Crisis brings out virtues

Guest blog by Charles Williams

Assistant Principal, Heritage & Table Rock Middle Schools

Burke County, NC

Sometimes the six virtues are evident in a crisis situation. Rain was pouring during the morning bus run several weeks ago. As I listened on the radio “bus channel,” I heard the operator say one of the elementary buses was on its side and the driver and students were trapped.  As I listened, I heard heroic actions play out.

The driver radioed the bus garage with her situation. Her first concern was her students’ safety. In the minutes that passed, I learned that one of our middle school buses arrived on the scene.

Without a second thought, the second driver (who is also a teacher) entered the back of the bus.  The middle school students followed, and as the driver evacuated the elementary students from the wreck, the older students escorted them to safety in the middle school bus. The middle school students consoled and cared for the frightened little ones. Luckily, only one student received a minor scratch.

The second driver reached the injured driver and used her jacket to apply pressure to a major leg wound. I could hear her radioing back and forth, explaining the situation. Everything was under control. She was with the driver and the children were with our middle school students.  Things were taken care of until emergency workers arrived.

At a recent school assembly, the students and teacher were recognized for their actions. Clearly, the six virtues were demonstrated:

Understanding and Imagination: Individuals understood the situation and used their imaginations to figure out what needed to be done. Quick, accurate thinking was needed and evident.

Strong Character:  Everybody demonstrated this virtue.  They did what was right and the older ones had the strength needed to console and care for the little ones.

Courage:  I heard fear in the voices over the radio. Fear was overcome, though, and courageous actions were evident.

Generosity and Humility:  I am impressed with the spirit of generosity in our students. Humility has also played out after the incident. Whenever the story of the accident has been told, the students have humbled themselves and recognized the ones who stayed calm in the situation.

These actions and virtues remind me of the good that exists in the world, especially in our school.

 

Measuring knowledge and skills — Really?

My students say we define “educated” in terms of knowledge and skill because these can be measured by tests. Really? How do tests measure knowledge or skill?

They don’t. Student answers indicate whether a specific learning is present or not. Test answers are like on-off switches, not yard sticks. Just like virtue, knowledge and skills are “measured” with teacher judgment. They are just more difficult to gauge than virtue. I love irony.

Are the six virtues ever vices?

Naturally, I was drawn to the September/October, 2013, Psychology Today article entitled, “When Virtue Becomes Vice” (by Mary Loftus). The author should have read my book, where I explained that the greatest of all social science truths is, “In all situations, it depends on the situation.” That was her main point, although she didn’t state it in the article. Continue reading →

Poll: “Parents back standardized tests”

When pollsters question people who know very little about the topic of the poll, we say they are polling an “uninformed population.” This poll is an example.  Although parents don’t know the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests, and they don’t know why we give the first and not the second, they “back standardized tests.”

From hearing policy makers talk about test scores, I already know uninformed people back standardized tests. I love irony.

 

Letter to teacher (also my student)

Dear Mary,

You mentioned a highly successful program in your school (brain-based ways to teach letter patterns and phonics). I believe you say it was successful because student reading scores went up. Is that right? Continue reading →

A perfect analogy

Bringing the six virtues to learning situations improves education just like burning more calories than are consumed reduces weight. The analogy holds in two ways:

Continue reading →

“Abstinence” and the six virtues

An old friend of mine used to warn about analogies: “They can both clarify and distort relationships.”

I thought of that as I read the Asheville Citizen-Times column headlined, “Abstinence is the answer” (July 20, 2013, p. A6). The author is a woman who periodically argues against abortion in our local paper. In this column she quoted Reverend Dahl B. Seckinger:

There is an alternative for the unmarried, and that is through the practice of chastity. It is foolproof, it is not hazardous to your health, parental permission is not needed, it is nondiscriminatory between the sexes, as either can practice this form of birth control, it is cheaper than any other form of birth control. It is energy-saving, it is tax-free and does not require billions in federal spending, nor is any red tape involved. I might add that it eliminates much of the danger of contracting venereal disease. Is this too simplistic an answer to the problem? It is medically sound and safe in its practice. There is no question about its moral implications. It is biblical. Why not deal with the cause rather than effects?

