Walking the Peaceful Talk: Reshaping the Adult Culture of a School (page 2)
I spend a lot of time talking with educators about how to change their behavior in order to change their students' behavior. Every educator has a vested interest in the behavior of students. They all want more peaceful, hard-working, cooperative, responsible, enthusiastic students. They all want less disruption, resistance, violence, and apathy. So they listen to me and work with me to learn new strategies and techniques in order to make this happen.
Then I look at them and say, "So I gather that you all want your students to be more respectful, more responsible, more caring, and more honest." And they nod in affirmation. That's when I say, "Well, if you as an adult community in this school can't treat each other that way, how dare you ask your students to? How dare you!?!" That gets their attention. In fact it tends to startle them and even sometimes angers them. But it makes them think.
School Culture and Character Education
You see, the first gatekeeper to character education is the school principal. But the second gatekeeper is the adult culture of the school. And those cultures often fall far short of the mark. I was invited to do a short after-school workshop for the faculty at a medium-sized elementary school a while back. I am not sure why (perhaps the devil made me do it), but I decided to sit in a circle and ask one question over and over for the entire hour. The question was simply "What do you want?"
At first, they were hesitant to answer. Then the answers were simple and concrete and relatively safe; for example, "I would like a reliable printer in the office. You can't count on the one we have now." But then, as they saw that this was a relatively safe environment, the requests became deeper and more significant; for example, "I wish faculty would stop putting each other down behind each other's backs." Finally we were getting to what really mattered.
Hal Urban, a veteran of over 30 years of high school teaching and the author of numerous best-selling books (most notably Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things that Matter), reports that shortly after beginning teaching, he discovered that the faculty lounge was a psychologically toxic environment, riddled with put-downs of students and colleagues. So he boycotted the lounge, ate lunch in his room for nearly three decades, and invited students to join him whenever they wished.
I have seen teachers who are bullies to their peers, to the point where the entire school is saturated with fear and divisiveness. I have seen principals who play favorites, are vindictive, or simply create a culture of rancorous cliques.
And so have you.
Adults Must Walk the Talk
When we think of character education we tend to think first of how students behave and how we can implement strategies and structures in schools that will lead students to develop more desirable personality traits, competencies, and behavioral patterns. What we too often fail to recognize is that this is much more difficult to achieve if the adults in the school community do not "walk the talk." I think we need to start character education with a focus on the adults, and only when we get this in order, start to worry about what we can do to support the development of the students. The focus of schools should be the students, but one gateway to students' character is the character of the adults around them.
By Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz
Professor of Character Education
University of Missouri, St. Louis
Dr. Berkowitz, a developmental psychologist, is the inaugural Sanford N. McDonnell Professor of Character Education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Among his many publications are his recent book Parenting for Good and his research review for the Character Education Partnership, What Works in Character Education.
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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