed academically, but not my primary and intermediate students. Regardless, how does one measure the advancement of student achievement as it results from the use of educational technology. The verdict is still out.

Nevertheless, I will put my practice to the test to really look at matching the use of online tools appropriately for the ehancement of the curricular goals rather than just being the “cool teacher using tech stuff”. It is my hope that a more judicious point of view will lead to greater student achievement and understanding.