We give prizes and ovations to the kids who come first, who write the most sophisticated essays, who run the fastest, who make the fewest mistakes on the test. Those kids get to walk across the stage, shake hands, and get their photo taken. They are the ‘winners’.
But who is there to salute the kid who works just as hard, gives his all but doesn’t get an ‘A’? Who’s there to celebrate the last kid, puffed and sweating, when he crosses the line? Doesn’t he deserve an ovation too?
Or maybe we only cheer for the ‘winners’?
If I walked into a random classroom at your school and asked a random student: “This thing you’re learning right now, why are you learning it?”, would they have a good answer? And what if we disallowed the following answers: “Because it’s on the test.” and “Because my teacher told me to.”? Would the student be able to clearly articulate the underlying value and purpose of the lesson?
Learning driven by a deep sense of real-world meaning and powered by curiosity, hope and intrinsic motivation is so powerful. Yet, there are still many lessons being delivered that are void of this sense of meaning and driven, instead, by some form of external motivator (eg stickers, tokens, money, grades, fear, etc).
The best educators always ensure the ‘why‘ is strong – at the heart of their classroom – even in very young students. The ‘why‘ is the source-code of inspiration and the fuel of long-term passion and perseverance.
The ‘why‘ makes learning matter.
Many schools teach about the value of serving others. Even better, some schools offer well-designed community service programs that enable students to experience, first hand, the sense of meaning and purpose that comes from serving others.
That’s great. But students aren’t silly. They understand that, really, ‘doing well’ at school is about improving their own individual grades and securing individual ‘positions of responsibility’. And they are rewarded for competing individually against and outranking other students.
We’re good at telling students how important it is to serve, nurture and support others. But with the system we currently tolerate, students ultimately ‘succeed’ at school by serving themselves.
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.