Dara Feldman, in her inspiring new book, The Heart of Education, makes a strong point that every child -- indeed, every person -- is endowed with the capacity to live a happy, principled life. What is needed is some direction and support to make this happen, and the start of school is an ideal time to set this in motion.
Feldman's book draws on her career as an award-winning educator (and is a natural complement to Rachael Kessler's The Soul of Education). Feldman is guided by the work of The Virtues Project with which she is affiliated, and her book illuminates the principles believed essential for virtuous learning in schools.
With all that is being written now about "mindset," it is an excellent idea to begin school by having our students set positive goals. One way to frame those goals, Feldman notes, is as virtues. Here is a procedure you can use in your middle-upper elementary school classes and beyond (with appropriate developmental modifications), to get your students started in the right direction (more details can be found in chapter four of Feldman's book).
Step 1: Let your students know that at the start of the school year, it's important to set goals. Ask, What are some things you want to have happen over the course of this year at school?
Step 2: It's also important to set goals for ourselves, to become better as individuals. This is known as improving our character. We all have the ability to act in what can be referred to as "virtuous ways." Acting in these ways most of the time is good for us and good for those around us. Here is a list of 12 "virtues" (at this point, you can choose to discuss each one, ask students to add to the list, etc., as your time and interest allow): caring, confidence, kindness, courage, perseverance, courtesy, respect, enthusiasm, responsibility, generosity, and truthfulness.
Step 3: Have students pair up and interview each other (outline to follow).
Step 4: Make a list of the student pairs and the virtues they are working on. You may choose to share these with your class or not.
Step 5: At the end of each week, have the pair check in with one-another about how they are progressing on their chosen virtue. Encourage them to problem solve any difficulties. Consider having them join with other pairs working on one of the same virtues to expand the problem-solving pool. You can also assist as needed.
Step 6: At the end of each marking period, encourage students to self-evaluate their progress on enacting their virtue, seek feedback from their partner, you can provide feedback as well. Perhaps this can be integrated into the report card process.
Step 7: Provide direction for the next marking period. You can change pairs, allow for additional virtues to be adopted, or other creative adaptations that might occur to you.
Student Interview Outline
Adapt to your students' ages and circumstances; you may have to explain about the importance of trust in sharing this information in class. Here are steps for students interviewing each other:
- Who is someone you admire, either in your life or in history, and what is the core virtue that you think they have followed?
- What is one of your own virtues from the list and say a few words about how you try to live this virtue.
- What is a virtue that you would like to work on, to improve in your life?
- What are some ways you can show this virtue?
- How can I help you be successful in doing this?
- Reverse roles in the interview.
In considering your students and your school, how might you use the goal-setting framework described in this post? Please share with us.