Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Internet and the Honor Code

Shannon Frederick, our Middle School Technology Coordinator, and I put this piece together for the middle school newsletter.

Children start using the Internet very early these days. The debate between pros and cons of Internet usage could be argued all day long, but the truth is preteens and teens can’t get enough. In fact, at any given minute during a normal day, over one billion people can be on the Internet. So, how can we be aware of what our children are doing, help them navigate the internet with honor and integrity, and keep them safe?

Students are using the Internet in a myriad of ways. They post photos of themselves and friends, along with information about themselves, such as hobbies, afterschool activities, and likes/dislikes on social networking sites. Students complete research for everything from class assignments and projects to volunteer opportunities to “cheats” for a video game to help them reach the next level. They are instant messaging each other, playing online games, sending emails, watching videos, exploring a “cyberworld,” listening to music, taking part in chat rooms, and utilizing their cell phones for texting, picture taking, or internet access. The Internet is part of their educational and personal world.

As parents and educators, we have to decide how much time is spent and where that time is spent depending on their developmental stage. An article and handout is on the Calvert’s Technology blog to help parents make the decisions that are best for them. However, whether students are accessing the Internet at Calvert or at home, we try to encourage them to keep a few pieces of information in mind to make healthy and educated choices while “surfing the net.”

All of the new information media, social networking, and electronic communication of our world necessitates that we as a school teach our students how to navigate through the temptations of the Internet. Three questions will help safely guide them:

o Is it safe?

o Is it honest?

o Is it kind?

If the answer to any of these three questions is “no,” students need to reexamine their decision to interact with, use, or pass on that information. Honest, safe, and kind are different ways of phrasing the ideas in our Honor Code: Honesty, Respect (kind), and Responsibility (safe). We want to make sure our students are asking these questions within the context of the Honor Code at school, but they are great questions for you to ask at home as well.

We hope you will take some time at home to determine your family’s guidelines for the Internet and what role the three important questions above can play at home to help children navigate the web.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The What and The How: From What is a House? To the Last Brick

Over the last few weeks, I have been dedicating posts to an explanation of the paths to the Honor Code: responsibility, respect, honesty, effort, and outreach. If we can combine these characteristics together we become selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment.

These posts have been the WHAT of the Honor Code. I plan on dedicating the next few weeks to posts which deal with the HOW we work with our students to ingrain these five honor characteristics into their core.

The imagery of paths to Honor is good, but other metaphors can capture the essence of honor at Calvert as well. If we think of character education in terms of building a house, we have covered the basic facts of what a house this case our House of Honor, which is made up of the responsibility room, honesty room, respect room, commitment room, and effort room. The next step is how do we build our House of Honor?

I will begin with a summary of a number of faculty meetings which, when distilled and codified, have provided the foundation, scaffolding, and brick and mortar to build our House of Honor at Calvert.

Curriculum integration is the conceptual foundation for our school-wide approach to character education.

The six E's (taken from the article: "Talking About Ethics and Character Education"),

  • Embedded - in every class

  • Empowered - we can do this!

  • Effective - it works

  • Extended - beyond our halls

  • Engaged - topics are relevant

  • Evaluative - is the program working?
provide the scaffolding which supports and prepares faculty when working to build a House of Honor in each of our students.

Finally, as faculty we work to seize moments and teach to our honor code. This seizing of the moment provides the brick and mortar of the House of Honor at Calvert. We work each day to seize the moments through (paraphrased from the article "Teachable Moments for Social Justice")

  • Building up knowledge in order to be more aware of when teachable moments pop up

  • Developing a 'classroom community' that allows for productive responses

  • Developing responses for both reactive and proactive situations

  • Personally committing to maintain a 'democratic, inclusive school'

The work we do each day with our students related to character education is hugely important. The development of honor is an integral part of our mission. As such, it is important that we, as an institution, have a clear idea of WHAT honor is and HOW we can help our students learn it.

Over the next few weeks, posts will flesh out the basic tenets put forth above with concrete examples and strategies.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Ponderance: Responsibility

"I must do something" always solves more problems than "Something must be done." ~Author Unknown

In our Honor Code we talk about taking responsibility for ourselves and others. This necessitates an action, therefore, when we find ourselves at a crossroads where action is hard and inaction is easy.

As the quote says, doing something always solves more problems than commenting that something must be done. By taking this responsibility we build our moral courage and elevate each other to the ideals of the Honor Code: Being Selfless servants demonstrating Moral Courage and commitment to the community.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Responsibility: A Key Path to Honor

The final path to Honor, to becoming a selfless servant demonstrating moral courage and commitment, is to work on being responsible to one's self and others. This is a difficult path to stick to for many of our middle schoolers, because it is one they must travel alone.

A definition will help again to provide context for the rest of the discussion. provides two definitions which are applicable at Calvert:

1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management (often fol. by to or for)

2. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action

We ask that students be accountable for their actions, and use their capacity for moral decision to work to keep their friends on the path of responsibility. The former is difficult because it can be easier to cast blame away from one's self thank take it on themselves, and the latter is even trickier because middle schoolers struggle to stand up to a group.

We don't expect that our students will be perfect on this path. We don't even expect that they will only move forward on this path - there will be some times when it is one step forward, five steps back. But we do expect that our students begin to understand the meaning behind taking responsibility for their actions and each other.

I come back to Coach Wooden and his reflections on life (He turned 99 years old yesterday, by the way...). Two of his reflections sum up responsibility to self and responsibility to others.

