At a School for tomorrow. we have spent over a decade researching what it means to educate for character. Working with hundreds of thousands of students, their teachers, families, and schools worldwide, we have built a series of research-based understandings about what comprises an excellent education, the character of an excellent education, and an education for character.
“The Character Work” that underpins an education for character, competency and wellness is more than just a series of learning activities pursued for their own sake. We need to help young people connect with something beyond their emotional, intellectual and physical selves.
What will make a difference in the lives of our students? What will help them create lives that are worthwhile and well-lived?
A Life of Purpose and The Pathway to Excellence
It’s all about a life of purpose, and we call the journey students take to learn, live, lead and work with purpose “The Pathway to Excellence”.
“The Pathway to Excellence” requires students to embark on a personal journey of exploration, encounter and discovery to understand what their purpose is and how they might learn, live, lead, and work in pursuit of it.
On this journey, they will ask and answer fundamental questions that will help them to grow in character, competency and wellness: Who am I? Where do I fit in? How can I best serve others? Whose am I?
And so, character is how our students live their lives; it’s how they apply their adaptive expertise and self-efficacy to live out their purpose in everything they do to thrive in their world.
Their character will be revealed in good times and bad, in moments of both mundanity and great excitement. It will be more than just one thing, or the thing that happens when no-one is around. It will be the integrated product of their knowledge, skills, dispositions, and habits of mind – the competencies to learn, live, lead and work. They will build all of this on a foundation of their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual wellness.
If we are going to rise to the oft-heard but seldomly understood challenge of 21C education, what we do in schools must go beyond content transmission. We must support the transformation of people from who they are now to who they might become: to become the best versions of themselves. Throughout our exploration of what we call “The Way”, we examine the eight most important things we have learned about the transformational nature of an education for character:
Character is why we do school: The development of whole young people of character who wrestle with their sense of who they should be (realisation) and what people expect of them (replication) to belong entirely to their civic institutions, fulfil their potential, and live with the integrity of a set of beliefs about what is good and right is the most fundamental reason for any school to exist. It is the purpose of school.
What educators think about character matters: What teachers think and feel about character and its relationship to their educational purpose shapes and directs the development, attainment, and measurement of future-fit civic, performance, and moral character competencies, as well as the expression of these in a set of desired graduate outcomes in a school.
Character is the whole work of a school: How we think about our character practice and connect this to the context, design, and experiences of character learning across all aspects of a school help us to locate and assess our work through a coherent model of character education that describes how learning occurs within a community of inquiry and practice that is dedicated to the attainment of a clear set of desired graduate outcomes based on future-fit civic, performance, and moral character, related competencies, and wellness.
Character development relies on relationship: The quality of character learning in a school is primarily the product of both specific learning relationships of character apprenticeship in which competency is crafted and also the way that those relationships bring together all learners in a community of inquiry and practice that is sharply focused on improving the delivery of the school's graduate outcomes.
Character education works best when it is deliberate, targeted and intentional: The consistency of character learning in a school is a reflection of a school's willingness to embrace the need for strategic educational development that embeds future-fit civic, performance, and moral character, related competencies, and wellness into every facet of school life in a deliberate, targeted and intentional way. This requires the adoption of a strategic approach to building the right learning culture and the collaborative development of a conceptual and documentary framework for education that will help a school move beyond being just intentional to becoming a school of character in every respect.
School leaders show the way forward: School leaders build character capital in a school community through their character labour, primarily through role modelling and developing character competency. Character education efficacy results from their will and capacity to embed a shared commitment to 'what we want, why we want it and how we do it' in character education.
A good school focuses on the education of the whole person – a great school assembles the ingredients of high-performance culture in delivering this education: A great school, a school of character, identifies the 'secret sauce' of aspirations, a sense of kinship, and pathways to success, then applies this to a culture of inspiration, challenge, and support. This culture fosters the pursuit of excellence by young people of character and the sense of belonging to and engagement in school. It keeps them in their groove and holds them to the educational purpose of desired graduate outcomes based on future-fit civic, performance and moral character, their related competencies, and wellness.
We are called as educators to help others strive for excellence and develop their character and competency: what is clear to us now from our research is that what makes an education excellent is the quality and consistency of an education for character, competency and wellness underpins it. In other words, when the character of an education is defined by, framed within, and aligned with a community's aspirations for the character, competency and wellness of its graduates, then we can really begin to see what an education can really do. It is more than just a series of learning activities pursued for their own sake – our research shows that the fundamental purpose of an excellent education should be the development of the whole character of the learner.