A growing body of research in the area of character increasingly supports the notion that certain character traits are stronger predictors of success than academic achievement is in post-secondary education, career and life in general. Fear not – I am not about to say that academics are not important. For better or worse, marks continue to be the primary factor in university entrance requirements; even though they may not be the best predictors of success after a student is admitted. Other societal issues, including growing concerns about mental health and wellness, underscore the importance of our efforts to develop strong character in our students.
There are certainly a variety of traits that land in the character bin, with no clear evidence about which are most important. The most commonly cited are emotional intelligence (interpersonal competence, self-awareness, self-regulation and social awareness), grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, confidence, a growth mindset, empathy, adaptability, creativity and so on. The science of how best to instill these qualities in students and the extent to which they can be taught as opposed to being genetically imprinted, is still in its infancy. However, at STS, we believe that there are certain experiences that do give rise to these qualities and we attempt to methodically engage students in those as an integral part of their education.
One thing that I think we can all agree upon is that most personal growth occurs slightly outside of the sphere of one’s comfort zone. For example, when we engage students in challenging outdoor or athletic experiences, or ask them to stand up and speak in front of large groups, we believe that this stretches them and builds their capacity for dealing with uncertainty and adversity. It requires them to manage their emotions (e.g. fear, anxiety) and over time, it helps them to become resilient and more confident as they learn that they can be successful in those endeavours. When we ask students to collaborate in groups or teams to produce a PYP exhibition project or a fine arts performance, it creates the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills, including those within the emotional intelligence domain. When we involve students in local and international service projects, it helps them to develop empathy and a sense of purpose. And, when we provide a robust academic curriculum, and other academic tasks that are challenging to complete, these foster tenacity and perseverance in our students, ignite their creativity and bolster their conscientiousness. These are just a few examples of ways in which we seek to build strong character in our students.
It is important to recognize that a school’s culture can also support growth in this area. For example, at STS we have a shared set of values (integrity, kindness, respect, responsibility, safety, service), we uphold high expectations of behaviour and effort (Nil Nisi Optimum) and we hire teachers who are positive role models for our students. The ethos of the School is one of high achievement and we strive to create a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment for everyone. The environment in which one grows and learns imparts important messages and expectations of character as well, and these, combined with high expectations at home, serve to support the positive character development of our students.
Dr. William Jones
Head of School