Now that we have passed the first checkpoint of the year (Thanksgiving weekend), it is an opportune time to consider the work of the next several months with our students. Inspiring academic excellence is surely the top job of any school, but we’ve all known people who are brilliant and high-performing on tests and exams, but who lack other qualities that we hope to see in our kids. In schools guided by missions that extend beyond academic performance, the values and attitudes instilled in the elementary years will be the only things that remain when our sons and daughters forget everything they ever learned in school.
Throughout the year, we will turn periodically to considerations of what is sometimes called the “hidden curriculum”. The term hidden curriculum refers to a collection of implicit academic, social, and cultural messages, expectations and unofficial norms, along with behaviours and values important to a school community. These assumptions and expectations that are not formally communicated or conveyed stipulate the “right” way to think, speak, and behave in school. Since the hidden curriculum invisibly governs academic achievement (and life!), it is vital for every student to learn its lessons.
There are a variety of ways to speak about the hidden curriculum at Matthews Hall, but a clear starting point is with the core values that underpin our school’s teaching and learning environment. Among the most important is our commitment to integrity with our children. Wondering what we can do to help our kids counter negative influences and stand up for what they know is right (i.e., integrity)? The answer is to nurture a solid moral core that will guide them to stand up for their beliefs and act right even when we are not around. And even when no one is watching. The best news is that we can teach children the core virtues and skills of strong character and moral courage beginning when they are very young.
Speaking frequently to our children about values is called direct moral teaching. Parents who raise ethical kids do this a lot. How can we do this? We need to recognize moral issues happening around us and talk about them with our children as they arise: from TV shows, social media content, and news events to situations at home, school, and with friends.
As parents, we must tell our kids how we feel about such issues and why. We can do this by sharing examples of morally courageous heroes (…there is a long list of such men and women!).
But most importantly: we must stand up for our own beliefs whenever we feel a major value is jeopardized. Our children need to see and hear about moral courage from us, so they have an example to follow.
If we want to raise children who can stand up for their beliefs, then we must reinforce an appropriate approach to assertiveness – not compliance. How can we do this? By encouraging them to share their convictions and stand up for what is right – even when others are doing the opposite. If we do so from early age, they will be able to weather the storm of negative peer influences more confidently.
Our hidden curriculum (…at home and at school) must strive to give integrity a place of honour in the hearts and minds of our kids.
As many great men (and women!) have pointed out to us over the ages: “right is right, even if no one is doing it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it.”
If integrity is a value that is “caught” more often than it is “taught”, then let’s all make sure we are pulling in the same direction, so children see us leading by example…which is the best kind of teaching there is.
Ric Anderson, Head of School