Getting to the Heart of True Education at ISSP
“Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Would you be surprised to find out that almost 50% of parents don’t know when their children can begin learning critical social skills such as empathy, honesty, respect, responsibility, and compassion?
This is what a 2018 Ipsos survey found in a profile of hundreds of parents of children between ages 3-5 who have enrolled in early education programmes in the United States and South East Asian countries. Though an overwhelming majority of parents (about 92%) believe teaching positive character traits is more important now than ever before due to the influence of social media, more than half actually don’t think it’s possible to acquire them in the earliest years of childhood.
Yet increasingly, schools like International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) are seeing more and more research in child development that affirms it is not only possible to develop positive character traits in the first five years of a child’s life, but that this time is actually a critical period for doing so. At only 6 months, for instance, children have been found to demonstrate signs of empathy and begin to understand how their actions affect those around them. At ISSP, educators and staff are well aware that developing critical social and emotional skills in children starts at the very earliest age.
Teaching Empathy and Compassion at ISSP
With bullying on the rise in media coverage, it seems that many children have no concern for other children’s feelings, nor do they sense or care about the impacts their actions have on other people. We need our children to learn how to be interested in the thoughts of others, to show empathy, to express their thoughts and feelings with words, and to use those words to negotiate and compromise, all while having a positive sense of self. So how do we go about raising a future generation of children who acquire these skills and grow into emotionally intelligent adults?
Parents and teachers, of course, have a major role in encouraging good habits and mindful techniques. Most important in teaching children these character traits is equipping them with strategies for times when they encounter difficult social situations. When it comes to learning empathy, it’s best to teach children that the way people speak and behave says more about them than it does about you. Instead of reacting to something hurtful, we should teach our kids to ask questions: What happened? Why is this person saying this? What might be happening in their lives that would make them act in a hurtful way or say hurtful things? Through these questions, as parents, we make talking about emotions a normal part of everydayby naming the emotions we feel and encouraging our children to do the same. This should be in the context of everyday experiences such as asking them how they felt after their sand castle was knocked over by a sibling.
Encouraging Self Reflection at ISSP
Teaching children to “self-talk” and coach themselves through difficult situations is a great way to help them react in a way that is compassionate and constructive rather than merely reactionary. You might teach your child to say, “I cannot control another’s words or behaviour, but I can control my own reaction and how I choose to act.” This simple statement, when really absorbed and put into practice, helps children take ownership of their actions and think about not only how they can best handle social situations, but how their actions will impact others.
The “Proud Technique” is a great example to help children develop self-worth as well as teach them to think about their behaviour and plan how they will react to adversity or negativity. “I’m proud of you when you ________. Are you proud of yourself?” Though it may seem strange, variations on this phrasing can actually encourage children to not only anticipate how to behave appropriately and positively, but to increase their sense of self-worth as they do so.
These are just a few examples of how parents can intentionally and purposefully help their children become healthy, balanced, and civic-minded adults. But think of all the hours children spend away from their parents in school—how can parents ensure their children’s character growth remains consistent when it is impossible to guide and support them at all times? This is where character education plays a vital role, and where schools like ISSP are stepping in to support parents and incorporate values, ethics, emotional maturity, and a sense of civics into their American-standard curriculum, starting from an early age.
The 11 Key Action Points at ISSP
Though this is a developing field, there is a growing effort to standardise and fortify character education across academic institutions worldwide. While specific values and methods will vary across cultures and among different age groups, there are 11 key universal action points that ISSP adheres to:
1. Ensure educators at ISSP promote core values (empathy, compromise and negotiation, taking ownership of actions, expressing feelings with words).
2. Develop a comprehensive definition of character (specifically as it relates to thoughts, emotions, and actions).
3. Approach character development intentionally, proactively, and comprehensively.
4. Create caring and supportive communities in and out of school.
5. Encourage moral development in students, and provide opportunities throughout the day to develop morally.
6. Create a challenging academic environment to help students develop character.
7. Foster self-motivation in students’ learning process.
8. Ensure staff and educators are part of an ethical learning community, adhering to the values they teach.
9. Foster leadership values.
10. Engage parents as partners in raising and educating their children academically and socio-emotionally.
11. Regularly self-assess to ensure ongoing successful implementation of key principles.
Standardising character education ensures that schools are operating from a research-based methodology, rather than the individual preferences of each teacher. That way, the system is built to support, not supplant, each parents’ influence. Part of character education at ISSP has been to grow and develop a strong coalition of parents and staff representing over 30 nationalities, because it is vital that ISSP partner with parents to ensure the individual needs of each child are met.
Through this partnership, children experience an environment of cultivation and growth both at home and school, and can begin learning critical social skills from their earliest years. ISSP is now the only international elementary and early years school in HCMC to have the prestigious accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and they firmly believe that this is the true and highest goal of education; to grow the whole person, in both academics and character, to prepare them for the challenges of living in a complex, uncertain, and ever-changing world. ISSP’s school motto speaks to this commitment: “Beyond academic excellence, we nurture character.”
International School Saigon Pearl
Saigon Pearl Area, 92 Nguyen Huu Canh St, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District, HCMC.
Image source: ISSP