Every year, teachers tell me they receive new "mandates" from the top. They're asked to include new methods for teaching math, new standards for reading levels, new disciplinary measures and new procedures for advisement or study hall. One faculty member said to me, "Basically, our score card changes each year."
Well -- I've got a new one for you teachers.
According to two reports released by the Daily Mail, schools are being requested to instill values and responsibility in their students. According to Joan McVitte, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, this has to be a top priority. The Harvard Graduate School of Education shared a recent poll indicating that 70 percent of public school parents want schools to teach "strict standards of right and wrong," and 85 percent want schools to teach values. Research suggests that many overworked, frayed parents, doubting their capacities as moral mentors, are now looking to schools to take on a larger role in their children's lives. They now "expect their child's teacher to be a moral advisor"; the one who offers life skills, ethics and social norms to their offspring.
Richard Watson, a futurist and founder of "What's Next," which charts trends in society, business and technology, said schools are increasingly expected to teach beyond conventional subjects to give children a moral framework for their lives. It has resulted in parents blaming teachers -- and threatening legal action -- if their children go off the rails or misbehave outside the classroom.
Hmmm. So when did this become the school's job?
Since Parents are Busy with Their Own Careers and Lives.
A majority of families are now double income homes, just to survive. There's little time to teach values. Ms. McVitte said "since parents and TV shows set poor examples, teachers are needed to show pupils how to consider others, control their anger and resolve conflicts peacefully. They are being forced to fill the void."
Since the Majority of Teens' Guidance Comes From Peers.
Unlike past generations, adolescents spend the vast majority of their time interacting with peers not adults. Peer influence takes precedence. They spend the equivalent of a full-time job in front of a screen, watching video or interacting on social media. Their role model isn't Socrates...it's Josh down the street on Facebook.
Since the Media Has Made Celebrities a Role Model.
According to data presented at the ASCL conference, television shows like the X-Factor which promotes a "quick fix" solution to becoming successful over sustained hard work now set the expectation. Celebrities are followed like never before, who offer no help in revealing what the real world looks like.
Since Culture Values Pragmatism More Than Principles.
Because we live in a pluralistic culture, it is often difficult to decide what values should be taught. A moral vacuum emerges, as we choose tolerance of any behavior, fearing we cannot impose a value on a kid. So we become pragmatic: whatever gets you to your goal. We celebrate people who find loopholes in the system and get rich quick, rather than those who work hard in an honest job -- but have no glitz.
So... What Do We Do?
"Schools have become surrogate families to pupils due to bad parenting and the damaging influence of celebrity culture," said Sir Michael Wilshaw, a chief inspector of schools in Great Britain. "Teachers are being forced to step into the vacuum and set good examples where few exist at home."
While I believe families should be the models for virtues and values, it just isn't happening in many places. So, schools must do what they can.
1. Prioritize relationships with your students.
You're much more apt to have a voice of influence in a student's life if you actually become interested in them and make a connection. We must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.
2. As a school, choose what values are timeless.
This is challenging, but if you give it some thought, I believe you'll conclude there are some timeless and universal morals to be passed on, such as honesty, valuing people, discipline and work ethic, empathy, service to others, seeing the big picture, responsibility, etc. Our most popular resource, Habitudes--Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, actually furnishes these truths.
3. Practice 'em before you preach 'em.
Creating a set of values to build character in your student body is hollow if you don't choose to live them out yourselves. In fact, it doesn't matter what posters you hang and what pithy definitions you offer for character if you don't model the way. People do what people see...not what they hear.
4. Get beyond a "word of the month" club.
Hundreds of programs exist to build character and values in kids, but they tend to be little more than a poster and a word to memorize each month. I've looked at the research- - these programs don't move the needle in adolescents. At Growing Leaders, we've developed a guide that combines images, conversations, exercises, movie clips, assessments and activities that make learning experiential.
5. Do what you can -- and don't sweat the rest.
While I believe schools must step in and teach these life skills, remember you are still an educator, not their parent. Don't demand more of yourself than you should. Be a role model, share timeless principles with them, help them apply those principles...but don't sweat the "uncontrollables."
A culture which is sometimes self-obsessed and puts such emphasis on celebrity and instant gratification doesn't necessarily foster in our young people the essential virtues of effort and diligence which are so fundamental to success at schools and colleges and life....
Children are faced with a lot of different role models these days, not all of which are the most positive. They will see examples on TV or celebrity culture of people not speaking in the right way and not interacting in the way we would expect them to. In many ways, schools are the last bastion of those traditional values. We do assert old-fashioned standards of discipline and we do so unashamedly. There's a whole raft of values we try to incorporate into the ethos of a school. To me, that's the most important part of the curriculum...
I agree. Remember this as you see the faces of those sons and daughters this year.