Having just returned from an inspirational week visiting the work done by Second Chance in Berceni, Romania with a group of ten students, it strikes me how important it is not to shy away from frank discussions about a person’s character, conversations which are at best sensitive and, at worst, verging on the taboo. It’s more than a need to comment upon and guide behaviour, it’s the moral necessity to encourage growth in the fundamental virtues inherent to becoming a ‘good‘ person (not that there is an immutable, definitive list).
How did I do on this service learning trip? Not brilliantly, because I didn’t consistently apply the same thinking as I would regarding academic learning in the classroom.
- Insufficient pre-assessment. Like any group of people, some students are self-evidently more ‘virtuous’ than others. I had not intentionally considered where the students were in terms of the virtues necessary for the environment we were visiting, such as, the ability to be humble or to act with grace. Nor, importantly, had the students honestly pre-assessed their strengths and weaknesses prior to the visit.
- Insufficient differentiation. I did not have a plan in place for what personal growth would mean for each student due to the lack of pre-assessment. What are the student’s weaknesses? Their strengths? What growth is necessary? What might encourage that growth?
- Insufficient feedback. The overlap between teacher, counsellor and psychologist is never more apparent than in the realm of character education. So, a student acts gracelessly, or with wonderful grace, how should you provide appropriate feedback in an authentic manner? For each student, where is the line between an expectation met and one exceeded? How do you communicate that in a way that will be heard? Being able to navigate these decisions is as much an art as a science, but it cannot be done without some degree of intentionality.
Looking ahead, above all, I will seek to talk, talk and talk some more with the students about the idea of character. These coaching conversations should help them unpack their personal successes and shortcomings, with a view to educating more than the mind: to nourish their soul.