Although all of our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs) are equally important, it is character that we believe underpins them all. After identifying our seven DSLOs in 2014, we researched how best to define each and incorporate it into our teaching. We came to see that the character DSLO was unique in two ways.
First, character is the learning outcome that most depends on a true partnership between home and school. No matter when they join SAS, students are primarily influenced by the values and lessons instilled by their families. As educators, we know we must work with parents to encourage our students to be good people who treat others well. Second, character is different from the other DSLOs in that it does not lend itself to formal grading and reporting. Grading honesty or compassion, for example, risks encouraging false displays of these traits, thus undermining the very habits we want to encourage!
From 2014 to 2017, we studied how other schools approach character development and social-emotional learning. The original definition we developed was focused on things like grit, zest, and integrity in addition to respect and compassion. We realized that this definition overlapped with the Core Values we had established in 2008, causing confusion for our faculty, students, and community. At one point, a proposal was made to adopt a completely separate set of desired character traits (such as wisdom, courage, humanity, and justice) that were found in social-emotional learning resources we were using. After robust debate between educators and board members, we decided not to go down this road. Instead, we adopted our already popular Core Values as our character DSLO, using them to form the basis for our social-emotional learning programs and disciplinary structures. These Core Values —compassion, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect—define how all SAS community members, not just students, should conduct themselves.
What does teaching character look like at SAS? In elementary school, frequent references to our Core Values familiarize students with their meanings and relevance. Teachers, instructional assistants, counselors, activities coaches, and administrators all use a common language to help students understand what it means to be a good person who is compassionate, honest, fair, responsible, and respectful. These lessons are extended in age-appropriate ways in middle school and high school through advisory lessons, house activities, assemblies, extracurriculars, and class discussions. We recognize that students face many challenges, including impulse control, peer pressure, and even parental pressure. When students make ethical choices, we celebrate them; when they make poor choices, we use character as a frame of reference to help them understand the implications of their actions and accept disciplinary consequences as necessary steps in this learning process.
Over time, “The Eagle Way” has come to express the SAS commitment to character development. We firmly believe that investing in character education now will help our students lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives in the future.
Character engages both the heart and mind, helps us experience and express ourselves in relation to others, and ultimately helps us improve the world around us. Components of character, outlined in the SAS Core Values, are:
- COMPASSION - We are kind, show we care, express gratitude, forgive others, help people in need, and are charitable and altruistic.
- HONESTY - We tell the truth, are reliable and do what we say we will do, have the courage to do the right thing, build a good reputation, and are loyal.
- FAIRNESS - We play by the rules, are open-minded and listen to others, avoid taking advantage of others or blaming others carelessly, and treat all people fairly.
- RESPONSIBILITY - We do what we are supposed to do, plan ahead, persevere, do our best, are self-disciplined, think before we act, are accountable for our words, actions, and attitudes, and set a good example for others.
- RESPECT - We accept differences, treat others as we would like to be treated, use good manners, are considerate of others’ feelings, avoid hurting anyone, and deal peacefully with disagreements.
My next article will explain the DSLO of collaboration. If you have any feedback, questions, or comments about our Learning at SAS series, please email me at email@example.com. I am always happy to hear from you!