by Head of Upper School Dr. Monica Gillespie

Being an educator who is also a parent has its advantages. It also has a downside. Toggling between the two roles isn’t easy, especially when I encounter those “teachable moments” with my children. Launching into an explanation of the veracity of a specific pedagogical approach when my son was complaining about a middle school teacher is just one example of my many failures in negotiating these two roles. Fortunately, there have also been successes.

My youngest child struggled with “group work” in high school. Whenever projects were assigned, she would volunteer to do all the work and then share it with the others. Relinquishing control and being vulnerable to the corresponding potential to have a less-than-quality product (in her view) were not an option for her. She understood the value of teamwork in athletics but not in schoolwork. I needed to find a way to help her learn how to transfer this important skill of teamwork from the field to the classroom. After many conversations, moments of frustration, and small victories, she has learned the value of teamwork in many different contexts.

Building character is a process. There are no shortcuts; it takes time and practice. The skills and competencies required for adolescents to thrive are not taught by merely telling them what the skills are; character development requires developing. At Parker, we are dedicated to doing the heavy lifting—taking the time to strengthen character through intentional programming, conversations, and modeling for our students.

The mission of Francis Parker School is to create and inspire a diverse community of independent thinkers whose academic excellence, global perspective and strength of character prepare them to make a meaningful difference in the world. Beginning in JK, Parker has provided character education since our founding. Our efforts at this time are to align our work in this area across all divisions. To this end, the Upper School is strengthening its focus on “strength of character” by implementing a research-based character education curriculum designed by our expert faculty and based on the core ethical values articulated in S.T.R.I.V.E.:

Seek always to do your best.
Treat people and property with respect.
Revere the truth.
Invest in your future.
Value School rules, your heritage and personal responsibility.
Enrich the world for all.

Educators, parents, and researchers have known for decades that adolescents need to develop socially and emotionally in healthy ways in order to thrive during their teenage years and into adulthood. Acquiring these skills such as resilience, self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, is critical to their success and wellbeing. Social and emotional learning provides the foundation for student success. What has changed over the decades is what we know about adolescent development and how to build these critical skills. Our approach in education in general and at Parker has shifted from providing indirect to direct instruction. We know that we must take the time to provide learning opportunities for our students rather than assume that they are picking up the skills along the way simply by being at school.

As one might imagine, there are myriad social and emotional skills (also known as competencies); therefore, it is necessary to use a framework to provide coherence and consistency. This is why we created the Parker Community Ways of Being. In this framework, we have clearly articulated our character education model.

What is Parker Community Ways of Being?
Parker Community Ways of Being defines social and emotional learning as a starting point. It describes what we know about the three dimensions: feeling (emotional), relating (social), and doing (task-oriented) as well as how adolescents’ “sense of self, culture, and beliefs impacts their learning process.”¹ Next, it makes the important connection between these three dimensions (feeling, relating, and doing) with the three levels of self that develop in social and emotional learning: identity, awareness, and navigation. So, there are three dimensions and three levels of self:
Dimensions: feeling (emotional), relating (social), and doing (task-oriented)
Layers: identity, awareness, and navigation

Because this is a multi-level and layered model, it is helpful to explain points of intersection. As a student develops feeling and navigation, the student will be building skills to utilize and manage effectively emotions to inform their actions. This is accomplished by developing the skills of problem-solving, self-reflection, self-regulation, and self-management. A second example is students who are developing where awareness intersects with relating will be building the capacity to understand interactions and relationships through the skills of social awareness, interpersonal, perspective taking, empathy, and cultural competence.

What is the Upper School’s focus in character education for 2018-2019?
During the upcoming school year, we will be focused on three specific skills based on our framework: teamwork; defining self/identity, and ethical decision making. We will be helping our students develop skills in three key areas of intersection between the dimensions and levels of self:

Trimester 1: Relating and Navigation: the skills to build relationships and interact effectively with others. Specifically, we will be focused on the skill of teamwork.

Trimester 2: Feeling and Identity: the attitudes and beliefs about self in relation to feelings and emotions. Specifically, we will be focused on the skill of defining self/identity.

Trimester 3: Doing and Awareness: the capacity to weigh options and prioritize and to identify goals. Specifically, we will be focused on the skill of ethical decision making.

Is there going to be a Character Education class? When will these skills be taught?
No. We do not have a new class. In the Upper School, we use an integrated approach to character education that includes all aspects of our program. We know that students are continuously building their skills through their experiences in class, extracurriculars, and community engagement. What is new this year is that we will use our advisory program, assemblies, and grade level meetings to deliver our character education curriculum.

Last week, we held our first Extended Advisory with a hands-on lesson about teamwork with follow up discussions. Please ask your children about their experience and what they learned about the definition of teamwork, characteristics of an effective team, and characteristics of an effective teammate.

¹”Ways of Being: A Model for Social & Emotional Learning,” Dale Blyth, Brandi Olson, and Kate Walker. University of Minnesota, Extension: Youth Development Issue Brief