In his New York Times
bestseller The Work: Searching for a Life That Matters
, Wes Moore
reflects on life-changing factors of the 21st century (robotics, globalization, information technology) and notes that this historical moment has “created a greater sense of urgency around the task of designing our own lives to tap into our own specific ideals, talents, and resources—to find ways of not just working to live, but finding the work of our lives.
” Moore urges us to “embrace the possibility of living for more than ourselves.”
A transformative professional development experience came early for me. We teachers, a cohort from dozens of different schools, had gathered for a summer conference. Affinity groups were organized by the disciplines we were then teaching, and my group, teachers of English, was asked to imagine we were a department at a school. At our first meeting as a group, we walked into a classroom with three chalkboards. They were labeled “Skills,” “Habits,” and “Values.” Our first task? Fill up those boards. Identify expressly what we hoped our students might one day accomplish, at our school and with our support. My teaching, I realized, was about much more than my subject.
I think back often on that exercise. Indeed, as a school leader the framework has proven indispensable as we work to envision the totality of our boys’ school experience; as we work with them to master skills, internalize habits, and embody values; and as we strive, above all else, to help them become good men.
Moore’s attention to ideals, talents, and resources – and my group’s prioritizing skills, habits, and values at that conference years ago – speaks to the necessity of holistic education and the psychological, social, and emotional growth of each student.
“Seeking to understand character has been a human occupation for thousands of years,” British educator Tony Little
states, “and upholding some ideal of character education is as old as education itself.” Age-old though the ideal might be, the need for good men living for more than themselves has never been greater.
My belief that parents and teachers can partner effectively in educating for character has only been confirmed and deepened over the course of my career. Thinking back to the provocative exercise of decades ago, to filling up those three chalkboards, I also think back on instructive moments in the developmental arcs of so many young people, and reflect with pride on the fine people they have become.