The Heart of Education

February is recognized as the month of love. I decided to focus on the Heart of Education since the pressures on our schools, educators and students are at an all time high. School violence and bullying continue to escalate. The dropout rate in the United States is at more than 30%. The apprehension of increased academic rigor adds pressure to an already challenged system. As well, school populations are increasingly diverse, and schools suffer from declining fiscal resources, yet are expected to do more for less. Federal testing mandates often overwhelm both teachers and students. Such tensions threaten the security, safety, progress and tranquility of our schools.

Many of our high school graduates do not have the 21st Century Skills necessary to be successful in the work place or in life. Goleman 2005, states that we have missed the mark in education of nurturing the Emotional Intelligences of our young people. He further states that we have been narrowly focused on academic rigor, which only translates into 20% of what students need to know and be able to do as successful employees. According to Daniel Goleman, it is our EQ that makes up 80% of what we need in order to be successful, not our IQ.

A Business Week article stated, “Companies are finding new ways to differentiate themselves and create entirely new markets. Many are finding that in an intensely networked age, cooperation works better than direct competition” (Solomon & Schrum 2007). So what does that mean for our schools? Instead of competing for GPAs, APs and SATs, let us give our students the foundation needed in developing both their performance character and their moral character. We do not need to produce any more business folks that lack honesty and integrity, nor do we need to create teachers and doctors who are kind, compassionate people but do not demonstrate superiority and excellence within their profession.

Currently, schools are so focused on academic rigor that developing the “whole child’s” unique capacities for intellectual, social, emotional, physical and spiritual learning are often overlooked (ASCD, 2007). Schools need awe-inspiring support to focus on their true purpose; helping students become intelligent and virtuous. The Smart and Good High Schools Report (Lickona & Davidson, 2005) points out that performance character requires the development of virtues such as “a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and perseverance” while moral character requires “integrity, respect, cooperation, and justice.” The report also advocates making these traits of character universal throughout all schools and, those school districts from the superintendent to the primary student including parents and the community.

Current research shows that we are losing our global competitive edge. India and China are producing more honors students than we have students total in the United States and US businesses are looking for graduates who possess 21st Century Expertise.

More importantly we are losing our children. The dropout rate is over 30% and even greater for Blacks and Hispanic students. Teacher attrition is on the rise due educators feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of today’s teaching. In addition, continuous occurrence of gang violence and bullying are also on the rise because students are feeling disconnect and devalued.

Dara Feldman of Images International and one of the founders of the Virtues Project out of Chattanooga, TN states that the following five strategies of virtues will transform school culture and increase individual performance for students and educators:

The 5 strategies of Virtues in Education

Strategy 1: Speak the Language of the Virtues Language shapes character.
The way we speak, and the words we use, have great power to discourage or to inspire. The Language of Virtues inspires cooperation and replaces shaming and blaming with personal responsibility and respect.

Strategy 2: Recognize Teachable Moments
Recognizing the life lessons and virtues in daily situations strengthens our humility and confidence to learn from our mistakes. Instead of negatively labeling people, we call them to act on the qualities of their character.

Strategy 3: Set Clear Boundaries
Clear virtues-based boundaries based on respect, restorative justice, and reparation provides a positive approach to school-wide discipline and create a climate of peace and safety. Personal boundaries protect our time and energy.

Strategy 4: Honor the Spirit
We energize positive school, work and community spirit by treating each person with dignity, and by creating a shared vision of who we are and how we want to treat one another. The most empowering way to create a safe, caring, respectful environment is not only to require it, but also to inspire it through acknowledgments and celebrations, creative expressions through the arts, service learning, servant leadership and daily modeling of the virtues.

Strategy 5: Offer Companioning
By being deeply present and listening with compassion and detachment, this counseling approach empowers others to make moral choices, find peaceful resolutions to conflict, and heal inner hurts. Overall, we should provide significance and connection to the big picture of learning as well as create learning environments that influence the value of the learners themselves. When we bring meaning and purpose of true education back into teaching and learning and truly see students for who they are, that is when proper learning takes place and our schools can be one of purpose, serene environment in the classrooms and academic excellence!

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