Teacher Leadership Standard 1 – Model ethical and moral behavior

The main goal in my career as a teacher and future educational administrator is to help my students to grow into happy, successful citizens. When I first started working on this blog posting, I came up with quite a long list of values and morals that I believe in. However, I needed to narrow them down to my guiding principles as an educator. Before making a plan of action, it is important to think about what you want to happen. If we don’t have an underlying intention, we won’t have a guide in which to follow when making decisions. We won’t have a destination or end in mind. If we don’t know where we are ultimately going, we can’t know the way to get there. We need to know ourselves and be clear about our own intentions and why we feel the way the we do. We need to ask ourselves…What are the underlying emotions or thoughts that are guiding my intentions? What is motivating me to have those intentions? To be effective educators and educational leaders, our intentions should be focused on helping others. After narrowing down my list of values, morals, and principles, I came up with a short list for my role as an educator, for my students to grow into happy, successful citizens. They include unconditional love, moral socialization, and having a Growth Mindset.

I grew up attending church and a Catholic elementary school. I learned the fundamentals of the Bible and the Catholic religion and was taught to live by the church’s morals and values. Within my family, at school, and through the church, I was taught to live by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Even though we went to church and attended Catholic school, we were not a religious family. Religion was more a matter of tradition and family history. As a family, we started steering away from organized religion, but continued to practice many of the morals and values taught by the church. To this day, I do not consider myself religious, but I do consider myself spiritual. I feel that many organized religions, and the people who follow those religions, have strayed from their original purposes and goals. “God, life, and love – these three are indispensable for a good and beautiful world. That is the heart of Christianity, and that is the message we most need to recover” (Wirzba, 2013, p. 2). I have tried to live my life caring for others and keeping in mind the Golden Rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I am not one to quote scripture or stand firm using religious reasoning. In fact, blind adherence to doctrine makes me uncomfortable. I feel that my values and morals are very “public” in the fact that even though they may be grounded in religious teachings, they are not defended through religious arguments. I feel that this is critically important in today’s world of cultural inclusivity. As an educator, I value our American forefathers view of the separation of church and state. There are so many different cultures and religions living within our country now, that to bring us all together, a more secular view of values and morals is needed.

Within my family growing up, I learned unconditional love through my amazing stay-at-home mom. She valued my three siblings and I, wanted us to follow our passions and our dreams. She always showed us she loved us, even when we she didn’t love our behavior. She taught us how to get along with each other, to be compassionate, honest, take responsibility for our actions, and to have courage and patience. My dad on the other hand, who was a high-level executive at Boeing, encouraged me to always do my best. He instilled a strong work ethic within me and always wanted me to go above and beyond what was expected. When I was in elementary school, I remember him asking my teachers for extra credit and enrichment work for me. From then on, there was never an extra credit offering that I turned down. Even if I had a perfect score in the class, I would do every extra credit assignment that was available. He taught me self-discipline, respect, perseverance, determination, diligence, and leadership. Through both of my parents, I feel that I received a very well-rounded moral upbringing. However, I often did not feel unconditional love from my dad. The high-pressure tactics he employed to instill a strong work ethic in us as children, often made me feel that his love was conditional on my achievement.

As a parent of three, I have tried to raise my children with high moral values. I have tried to take the best of what was taught to me as a child and alter that which I felt could be improved upon. I want my kids to always strive to do and be their best, and know that mistakes are an important part of learning and growing. By showing them unconditional love, my children have been able to focus on standing tall without questioning my support if they fall. Some of the ways that my husband and I taught our values and morals to our children were through modeling, experiences, and children’s literature. We read books to them like The Children’s Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett (1998). The book was also adapted into a children’s PBS television series called the Adventures from the Book of Virtues. The book and television show were based on international stories, fables, and myths that helped children to learn about virtues common to all cultures, religions and ethnicities…honesty, responsibility, compassion, courage, self-discipline, friendship, loyalty, respect, faith, humility, generosity, perseverance, determination, trustworthiness, integrity, gratitude, selflessness, honor, patience, charity, leadership, citizenship, diligence, moderation, wisdom, and work ethic. Using children’s literature is a great way to teach and show examples of values and morals. When it comes to discipline, I have always tried to be proactive, by teaching the expected behaviors. Morris (1996) states that discipline fits into two broad categories, reactive and proactive. Reactive discipline is punishment without instruction and often includes exclusionary methods. Proactive discipline is when a plan is in place for how to deal with behavior issues before they arise and has a teaching element to it. Morris (1996) states that the majority of research that he studied showed that the proactive approach to discipline is more effective than the reactive form. However, the reactive approach seems to be much more common in schools. How can children learn if they aren’t taught how to correct the mistake they made? When mistakes were made in my home, I let my kids know that it was their behavior that I was disappointed with, and not them as a person.

