How important is it to you that your children and / or students develop into ethical, caring adults? In one study from the University of Virginia, 96% of parents said that the development of a caring orientation and moral character in their children was pivotal; more important even than high achievement.
Yet, in a 2014 Harvard study involving 10,000 middle and high school students, 80% of the youths reported that their parents and teachers “are more concerned about achievement or happiness (feeling good) than caring for others.”
The researchers suggested this data might reflect a “rhetoric/reality gap”. Perhaps what we, as influential adults, say we value isn’t reflected in our behaviour.
Closing that rhetoric/reality gap isn’t easy, especially for high schools who are, for the most part, subject to a system that rewards test scores more than character or caring. But it’s not impossible. You only have to walk into a school that is genuinely committed to wellbeing and character to see that their reality and rhetoric are more closely aligned. These schools celebrate and highlight behaviour and images and displays and artwork and physical spaces that reflect a prioritisation of character and caring.
Some other schools, however, choose to highlight their trophy cabinet. That reflects a different priority.
Pride is such an important positive emotion. And a healthy abundance of pride is one of the best indicators of a really good school.
Whilst being careful to distinguish it from arrogance, smugness, and vanity, Aristotle described pride as the “crown of the virtues”. When we know that we are capable of making a contribution of great value and when we strive to do so, we are rewarded with a sense of authentic pride.
Schools are, of course, incredibly complex systems that are notoriously hard to evaluate. But if I was given just three minutes to gain as deep an insight into a school as possible, these are the three questions I would ask:
- to the principal – “How proud are you of your school? Why?”
- to a group of teachers – “How proud are you of your work at this school? Why?”
- to a group of students – “How proud are you to be a student at this school? Why?”
Authentic pride being expressed by the principal, teachers, and students in a school is only possible when they feel deeply connected to the community, purposefully engaged, and when they feel that they are making important and significant contribution that matters.
So when you get a sense that there is a school community full of pride, it’s likely a school that not only values moral excellence, but achieves it. That’s the kind of school I want to send my kids to.