Throughout our history, character education has been an essential component to Whitfield’s college preparatory curriculum. For decades the informal Whitfield motto has been: Be kind and do the right thing. In 2014 we began a formal character development curriculum coined, The Habits of Mind and Heart, or just, the “Habits”.
As Whitfield’s Director of Health and Wellness, I have the privilege and pleasure of working with our faculty to continue to enrich and implement our Habits. There are six focus areas: Ethical Conduct, Cultural Competence, Citizenship, Mindfulness, Leadership and Scholarship. Through the curriculum, coupled with an emphasis on the importance of a growth mindset, we encourage critical reflection for academic and personal growth, improve social and emotional intelligence, and help our students discover the strengths they will need to be effective citizens and leaders.
The Habits curriculum begins each year at every grade level, with all students and faculty taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. The VIA classification consists of 24 positive traits that are valued universally (across cultures, religions, nations, and belief systems) and describe what is best about human beings. The survey results provide a common language for recognizing and developing what is best in ourselves and others. At Whitfield, we start from a position of what is strong instead of what is wrong. All character strengths are ‘buildable’ and with deliberate practice can be strengthened over time—particularly as we employ our growth mindsets.
Whitfield’s Advisory Program is the formal platform for delivering the Habits of Mind and Heart curriculum—often approached through the lens of our character strengths. A deliberate and purposeful Advisory curriculum, specific to each grade level, features activities designed to help students interpret, understand and embrace the Habits.
Informally, the Habits are woven throughout almost every class and subject area. For example in math, students talk about what it means to persevere and learn how to effectively advocate for themselves when they don’t understand a concept (Scholarship). In science, students and faculty talk over ethical considerations that come up in research (Ethical Behavior). In our humanities classes, the Habits of Cultural Competence, Citizenship and Leadership are woven into class discussions.
The Habit of Mindfulness pervades all departments. What we know from the last 30 plus years of neuroscience research is that any human mind works best and learns the best when it is both calm and alert. Through practicing Mindfulness, students learn how to control their own attention and physiology so that they can be calm and alert and ready for learning. As we practice mindfulness, we develop a willingness to be curious and accepting.
Feel free to reach out if you would like to know more.
Ginny Fendell, MSW, LCSW
Director of Health and Wellness