Last weekend I saw the documentary “He Named Me Malala” about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by Taliban militants because of her unwavering desire and advocacy for education. After surviving her assault, she became an internationally recognized activist for girls’ schooling and was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Her deeply moving speech before the United Nations concludes with her words, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
I walked out of the theater with two thoughts: first, that education and academic opportunity are taken for granted by many Americans, and here at Derby our children benefit from an education better than most. And second, character matters. Malala is remarkable, not simply because of her academic achievement, but because of her strength of character. Malala made an astounding impact because of her intrinsic qualities and steadfast adherence to her principles.
By now you can see where I am headed! Derby parents and teachers want both academic achievement and strength of character as educational outcomes for our children. Strong academic curriculum promotes intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, openness to new information, effective communication, problem solving abilities and mastery of increasingly complex skills and information. Intentional social curriculum builds character, which can be harder to teach but easy to recognize in actions and words. According to Past President of NAIS Patrick Bassett, character is demonstrated through self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience and courage.
We see evidence of character all around us. Third grade students build a bridge of understanding with Malawi students through Facetime conversations and the exchange of letters and videos. Middle School children mentor their younger buddies as they complete activities during our Pals gatherings. Eighth graders greet and help Primary and Lower School children as they are dropped off in the morning car line. Students take risks and persevere as they learn to play a musical instrument or even cross the monkey bars! School wide support of the Foley Prize initiatives succeeds because of student commitment. Every day teachers notice small acts of kindness and consideration when a child takes time to comfort a friend, patiently explains a math problem or invites a bystander into a game. The school day often concludes with acknowledgements of compassion and personal responsibility. When social learning is made a priority, children build an essential set of social skills and values as we go about our daily lives at Derby.
Why does character matter? Character matters because it builds strong, healthy relationships within our school community. Character matters because it prepares and propels our children forward “to make ethical and mindful contributions in an increasingly interdependent world.”