It is not just traditional academic subjects which must be revisited as we rethink learning in our new era, it is everything we do and everything we teach, ethics and character among them.  Here at St. Gregory, Character is one of the three elements of our core trinity– Character, Scholarship, and Leadership.

Recently in EdWeek, (and republished here on NAIS), three educational leaders reported on findings from a multi-year study looking at schools viewed as especially successful at ethical education, and their findings can stand as guiding precepts for thinking about ethical learning in the 21st century.    As an overview, they emphasize that ‘the word “trust” reverberated throughout our interviews and site visits.’  It cannot be said enough– trust is at teh core of any successful and effective learning environment– and we must extend that trust to the students in our community.   Although all ten findings are useful (and you can find them after the jump), I want to highlight the last two:

• Authentic student input. Teachers and other adults naturally welcome serious student input in a variety of aspects of these school communities.

• Growth, not punishment. Since schools of integrity constantly search for “the teachable moment,” student disciplinary bodies are empowered to provide consequences that educate, rather than simply punish, student rule-breakers.

These both capture a worldview of working with students which I have been emphasizing here: that we must respect our students for their strengths and all that they have to contribute.   There is a great deal of research which demonstrates that young people (and all people) will live up to, or down to, our expectations for them.  If we treat them, or view them, as immature and juvenile, that is exactly what they will be.  But if we reframe our vision of our students, and see them (as I have written elsewhere) as young professionals, as interns or apprentices, they will learn more.    As in these findings, we must trust our students, we must welcome serious student input, we must educate rulebreakers rather than simply punish them.  In doing so, we build schools where they learn more, and they grow ethically more successfully.

Click on the more button for the other 8, also valuable, findings:

• Ethics as a cross-cutting dimension. Attention to values permeates these learning environments at both the adult and student levels.

• Ethics as driver and connector. Higher-order thinking skills are emphasized and deliberately linked to the moral realm.

• Integrity fueling relationships. Students in these schools develop trust through strong relationships with people committed to honest self-examination.

• Cultures of open feedback. Teachers in these schools speak their minds without reprisal, take different tacks without rebuke, take risks with support, and take feedback as an expression of caring.

• Trustees as keepers of the moral compass. Many trustees view their primary role as developing and sustaining trust.

• Tone at the top. Throughout these cultures, the ethical actions, decisions, and communication of the school head are noticed and appreciated.

• Tolerance for ambiguity. Heads and other adults in the environment admit that they’ll constantly have doubts, but they trust their personal ability to see things through.

• Professional development from the ranks. Professional-development topics are as likely to be about moral as pedagogical matters. Educators readily build on colleagues’ or students’ learning in a creative synergy, rather than feeling competitive or defensive.