I have taken in all that I have learned throughout my life, from the church, Catholic school, family, parenting, teacher education, and life experiences, to develop my values, morals, and ethics as an educator. I want my students to become happy, contributing citizens. I feel that promoting a Growth Mindset philosophy with my students embodies many of the values that I want to impart as an educator. Carol Dweck states that…”It matters greatly what students believe about their intelligence” (2007). The hallmarks of a fixed mindset include 1) Don’t make mistakes. 2) Don’t work hard. 3) If you make mistakes, don’t try to repair them (Dweck, 2007). In contrast, growth mindsets have the following characteristics…1) Take on challenges. 2) Work hard. 3) Confront your deficiencies and correct them (Dweck, 2007). “Building resilience means fostering children’s sense of agency (the knowledge that they are in control of their actions) and self-efficacy (the belief that they are competent and capable) and developing a framework for approaching problems” (Pawlina & Stanford, 2011).  I try to praise students for their effort and not for their ability. Students should see challenges and the effort to work through them as the norm and not the exception. “…problems and challenges are chances to ‘grow our brains’, which makes people feel strong, happy, and excited to learn new things” (Pawlina & Stanford, 2011).  It is important for me to help my students to understand that learning something new takes quite a bit of time and that “practice makes better”. Reframing mistakes as opportunities for their brains to grow changes students’ attitudes about making mistakes and taking on new challenges. “Researchers have found that in dozens of studies that students with a growth mindset improve more in academics and other skills, and can even be less aggressive and more socially engaged” (Sparks, 2013). The research is very promising regarding teaching and promoting a growth mindset in the classroom. Sparks quotes David Dockterman from the Harvard School of Education. He says, “When kids play video games, they fail 80 percent of the time. They look at failure there as an opportunity to learn. However, students can find school mistakes humiliating” (Sparks, 2013). “Praising students’ strategies, focus, effort, persistence, and improvement takes the spotlight off fixed ability and puts it on the process of learning” (Sparks, 2013). If a parent comes in with a fixed mindset and believes that their child cannot achieve to the degree we feel that they can, I can explain to them the research behind Growth Mindset. If on the other hand, a parent is upset about their child’s mistakes, I can discuss with them how mistakes are a part of the learning process and help them to understand that a child can learn from their mistakes and achieve more through not having a fear of making mistakes. I feel that teaching my students about Growth Mindset and having a proactive approach to discipline both help my students to feel that my love for them is not conditional on their behavior or their academic achievement. I want them to know that I want the best for them and that I am here to guide them, support them, encourage them, and celebrate them.

I also believe that to help students to become happy, successful citizens, we need to teach in a culturally responsive manner. Our lives have become much more global than they once were. If our curriculum doesn’t mirror the broader culture we live in, we are missing out on a rich opportunity for our students to see beyond their own communities, state, or country. In addition to this, by teaching using multicultural curriculum, we are also helping all our students to learn more about themselves and others. We are helping to validate the differences in cultures and to have our students see the value that they and others bring to our world. I have found this to be true within my own class groups. Our district recently adopted a new reading curriculum that has caught my students’ attention. For example, a few of the stories have been about people of Mexican descent and many of my students’ families are originally from Mexico. My students got very excited when we were reading these stories that portrayed foods, customs, and other aspects of daily life that they could relate to. Another recent story we read was an East Indian folktale. I had never heard this story before, but two of my Indian students recognized it and felt more connected to the class because of it. I am very happy that our new curriculum takes a more multicultural approach to the teaching of reading.

