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Teaching Values

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jim McManus, Executive Director of the California Association of Independent Schools, presented market research data from independent school moms to the Bay Area Heads recently. This is market research focused on what mothers want and need from schools and the stresses they feel in raising their children. One of the interesting data points was that 94% of mothers would prefer that their children become giving adults to becoming wealthy adults. Given the recent Wall Street Journal article about raising grateful children and the importance of making gratitude an everyday practice at home, it made me think about how CDS students learn about giving and learn to practice gratitude in our classrooms, and about how important teaching values is to our parent community.

In the third grade Pelicans classroom, students create a thank you card for every CDS staff member each December and hand deliver them to the respective recipients. If you walk around our administrative offices, you’ll see these handmade cards hanging above everyone’s desk. CDS students regularly have the opportunity to work with and express appreciation for our community partners. Anytime a visitor comes to a classroom at CDS, or when students are led by a scholar out in our community (doing watershed restoration, workshops with differently abled dancers, field trips with guides at Mission Dolores Church, etc.), teachers invite students to offer appreciations. Students are often eager to say what they are grateful for. This includes the concept of being grateful for the opportunity to help out, or simply participate. Second graders thank the homeless youth they work with for letting them make them sandwiches. Our students’ ability to give and to express gratitude is a testament to the strong social emotional learning that begins in preschool at CDS. Our students learn to give to our own community as well as to the larger community of San Francisco and beyond.

The Wall Street Journal says that “Another study examined 1,035 high-school students outside New York City. The study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found that those who showed high levels of gratitude, for instance thankfulness for the beauty of nature and strong appreciation of other people, reported having stronger GPAs, less depression and envy and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens. Further, teens who strongly connected buying and owning things with success and happiness reported having lower GPAs, more depression and a more negative outlook.” Further, “Materialism had just the opposite effect as gratitude—almost like a mirror," says study co-author Jeffrey Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University.

Mothers must have an intuitive sense of what is most important for their children to learn because the two top things they want elementary schools to teach are reading comprehension and social-emotional learning. At CDS, our students develop a sense of caring for self, for others and for the community. Social-emotional learning is carefully taught and assessed on the progress reports. The skills and values they learn here will help them as adolescents and as adults.