Butter Late Than Never

Butter Late Than Never

By: Dominic A.A. Randolph

Head of School-Riverdale Country School

I remember being in the UK in October of last year for a meeting hosted by Dr. Anthony Seldon and James O’Shaughnessy at Wellington College and 10 Downing Street gathering educators, policymakers and researchers to talk about “positive education” when IPEN emerged as an idea. We were all struck by the idea of thinking collaboratively about the future of education and how to make us focus our schools both on developing good thinkers but also developing the character of our students. How can we ensure that our young people thrive rather than becoming just part of a credentialing system?

I remember David Levin, one of the founders of the KIPP charter schools in the United States and a co-founder of The Character Lab talk about dual-purpose teaching: the idea that you can teach “character skills” such as grit, optimism and self-control while one teaches disciplinary subject matter. Great teachers do this naturally. Most of us just have to plan more intentionally to foster good character simultaneously as we develop our students’ academic capacities. He represented this dual-purpose teaching as a double-helix, a double-helix that has become part of the icon of IPEN.

As we continue to work on implementing strategies and cultural experiences within our schools that have people develop character skills, I think it is a multi-purposed approach. We need to suffuse “character thinking” throughout schools. We need to change our school missions to explicitly focus on the development of character skills. Faculty members need to model these strengths in their own lives and their school lives. We need to understand how small moments and interactions, micro-moments, have such strong potential for learning about character, and we need to look at the system of school, the macro-structures, that support or diminish a focus on character skills development. This is important work. It is work that we have all done, but it demands more intentional focus and attention within all of our schools.

Dominic Blog Graphic

As I was leaving school the other evening, I noticed this poster taped to one of the doors. I had noticed these posters the whole day…interesting posters with food puns on them. Two seventh grade students had come up with the idea to make people smile and have a great day. This had me thinking about how we create a “culture of character” in schools. How do we make schools positive places to be rather than places that invoke stress and anxiety. Obviously, we hope through various organizations and centers, such as the Character Lab and the Jubilee Center at the University of Birmingham to research interventions and strategies that develop character skills in our young people. At the same time, I think it is beholden upon school leaders and teachers to think about how to develop a culture of positivity and character in schools. How might we develop a sense of permission in our students that allow them to develop as engaged and motivated learners? How might we reframe challenge positively for young people and have them understand that positive challenges lead to expertise, purpose and meaning. Obviously, we need more research on the development of non-cognitive capacities in our students. We also need to develop a knowledgebase of cultural practices that we can translate into different school. In some ways, we need to learn how to “market” character to students, teachers, parents and citizens so that they understand test scores and I.Q. correlated tasks are relevant but not sufficient to develop thriving young people.

Therefore, I think it is great that IPEN is seeking to be an open and inclusive organization that will help further the research and practitioner dialogue about “positive education” and how to make such an education possible for us all.



Several interesting recommended readings:

Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU, writes in her new book about the science of motivation. Her WOOP goal-setting app on iTunes and Android is worth trying out.

Rethinking How Students Succeed an article By Lija Farnham, Gihani Fernando, Mike Perigo, & Colleen Brosman, with Paul Tough in the Stanford Social Innovation Review

How to Survive the College Admissions Madness by Frank Bruni Op-Ed in the New York Times

The Cost of Paying Attention by Matthew Crawford in the New York Times

Most Likely to Succeed [great film made by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith about the future of education]:  The book will come out in August 2015.