Reverend Dahl’s answer to the abortion question is like my answer to the school improvement question. We both want to address the cause of the problem — he wants to eliminate unwanted pregnancies, I want to improve education. Refraining from sex (chastity) does, in fact, prevent unwanted pregnancies, just like bringing the six virtues to a learning situation does, in fact, improve education.

But neither is a viable solution to the problem. People often fail to be chaste and teachers can’t model virtues they don’t have. Opponents of these solutions don’t say we should not be chaste, or that teachers should not model the six virtues.  They say we sometimes fail to be chaste and teachers sometimes fail to be virtuous.

In other words, my argument for the six virtues is like the chastity argument because it does not solve the problem, even though it is based on what is true. Reverend Seckinger lists the truths of the chastity argument. And the six-virtue argument is based on the truth that all virtues are combinations of these six. But neither set of truths solves the problem because the problems are caused by another truth — people fail to be chaste, and teachers can’t model and teach the virtues they lack.

But let’s be careful with analogies.  The chastity and six-virtue solutions are not analogous in one important way. Chastity is only one thing. It is the absence of the act that causes pregnancy. That is why “abstinence” is in the headline. But bringing virtues to learning situations takes many forms. Education improves whenever teachers bring any of the virtues, even if they can’t always bring all six.

It’s all in the definition, what’s yours?

The headline about the George Zimmerman verdict read: “Jury instructions at center of verdict: Reasonable doubt, justifiable force definitions played part in decision.” (Asheville Citizen-Times, July 15, 2013, p. A4)

Later that day I opened the July 8/July 15 TIME cover story on happiness. The author wrote:

Part of the solution, however, may lie not in a product or a program but simply in a better understanding of the particular way Americans define happiness in the first place. (p. 27)

There you have it.  Every discussion related to the Zimmerman case depends on your definition of reasonable doubt and justifiable force. And every discussion related to happiness depends on your definition of happiness.  Of course they do, just like every discussion related to education depends on your definition of “educated.”

What’s yours?

Sometimes you just have to ask

Guest blog by Kat Rangel, NC Principal Fellow

Educators feel constrained by the rules and regulations that cover almost everything in public education. We have always had DPI rules and state policy mandates, but now we also have fewer resources, higher class sizes, mandatory testing, bell schedules, morning duties, and more diverse student bodies. When teaching seems overwhelming, the virtue of imagination can lead to solutions and successes.

At a high school I worked at the math teachers didn’t have time to work one-on-one with my ESL students. They said, “How can I teach Algebra to ‘Jose,’ if his English is weak and I speak no Spanish?”

As the ESL teacher, I set out to find a solution. I emailed the math and Spanish departments at our local university. Their response was to send Spanish-speaking math majors, and math-speaking Spanish majors, to work with our ESL Algebra students.  The math teachers hadn’t thought to ask.

Testing is now a focus in many schools. All the world stops for TESTING. As coordinator of our school’s ACCESS tests, I needed proctors.  I decided not to ask my colleagues to give up their planning periods. Instead, I contacted a nearby retirement community and ended up with more volunteers than I needed. Somebody just had to ask.

To paraphrase Bishop Michael Curry, in a world where we ask too often “why?” you have to have the imagination to ask “why not?”

New tradition builds virtuous climate

Guest blog by Chip Gordon, Math Teacher

Rohanen Middle School, Rockingham, NC

Generosity and humility have taken Rohanen Middle School by storm. We have improved school climate and teacher attitudes by making “Staff Member of the Month” awards. This new tradition has had a profound effect on the whole school.

It all started in a School Improvement Team meeting. We decided to do something to show appreciation for teachers who are going above and beyond the call of duty.

The monthly award goes to the staff members we want to recognize for their hard work and generosity. Receiving this award one time was a humbling experience – knowing that others saw my efforts and wanted to show their appreciation.

Since we started this tradition, my coworkers and I are more humble as we see the good that many staff are doing. And we are more generous as we recognize the efforts that improve the school for everybody.