The title of this blog is the same title of an article I recently read that was excerpted from the book “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why” by Paul Tough. He is also the author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” and “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.” In the excerpt, Tough states: “Maybe you can’t teach character the way you teach math.” Tough goes on to ask: “What if noncognitive capacities are categorically different than cognitive skills?” Tough continues: “Rather than consider noncognitive capacities as skills to be taught, I came to conclude, it’s more accurate and useful to look at them as products of a child’s environment.

There is certainly strong evidence that this is true in early childhood; we have in recent years learned a great deal about the effects that adverse environments have on children’s early development. And there is growing evidence that even in middle and high school, children’s noncognitive capacities are primarily a reflection of the environments in which they are embedded, including, centrally, their school environment.”

The reason this article struck such a chord with me is that, in essence, we here at Harrisburg Academy agree with Mr. Tough’s premise. It is why we have chosen to create a list of character traits that we believe students should acquire or emulate without creating a specific curriculum to teach these traits. We agree that creating or adapting an environment to allow the development of character is the responsibility, if not the ethical mandate, of any learning environment.

At the Academy, for example, both Responsive Classroom® and Developmental Designs are predicated on providing opportunities for students to use the academic skills they are being given but also developing strengths in both the social and emotional aspects of their schooling.

Having students in Early Childhood and Lower School create their own rules and expectations, for which they hold themselves and their peers accountable, addresses respect and responsibility. Having Middle and Upper School students use Turnitin, a web-based plagiarism checker, validates their attempts at and holds them accountable for honesty and integrity. Offering field trips, the Centers for Experiential Learning & Innovation, and the opportunity to participate in music, drama, art, and athletics addresses students’ need for curiosity, cooperation, and courage.

Clearly, Harrisburg Academy is not only making sure our environment is conducive to the development of strong character, but also encouraging teachers to support growth in and hold students accountable for those traits once they have developed them.

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.