Responsibility for One's Self:

You can make mistakes, but you aren't a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes. When you blame others you are trying to excuse yourself. When you make excuses you can't properly evaluate yourself. Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.

Responsibility for Others:

Like it or not, we have influence of many different kinds in many different places and conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner. This verse is correct:

More often than we e'er suspect,
The lives of others we do affect.

[People] who don't want the responsibility that comes with [being part of a community] don't have that choice. They are role models whether they like it or not; they cannot simply announce that they intend to shirk their responsibility. They are role models, either good or bad.

So are you. So am I. I believe we have an obligation to make that model a positive one.

As we are role models to our students, so are they to each other. In order to provide a community which our students and families, we must all be accountable for our actions and those around us. Doing this each day takes us farther down the path of responsibility and closer to attaining our goal of being an honorable person.

This is the last description of the five paths to the pillars of the Honor Code. Each has been described as a path. Each path converges on the "roundabout" of honor and cycle back to one's self, each other, and the community at large. Stay tuned for further development on the code and how the paths work with and within each other to develop honor in our students.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Ponderance: The Emperor's Seed

Today's Monday Ponderance is a story about Honesty & Integrity from

The Emperor's Seed

Author Unknown, Source Unknown

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!"

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey nice try."

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!"

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!" Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grown, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Honesty: The First Step

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."

- Thomas Jefferson

Our Honor Code states in part, "we will be honest with ourselves and others." Jefferson has answered why we want to be honest very clearly and succinctly. We do it because it is the first step to wisdom. Well, what is wisdom? I'm going to go to go back to my dictionary for a definition:

wisdom: n. knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action

Obviously, middle schoolers will not be wise. In fact, their developmental timeline dictates that they will be anything but. They may have knowledge of what is true or right, but may miss wildly on just judgment as to action, or vice versa. A typical manifestation of this is the art of excuse-making.

However, as with all education, we must begin somewhere and as Jefferson has told us, we should start with honesty. Honesty is a core component of the Honor Code at Calvert and the reason we included the phrase "ourselves and others" is so we remember honesty begins within ourselves and is projected outward. Once we accept the path of honesty, excuses fall away and wisdom can start to grow. As Spencer Johnson said, "Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people."

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their assignments - Is my work my own? Will my work be completed on time if I watch this show or play this video game? or Will I own up to missing work?

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their relationships in school - Should I really say that mean thing? Should I turn a student away from a "saved" seat? Or should I really speak to my teachers/parents/siblings/friends in a way that will hurt them or disrespect them?

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their responsibility as members of the Calvert community - Should I be in the side stairwells when I know we are not allowed? Should I sneak past the head of school to avoid shaking hands? Should I decide not to sign into study hall?

Often in middle school, the natural inclination is to create excuses to answer these questions, but the honest answers are small notations in the first chapter of wisdom. Taken together they build the habit of honesty (perhaps another definition of Integrity). A habit of accepting and owning what is right and true. Once they make honesty a habit, the next step of just judgment as to action can be taken:

My work is my own. I'll do my work, and record that show for later. I missed the assignment and will complete it as soon as possible.

I will defend my friend. I will offer that seat to my peer. I will speak with respect to my teacher/parents/siblings/friends.

I will take the center stairwell. I will shake the head of school's hand. I will sign into study hall.

No excuses, no stories. Just being Honest with ourselves and others.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Effort: A Mandatory Ingredient for Success

I'll start with a definition again. Merriam-Webster defines effort as,

a conscious exertion of power: hard work.

This is one of five definitions that appear in the dictionary. (These Honor Code words are popular, aren't they?!) We ask our students to put forth maximum effort in all they do. It is difficult to describe what we expect in terms of effort except to cite examples.

The person trying a marathon for the first time spending weeks training, or the basketball player who spends hours before and after practice taking shots, or the computer programmer who spends hours mastering code, or the pianist who spends every moment practicing a challenging piece of music - these are all common examples we can understand.

The goal of these hours is success. The goal for our students is success. In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, the author elaborates on the role of effort in the development of experts. Specifically, he discusses the 10,000 hour rule: in order for a person to be expert, they put 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of practice into their chosen craft/sport/field. Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Mozart are all 10,000 hour experts.

As Joseph K. Hasenstab says in the Foreward of Tapping Student Effort: Increasing Student Achievement,

Effort is exerted in the classroom when there are successful skill and performance patterns defined ... which are modeled, practiced, and coached. Effort to learn skill and performance patterns will be exerted by students if we create “compelling whys” for them – give them reasons for learning.

Our job as teachers is to provide the environment for the "whys." My job as Dean of Students is to provide the "whys" for maximum effort as it pertains to character development. Case studies are an excellent way to do this. Again, it is easier for the students (and the adults, frankly) to grasp the meaning and worthiness of maximum effort when confronted with a situation where it is lacking or present.

Calvert believes we have a recipe for success and one of its integral ingredients is effort. Our mission statement reads, in part, "Calvert seeks to develop students of high academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, and strong moral character...." Our time-tested, yet innovative curriculum provides for the academic achievement, our excellent teachers and various academic programs provides for the intellectual curiosity, and our sports program and Honor Code provide for the strong moral character.

In order for the three aspects of the Calvert Graduate to "stick," maximum effort must be present to bind them together for a lifetime. It is one of the best lessons we can teach our students.