ABC, 1,2,3…that’s what school is all about, right? Yes and no. In order for our students at DAA to achieve their hopes and dreams, we not only need to develop their academic skills and knowledge, but we also need to teach them how to solve problems, how to interact with others, and how to pick themselves up and try again when they fail.
As an educator and a social worker, I have always been particularly interested in how to incorporate character education and social, emotional, and mental health programming in purposeful ways in schools. I have kept up with schools that are doing this well, like KIPP Infinity Middle School in New York City, as mentioned in this great New York Times article from a few years ago, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?”
As a principal, I want our students to know what they need to know to be successful, but I also want them to know HOW to learn, how to be kind, and how to work through challenges. Those are the qualities that will see them through difficult situations. I want to have a school where our students are independent and engaged learners, where kids are NICE, and where they believe in themselves and trust themselves. Although this is a process, I feel really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
As a part of being an Expeditionary Learning School, we focus on hands on learning where students delve deeply into topics and become real scientists, artists, and writers. Just as importantly, we focus on developing habits of work and character that will allow our students to function independently as learners. In the summer before school started we established six Habits of Character that we felt were MOST important for our students’ success. Every morning, teachers lead morning crew with their classes, where they focus on active learning experiences around our Habits of Character: Respect, Responsibility, Perseverance, Compassion, Cooperation, and Curiosity/Creativity.
Students in Kindergarten and First grade give honest appreciations to acknowledge the displays of our Habits of Character they’ve seen from their classmates. Teachers and students talk about these habits all throughout the day and use them to encourage positive words and actions, and to reteach and reinforce when students DON’T do the right thing. On Fridays, we have Community meeting in the morning where we acknowledge the Habits of Character leaders in our school.
Many schools have words on the walls or qualities in their handbooks they want to encourage. At DAA, we are committed to making sure that our Habits of Character are not just words on the wall, but that they live and breathe in our day to day lives. It is amazing to see the impact that this commitment has had on our students already!