© 2017 Teaching Troubled Hearts, Chaddock Quincy, IL

  • Michelle Bickhaus

Are We Teaching What's Most Important?


Grab a notebook and a pencil, sit down, and think about these next questions: What do you want most for yourself?

If you are a parent, what do you want most for your child/children? Write down your responses.

Did you write down that the most important achievement is high grades? High test scores? Lots of money?

I really hope you’ll email your response to me.

If you’re like most adults your answer was something related to happiness. And who doesn’t want happiness/fulfillment? The ways in which we get there will vary but the goal is a meaningful and fulfilling life with a lot of happiness. Maybe you are chasing a million dollars because that will allow you freedom to do more meaningful work but the ultimate goal is still fulfillment. Perhaps others are choosing to scale back and live more simply in order to carve out time for family and relationships.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, Denise Pope weighed in with her experiences on the question of success:

I always start my talks out with “How do you define success?” And if I say it to students in a student assembly, without fail, usually, the top couple of answers are money, grades, test scores, where you go to college, something like that. And that’s been consistent, now, for 15 years.

And when I ask the same question to the parents — and usually, it is the parents of those kids, who are coming at the same school that night — it’s never that. But they say happiness, well-being, give back to society, love and be loved — really different from what we’re hearing from the kids.

Kids are striving for extrinsic achievement. And that’s because our schools are designed to do that very thing. We’re esteeming 4.0s, college acceptances, perfect SAT scores, scholarships, etc., all of which is fine. I’m not suggesting we throw out the pursuit of those objectives.

I AM suggesting we also express an appreciation for things like community involvement, empathy, helpfulness, kindness, etc. Let’s post photos of the kids who volunteered at the Humane Society in the school lobby right alongside the faces of Honor Roll students. Let’s regard helpfulness with the enthusiasm we show for students who are awarded college scholarships.

There’s the issue of metrics, of course. Assessments and determining effectiveness. I don’t think we really need to “standardize” this process, though. What we need is a paradigm shift. We need to be intentional about creating opportunities to honor these intrinsic goals. Have a summertime brainstorming party with your colleagues to frame a success project that will laud empathy and respect at your school. Create some goals, make a plan, and start a beautiful new movement in your school. If you can’t get your co-workers on board,

Then start the initiative in your classroom.

Pope puts it beautifully when she says, “I’m Jewish, and there’s a notion called tikkun olam, which means “to repair the world.” And the rule is that you don’t have to fix it, and you don’t have to do it alone, but you gotta try. And that’s how I’ve seen every part of my life, is doing something to try and make the world a better place.”

Make the world a better place.

That’s the life breath of a teacher. We’re passionate about making the world a better place! This is one more step in that direction; perhaps it’s the most important step.