We recently had a visit from a group of visitors from the Marsiling Secondary School in Singapore. It is always fascinating and inspiring to learn from others who are working hard on shared endeavors; it is particularly inspiring when you can gain an international perspective. It is also helpful when you try to distill for others what you think is essential for them to know about the work you are doing, and to see what resonates with them. These experiences provide a chance for self-reflection, and for a validity check on your ideas. Clearly the Marsiling school group was interested in our Culture of Excellence & Ethics Assessment (CEEA), which would help them benchmark growth in the development of character and culture.
I think what stood out to me as an enduring message we were wanting to deliver to them about what’s different in our Power2 approach is the intensity and intentionality. For me this stands out as hallmark quality of the new paradigm of character education. As a field I think we spent a lot of time saying to people, “character education: this isn’t something new; you probably already do lots of things that would be considered character education.” And so people would make a list of all their character education inputs: we have kids do some goal setting, we greet them at the door, we do a character word a week, we have an awards ceremony–and on it would go. This would invariably lead to the conclusion: we already do this (character education). But, there are some problems with this thinking: first, it doesn’t tell us how well you’re doing these things. It also doesn’t tell us if what you’re doing is making a difference (we’re not measuring outcomes, we’re measuring inputs). Further, it doesn’t tell us if our intentions for these activities matches our need. Sure we do all those things, but is the reason for doing them and the way we’re doing them giving us the outcome we hoped for?
Our Power2 approach develops character and culture with the kind of intensity and intentionality that a coach develops basketball skills or a teacher develops math skills. Most of what is typically done today to develop character and culture isn’t intense enough or intentional enough. A word a week, a handshake at the door, a poster on the wall, an award ceremony, a service project—these aren’t bad practices. They’re just not nearly intense or intentional enough to expect demonstrable change in the target competencies needed for enhancement of an organization’s core mission–which for schools would be teaching and learning.
Putting students in groups doesn’t mean they know how to collaborate. Showing them a quote on integrity doesn’t mean they’ve got the knowledge or tools to put integrity in action. Shaking hands at the door doesn’t mean they know how to communicate so they understand and are understood. Posting your classroom rules doesn’t mean they have shared norms for positive and productive group work. So, as we’ve discussed before: we identify the ESSENTIAL character competencies needed for teaching and learning. Once we’ve got these we must develop them with intentionality and intensity sufficient for making a demonstrable impact. Our Power2 programming delivers intense and intentional programming focused on the specific areas of need.
Wait it minute. Isn’t this a heck of a lot more work than the old paradigm where we told people, “this is no big deal, you already do lots of these things”? Yes. Absolutely. So, then why would an organization or individual committ to taking the time or effort it requires to develop these essential character competencies and cultural assets? Because, if they don’t they have a very difficult–if not impossible–time achieving their performance potential. Since if we heed Lesson 1 (Identify the ESSENTIAL character competencies and cultural assets), these outcomes we’re going after aren’t “nice if you can get ‘em”. They’re ESSENTIAL for enhancing our core mission and that’s why it’s worth the intensity and intentionality (Lesson 2).