The Way | Work | Becoming a School of Character
The final element of a great school, a school of character, is its disposition towards testing and warranting the integrity of its practice.
We believe this must include validating the quality and consistency of the delivery of graduates outcomes based in 21C character and competency, as well as the essential processes by which a school might attain them, including the depth of investigation into the idea of character, the immersion of character leadership in every part of the school, the richness of character apprenticeship as the key pedagogy for the learning experience, the shared discipline in delivering excellence in learning experience and outcomes, the success in cultivating emerging student voice and agency, and the rigour of teacher professionalism. How teachers and leaders build a case for and warrant their practice in respect of these provides the critical accountability for ensuring the continuing presence and evolving nature of the ‘secret sauce’ of high- performance culture.
So, the process of building an education for character and competency needs to be informed by an understanding drawn from the current state of leading practice around the world about what is most warranted in designing and implementing an education for good character. This is what we will refer to as ‘warranting of practice in character education’, adapted from the writings of Kenneth Ruthven at the University of Cambridge. His model for warranting practice provides a solid approach for thinking about how schools might go about the work of character education that is based less on compliance and more on the creation of associated professional knowledge, professional engagement, and critical thinking. Schools build practice that might be capable of being ‘warranted’ on an ongoing basis by taking responsibility both at individual teacher and whole-school levels for developing and assuring the quality of their professional practice, in this instance, in the realm of education for good character. They do not simplistically impose an externally developed model in a manner that ends up in mechanical check-box exercises and benchmarked comparisons or league lists. Rather, they create a vision for what education might look like in their school (referenced to leading practice internationally), and then go about the business of ensuring that what they want is, in fact, being generated and regenerated continually through a process of scrutiny that ensures that there are reasonable grounds for the practice as it is intended and that implementation of the practice does indeed realise its claims.
Thus, according to Ruthven, warranting of professional practice calls for:
Implicit in this is an assumption that scrutiny is essential to ensuring high performance. It must, therefore, go hand-in-hand with culture that values transparency, evidence-based decision-making, and a transformational approach to education that is always striving to find new and better ways of meeting the needs of its students and the societies to which they will contribute. This also suggests that character education within a mature school of character requires a community of inquiry practice in which ideas are being developed, tested, and applied within a culture that values research and development. This cannot be the case in any school culture that automatically defaults to the status quo – the privileging of what is best for the students need to be driven by principle rather than precedent. If precedent prevails, then it does so because it has been proven to have the impact necessary to produce the character and competencies required for our graduates to thrive as good people in our world.
As we see throughout The Way, this test of relevance against the rationale for and nature of character and competency is what defines an 21C excellent education. Are we really preparing our graduates to thrive in their world? Are we inspiring, challenging, and supporting them to become the people they need to be? What knowledge, skills, character, and learning habits will equip them for success along their journey? And do we know whether or not we are doing the work that will best help them along their way? Can we warrant this?