Head Reflections: The Importance of Character Education

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The following article is presented by Head of School Joe Williams P’22 as part of his monthly series Head Reflections.

I often comment on how fortunate we are in schools to have two “starts” in our school year. September is a time for adults and students to put in motion the goals established for the year, an opportunity to re-commit and, possibly, re-invent oneself. Then there is the return from winter break and the start of a new calendar year. This is an opportunity to reflect on our intended progress, consider new priorities, and once again commit to our efforts around those things that matter most.

Character education is part of the student life curriculum at New Hampton School.
Community meetings, like the one above in December 2019, offer an important opportunity for students and faculty to reflect and connect.

A New Year

Over the winter break, I was frustrated by things that were out of my control—my family’s inability to be together in the same space, the opportunity to visit with friends, go out to dinner, and other seemingly selfish activities that we grow accustomed to.

As New Year’s Eve approached, I watched some of the “year in review” videos on television and was reminded of the adversity our students face in addition to this pandemic we can’t shake. Icons lost, rampant issues of injustice, and unnecessary killings. Just when we thought 2021 would provide hope for something better, our Nation’s Capital was stormed—an ugly display of America at its worst.

The stories of 2020 and the events that took place this past week in Washington D.C. made me eager to return to a full campus and do whatever is necessary to serve our students’ needs by offering our full program to support their social and emotional growth.

New Hampton School students visited the Capitol building and many other sites in Washington, D.C. just months ago in March 2020.

Values and Character

I choose to work at New Hampton School because of the value we place on character education and our commitment to a set of core values—respect and responsibility—that we lean on regularly. It is not enough to learn content or simply focus on getting through the curriculum. For us, it is about how our students learn to interact with one another, open their minds to a global community, thoughtfully consider another’s viewpoint, understand how our actions impact others, and that as a student at New Hampton School, you represent something bigger than just yourself. Having respect for oneself, others, and New Hampton School is what we teach, along with assuming responsibility for our actions, making positive decisions, and contributing to the community in meaningful ways.

Our community understands these basic principles of respect and responsibility­­—they are logical, and we regularly refer to them. What is challenging is when we don’t see them displayed in real life by adults in leadership roles. We can’t teach simply with our words. Our young people need adults to model positive leadership values we are espousing with their actions. They need to understand the importance of character and the virtues of good behavior.

As we return to classes and the start of this new year, I am recommitting myself to our community’s needs and the duty we have to help our students develop into graduates that carry with them the core values of respect and responsibility.

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