Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What's your character?

Yesterday I felt spoiled rotten. We played monopoly upon a decorative table set for a feast and colourful enough for a parade, we were serenaded by the talented student musicians playing Pachabel's "Cannon in D", and some of our little cohort were even awarded baskets o' goodies!

Then our eyes were opened anew. I truly felt that mine were, at least - the start of an adventure!

June 2nd, 2008 approximately 30 University students showed up at "P" Elementary School, the first stop on our schedule of packed days to visit and explore the educational system in some of "Port City's" public schools, gratis a la Urban Educator's Institute. Not only were we joined by administrators and faculty of "P" School, but in addition professionals from the other 6 schools on our neatly typed list. This was the beginning of what would be our morphing cohort of teachers, administrators, and future educators out to get the real deal and find out What is RIGHT With Urban Education?

I was not quite sure what to expect that day. I suppose some of my assumptions were still idling, (ie: the threat of violence, encountering disruptive rebel students lacking ambition and the like) but I desperately wanted these assumptions to be shot down. Even as I drove down the City streets after hopping off the highway a little too early, my shoulders tensed and my tongue was dry because I was in unfamiliar territory and didn't quite know what would happen next. What did I find?

This school was driven by an inspired principal with a vision and a culture of learning. Professional development is valued here and teachers don't just sit where they are, satisfied and comfortable. They are urged to push the envelope to grow and enrich the programs available and up the ethic and character of students at the school. As we sat and listened, teachers from the school told us about the very recent trip they had taken to Tokyo, Japan, to observe the educational system, pedagogy and behavior. Their drive to develop themselves for the better of the school and ultimately the students, took them to the other side of the globe to compare/contrast and bring home best practices and ideas for implementation.

Multiple Intelligences
What surprised me? The students take a Multiple Intelligence Test at the school! (if not familiar, check out Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner or an overview of the theory) I thought this was... SO COOL! This way the teachers can be informed of what type of dominant learner the child may be, be it Musical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic or any of the other styles. This could be vital knowledge for structuring styles of teaching to utilize in the classroom and knowing how to approach a child, particularly if they may be struggling with learning.

Monopoly and Houses?
The video that "P" School had created to give us an overview of the school's best practices in parent involvement programs, after school study groups and development opportunities was so creatively made, incorporating the monopoly theme elements of our morning's activities into the visuals. I was introduced to the novel idea of having "houses" within the school (think Harry Potter but maybe not quite as competetive - though they certainly ARE proud of their houses!). Each house has a name, mascot, theme and quote: for example one team was the Phoenix, of which the colours scarlet and gold have special significance, they are focused in the area of Literacy and thrive on their "we rise". The goal is for each of the 3 houses to strive to achieve the highest number of points through variety of avenues that incorporate merit and initiative. When I first learned of the implementation of this "game", I thought it might be extraneous and silly but I actually found it intriguing. The whole house system concept seems - in addition to a cleaver bit of fun - like some friendly competition in the guise of a "game" to build responsibility, confidence, and overall character in the students - the 'whole' child.


Edubabbler said...

What is funny about this is that I really have to ask what they mean by character education. They talked about not wanting to nurture smart crooks, and while we laughed at that statement, the truth is that many of the folks who scream about character are guilty themselves of exhibiting a less than stellar character (think about Bill Bennett).

I guess what it comes down to is the fact that the term character bugs me. A lot.

UrbanEveEdublogg said...

I can't remember whether or not they shared the specifics of what this "character" education is, but from what I gathered it was nurturing characteristics of respect, honesty, and responsibility, amongst others. This to me is similar to a moral education, which I think is important. This is not to say impressing our personal beliefs and morals on the students, but fostering the general qualities listed above that will help them in their future career and personal lives - and to be positive contributors to society.

I am not sure why the term character gives you a bad taste - is it that it seems like we are "molding" or "creating" these children? Or the hypocrisy of many individuals?