Monday, December 24, 2007

Learning from educators: "The Virtues Project"

Teaching kids who have got in trouble with the law and are booted out of the regular schools into alternative schools is a challenging educational assignment. You might think that with these "bad kids," teachers have to be super-authoritarian, try to take the kids' power away, and get them to surrender. Guess what, that doesn't work. By contrast, a highly successful approach in use at the Sacramento County Boys' Ranch begins with The Virtues Project. The secretary who handles the kids' enrollment asks:
Do you know what virtues are? Then she launches into how virtues are the 'good seeds' in us which make up our character. Usually, the student is momentarily dazed, first by an adult in an institution asking him personal questions that aren't tied to his criminal or school history, and secondly, by the word itself -- 'virtue.' Given a few examples, the student then looks over a giant poster listing 52 Virtues and selects -- often with encouragement -- one or two that he feels are his 'strength virtues' and explains why. .... Teachers recognize, acknowledge and reinforce the virtues of students, which forges a vital link and connects with them on a level beyond the stereo-typical teacher-student superior-subordinate relationship. A whole new world of significance is opened up for both teacher and student ... which creates greater student buy-in.
("Forging Vital Links with Students in Alternative Schools," by Brett Loring, in The Journal of Juvenile Court, Community, and Alternative School Administrators of California," Spring 2007, p. 10.) Since adult alcoholics and addicts have so much in common with these "bad kids," I thought that educators' experience with these kids might be relevant somehow ....

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