I have been inspired by my colleague’s blog post this week. Dickie Wada-Thomas thoughtfully reflected on the Manchester terror attack and the vital importance of the PYP Attitudes. You can read his post here. While you’re there, follow his new blog for regular updates.
On that awful day, my social media feeds were full of Manchester’s horrific breaking news. The disgraceful act of terror on children and young people sickened the whole world. The following days, however, these posts were replaced by countless stories of bravery, kindness and compassion. In response to the evil act, the people of Manchester showed the world what wonderful people they are. Manchester is a diverse, strong community that shares one clear message: “We will not be divided”. In short, they individually and collectively demonstrated admirable character.
“This city is a community. I don’t care who you believe in or where you’re from. This city is for everybody.”
Ian (surname unknown), Interview with BBC Newsnight
Dickie used this incident to revisit the vital importance of all Five Essential Elements of the PYP (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action). In PYP philosophy, developing these elements will develop the Learner Profile (see image below) and, ultimately, students who are internationally-minded. I have said many times that this is why I love the PYP. Academic education is important but not sufficient. Our aim, in a nutshell, is to ensure that our students are good people and responsible world citizens. Whatever your curriculum, let’s call this character education. How do you teach it? Are your students making character progress?
If my students leave my class at the end of the year and they are not better people than when they arrived, I have failed them regardless of academic progress. We are fortunate to have the PYP Elements to guide us and focus our attention. Similarly, my previous school in the UK had Christian Values (it’s a church school). What do other schools have? In some places, character education is known as the ‘hidden curriculum’. If we agree that character education is important, why hide it?
I get where the name came from. It is hidden because the teaching is implicit. In most cases, there is no formal curriculum, standards or objectives to be met. Furthermore, a lot of character learning happens unintentionally on a daily basis. Students learn behaviours from each other, their teachers and other role models without explicit teaching (I proved this in my guest post for The Learning Scientists). However, I don’t believe that it should be left to chance. What if students are learning undesirable behaviours/attitudes from peers and other influencers? We need to dedicate classroom teaching time to character education. Oftentimes, it can connect authentically to our units (in the PYP, we make sure it does). Other times, we need to dedicate some standalone teaching time to it. This might be through PSHE lessons or circle time.
Though I understand the name, it concerns me. Anything that is hidden automatically seems like an optional add-on, less important than the academic learning that is prescribed and tested. If teachers are unaccountable for character learning, how do we know that it takes place? In such a busy job, often with high stakes, teachers understandably focus on what they will be judged on. To my knowledge, the high stakes around the world always relate to academic results.
“[test results] are only one piece of a school’s success – not the only true measure of ‘good education’.”
Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney, Kids Deserve It!
Subjects like PSHE and Religious Education are famously ignored because of the pressure of maths and literacy results. What if schools were somehow accountable for character education? Imagine if this became education’s priority. What impact would that have on society and the world?
Character can’t be measured, scored or graded. So, how do we ensure progress? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section. Let’s keep the discussion going.
One last question: what’s more important, character or ability? I had this discussion recently with Vicky Queenan, my friend and former colleague, when she visited me in Hong Kong. It’s an interesting question and I’ll leave it with you to ponder. Again, leave your thoughts below.
Connecting back to the event in Manchester, this is the latest example of the need for tolerance and open-mindedness. Diversity should be respected and celebrated. Cowardly terrorists are in no way representations of Islam or any other religion. The people of Manchester understand that. We need our students to be respectful of world religions, caring towards others (regardless of background) and resilient in response to fear.
Thanks again to Dickie for inspiring this post. Also, check out my previous post if you haven’t already. I collaborated with Kriti Nigam to celebrate and share the power of a professional learning network.