This single notion underpins every element of the following talk. To many of us this may seem an obvious and uncontentious statement, but as a member of an education system which increasingly pores over and prioritises targets, scores and data at the expense of student’s personal development, mental health and enrichment, it is an idea which warrants attention. In pursuing this single-minded obsession with subject attainment we risk overlooking and dismissing those attributes which are invaluable to individual and societal flourishing; empathy, altruism, honesty, creativity, generosity, gratitude, resilience, grit and kindness to name just a few. Grades and scores alone do not prepare students for the world beyond school. Nor do they give them any meaningful or clear idea of their value or role within it.
In contrast, a school which dedicates its time and resources to recognising, nurturing and celebrating the character of young people has the power to be truly transformative. Character education is ultimately about facilitating the growth of all students into the best version of themselves. It is about student’s understanding that their worth, their value and most importantly their potential, extend far beyond any academic grade or computer generated target. It is about students discovering what they care about and what they stand for. Finally, it is about developing those skills and qualities which will enable students to act as their greatest selves in times of success and adversity. In the pursuit of these things, success and flourishing, in their truest and deepest forms will be a natural by-product. Prioritising character is not a barrier to success or attainment but a requirement for it.
On a personal level for students, knowing who they are and how they matter gives them a greater level of confidence and self-worth. They are their own leaders, their own driving force, their own fuel, and their own champions. This increased empowerment and fulfilment results in happier, more inspired and ambitious individuals, with improved well-being and mental health – two of the greatest barriers to success and flourishing among millennials. On a social level, such individuals are more empathetic, tolerant, understanding and patient with others, resulting in greater community cohesion through healthier, more fulfilling personal and professional relationships. On a societal level, empowered, ambitious, grateful individuals give back to the world. They understand that true fulfilment goes beyond personal gains, and are more likely to want to share their talents and wealth, in whatever forms they take, with others for the betterment of humanity.
To quote a great inspiration and role model; Sir Ken Robinson: ‘human resources, like natural resources, are often buried deep’. He argues that it is our job as teachers to go looking for them and create the kinds of circumstances where they can present themselves. I believe the same is true for human character. If we fail to produce an environment in which students can develop and excel, both academically and holistically, we are failing them. And when we fail these students we fail society, and we deny it a multitude of gifts and qualities that were neither nurtured nor prioritised because they couldn’t be quantified on a spreadsheet.