By Ed DeRoche, Ph.D.
Welcome back to a new school year!
Last month, I read David Brooks’ new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life—a book about relationships and commitment.
Brooks says he wrote the book to “compensate for the limitations” of his first book on character, The Road to Character. That book, he notes, was written while he was “still enclosed in the prison of individualism”—the “resume virtues” of career, successes, accomplishments, rewards, fame, and self-interests, or the “first mountain.”
Thus, the idea for this blog on Commitment, Purpose, and Relationships. I hope you take classroom time early in this new school year to encourage your students to think about, talk about, and practice C-P-R at home, in school, and in your classroom.
COMMITMENTS are the school for moral formation. The “disposition to do well is what having good character is all about.” (Brooks)
The word, commitment, has several synonyms. I picked three— intentionality, responsibility, and promise. One question for classroom discussion might be, “What promises should you make to your students and they make to you and their classmates? “
Our job as educators (and parents) is to help students understand the importance of making and keeping commitments (responsibility/promises). This understanding will have a positive influence on their academic performance as well as their personal and social behaviors.
Psychologist Angela L. Duckworth’s wrote that she “recently surveyed thousands of adolescents about their positive and negative emotions, then asked their teachers to rate them on the same scales. The correlation between how students were really feeling and what their teachers perceived was surprisingly weak and, in some schools, close to zero. In other words, it’s hard to know how someone feels unless you ask…and listen.”
This school year make a commitment to listen, to question, to be “tuned in” to your students’ emotions and behaviors.
PURPOSE: “Our commitments give us a sense of purpose.” (Brooks)
The question for you, me, and other adults is: How do we help students develop a sense of purpose about what they do in school, in our classrooms, and elsewhere?
Our job as educators (and parents) is to help children and youth learn to take responsibility for their actions, to be willing to accept the negative consequences of their actions and behaviors, and to do something about them—be responsible.
William Damon, Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence says a sense of purpose is “the long-term, number one motivator in life.” He writes:
“Schools must address the ‘why’ question with students about all that they do. Why do people study math and science? Why is it important to read and write? To spell words correctly? Why have I (the teacher) chosen teaching as my occupation? Addressing this question in front of students, which unaccountably teachers rarely do, not only helps students better understand the purpose of schooling but also exposes them to a respected adult’s own quest for purpose. Why do we have rules against cheating? This is a good opportunity to convey moral standards such as honesty, fairness, and integrity and is a missed opportunity in most schools, even those with strong character education agendas. Why are you, and your fellow students, here at all?”
“Research shows that young people rarely have a sense of purpose. Only about one in five high schoolers and one in three college-aged youth reports leading a life of purpose.” says Kendall Cotton Bronk, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Claremont Graduate University).
RELATIONSHIP is the driver of change—underscored by a “Tremendous emphasis of listening and conversation.” (Brooks)
We need to pay more attention to the “relationship factor” because strong relationships are the “life line” in helping to reduce behavior issues, improve classroom climate, enhance student attitudes and attention, and contribute to student achievement. We know that positive relationships can help reduce the negative effects of stress and boost one’s self-esteem.
Katrina Schwartz reports:
“Classroom educators know better than anyone else how much of learning is built on the strength of relationships in the room. When students like and trust their teacher, they learn better. Veteran teachers know those factors often hinder teachers’ ability to form relationships. But a slow shift may be coming as some school leaders are starting to recognize that the health and happiness of teachers, students, and staff depend on making space in school for relationship building.”
C-P-R is your and your students “life-line” to a peaceful, promising, and productive new school year.
C-P-R captures essential behaviors that underscore the character formation of students.
C-P-R must be taught and modeled.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” —Denzel Washington
Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES
The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks. New York: Random House, 2019.
William Damon, “Teachers can still instill sense of purpose,” Education Next, Summer 2009 / Vol. 9, No. 3
Kendall Cotton Bronk | Five Ways to Foster Purpose in Adolescents, December 21, 2017. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/
Katrina Schwartz, Helping Teens Find Purpose: A Tool For Educators To Support Students’ Discovery, September 25, 2017 KQED News