by David Streight
Resident Scholar, Heart of Character
With the honor of anchoring Heart of Character’s blogspot comes a certain responsibility both to whoever might read these words and to my colleagues who extended the invitation. The individuals behind Heart of Character—from north and south, from coasts both east and west—are all experienced educators and, with one exception, currently working in schools on initiatives related to our focus here. It is not some formal program that draws us together, or whether we call our work character, or SEL, or ethics education, but rather the realization that certain foundational elements underlie all successful programs. Their absence will almost certainly doom those programs to miss their marks.
The central nucleus I refer to emerges from four decades of work by scholars like Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and their colleagues on five continents. Deci and Ryan’s research data on self-determination theory, along with the personal experiences and observations my colleagues share as educators, have convinced us that self-determination theory’s key elements (a sense of autonomy, of connectedness in human relationships, and of competence) are more than good ideas, they are essential foundations for school (and parental) work to foster social and emotional learning, moral growth, character development, and well-being.
Like the physical needs for nourishment, sleep, and a clean environment, our best work cannot be done academically, emotionally, or morally without the fulfillment of certain psychological needs. We at Heart of Character propose that our best efforts at social, emotional, ethical or character development, similarly, are doomed without making sure our schools are places where students feel like they belong, are developing skills, and are feeling empowered. These are the themes we address, and thus shedding practical light on these themes will be the focus of my responsibility in future installments of this blog.
I will also address the element of purpose, however, because of its personal and professional importance in my own work: purpose in the sense of “noble purpose,” one of the best possible motivators for positive growth, as well as purpose in the sense of what a school aims to accomplish via an initiative for positive development. I will return to both of these in the future. I’ll aim for information rather than pedantry, and for practical suggestions more than theory. Readers will have to let me know how it’s going.