Culture plays an enormous role in how people communicate. Spoken language is just encoded culture and different cultures have languages, accents, and dialects which can create barriers with others who are not familiar with them. Communication goes well beyond just talk. Eye contact, physical movements, and voice inflections are all based on cultural norms. I find it interesting to think about how different cultures’ group interactions oftentimes differ. For example, a Southern Baptist church where everyone talks or responds out loud, is in direct contrast to the typical Protestant church, where everyone is silent and listens to the priest or pastor speak. In the classroom, we need to keep these cultural communication styles in mind as we relate to our students. In typical schools, the majority of time is spent with the teacher talking and the students listening (passive-receptive) and teachers tend to ask convergent questions. This however, is in opposition with how many students have been brought up in their home cultures. Some cultures tend to ask more divergent questions of their children and don’t follow turn-taking protocols. We need to be aware of these differences and adapt our teaching styles to fit the needs of all of our students. Group work tends to work well for some cultures, so a combination of group and individual work could be more effective. If a parent is upset by the multicultural stories and topics taught within the curriculum, I would explain to them that by teaching in a culturally responsive manner, we help our students to feel valued as individuals and teach them to become more open and accepting of others. This I feel is an important piece of the moral socialization puzzle.

“We will argue that ‘moral education’ is an umbrella term for two quite different tasks and approaches. The first, which might better be called moral ‘socialization’ or ‘training’, is the task of nurturing in children those virtues and values that make them good people. The second task of moral education is to provide students with the intellectual resources that enable them to make informed and responsible judgments about difficult matters of moral importance. Both are proper and important tasks of schools…” (Nord & Haynes, 1998). As an elementary teacher, in general, I feel that moral socialization is the most developmentally appropriate. How do we determine though what values to include in our moral socialization? Some may feel that it is not the school’s place to teach morals and values and that it should be done in the home by the family. There is however, a difference between educating and indoctrinating. In response to critics of moral education, I might reply with something like what David Copp (2016) stated, “With moral socialization, we aim to teach children to act and feel in ‘prosocial’ ways, and we teach this for the sake of their own happiness–since fitting into groups is a precondition for finding friendships and for having successful careers, and so on–and also for the sake of successful functioning of the classroom–since classroom teaching cannot succeed if the children interrupt, and cheat, and steal from one another and so on.” At my current school, we use the book, The Essential 55, by Ron Clark (2004) to help our students to develop values for success in the classroom and in life. We also have a Kindness Challenge each week to encourage positive behavior, kindness, helpfulness, and more. These are just a few of the ways that we as a staff help our students to develop values and morals that will help them to lead happy, successful lives.

I feel that my values of unconditional love, Growth Mindset, and moral socialization are critically important in my role as a teacher and future educational administrator. These values are the foundation for my professional decisions and I will help critics understand that for students to lead happy, moral, and successful lives, they need to have a strong character foundation. Students need to view learning as something not just done in school and must strive to continually want to learn and experience new things. It’s important that students know they are valued as individuals and that they are unconditionally loved to thrive and achieve their full potential. In my opinion, these values are very secular in nature and do not pit one religion or culture over another. I feel that they are inclusive and almost always recognized as values that should be taught and encouraged at school.

 

References

Houston, P. D., Blankstein, A. M., & Cole, R. W. (2008). Spirituality in educational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wirzba, N. (2016). Way of love: recovering the heart of Christianity. New York, NY:       HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins .

Copp, D. (2016). Moral Education versus Indoctrination. Theory And Research In Education,      14(2), 149-167.

Bennett, W. J. (1998). The children’s book of virtues. New York: Scholastic Inc.

            The Adventures of the Book of Virtues [Television series]. (n.d.). PBS.

Clark, R. (2015). The essential 55: an award-winning educator’s rules for discovering the            successful student in every child. New York: Hachette Books.

Pawlina, S., & Stanford, C. (2011). Preschoolers grow their brains: Shifting mindsets for greater resiliency and better problem solving. YC Young Children, 66(5), 30-35.

Sparks, S. D. (2013). ‘Growth Mindset’ Gaining Traction As Ed. Strategy. Education Week,          33(3), 1-21.

Morris, R. C. (1996). Contrasting disciplinary models in education. Thresholds in Education,       22(4), 7-13.

Nord, W. A., & Haynes, C. C. (1998). Taking religion seriously across the curriculum.     Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Dweck, C. S. (2007). Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate. Education Canada,     47(2), 6-10.

 

 

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