By Ted Chen, Middle School Assistant Director
I recently attended an educational conference with two Middle School colleagues, during which I took part in a conversation about a story of hope and humanity that transcended the darkness of World War II. Amidst the violence and horrors of the war, a group of people stood up for what they believed in and demonstrated truly honorable characteristics: selfless behavior through a commitment to the greater good and humanity. This specific group was Dutch and they rescued Jews from the Holocaust by providing them with a safe haven and safe passage out of the reach of their persecutors. After the war, this group of Dutch citizens were asked why they helped others while putting themselves at risk. They responded that it wasn't a choice, but a reflex – a moral and ethical obligation to the greater good and their fellow human beings. My experience at the conference led me to the belief that selflessness, caring, and commitment to the greater good and humanity can be learned.
This story came up at the three-day professional development program Making Caring Common: Cultivating Kindness and Preventing Bullying in Schools. The Making Caring Common Project (MCC) is hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and my former professor Rick Weissbourd. The purpose of MCC is to support schools with strategies, data driven research, and methods to create more supportive, inclusive, and caring schools and to develop students' social-emotional and ethical strengths. Brynn Jaouen-Starr, humanities teacher and 5th grade-level coordinator, and Yvette Avila, 6th and 7th grade life skills teacher, also attended. In addition to learning about the latest research and strategies, we wanted to examine how social-emotional learning and skills like empathy, compassion, and self-regulation can be taught, learned, and, most importantly, lived. If this happens, students move from a place of moral and ethical literacy (where they know what is right) to moral and ethical identity (where they naturally do what is right).
As we reflected on what we were learning, it reinforced the fact that the aspects of Lakeside's mission are intertwined. According to the research from MCC, if we want to develop academically excellent students who are global citizens that value diversity, the development of their ethical spirits is crucial, so students must learn how to participate in a caring culture.
We've worked hard over the last decade to be a caring, inclusive community. Middle School Director Elaine Christensen started an emphasis on kindness this year, and it's been embraced by students, faculty, and staff. One way it can be seen is through "kindness shoutouts" that happen during our community meetings. Both adults and students voluntarily recognize acts of kindness that they experienced or witnessed. I am excited to bring back strategies and methods from MCC to help us continue to make kindness and caring a central part of a Lakeside Middle School education, developing ethical spirits that guide students to be committed to the greater good for the benefit of humanity, our world, and our community.