We know classrooms are no longer ‘chalk and talk’ and schools teach far more than maths and science. Now more than ever, students are exposed to a series of holistic programs aimed at nurturing their minds, bodies and overall wellbeing.
Among the initiatives being embraced by schools are strategies focused on igniting key values in our kids – things like compassion, kindness and a sense of justice and community.
But are these values the result of ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’? Can we really show kids how to achieve these skills, as we would traditional subjects? Leaders in this space say yes, and it’s important that we do.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Mother of Good Counsel School in North Cairns created a “Shoe Box Surprise” for local aged care residents during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Each box contained a card or letter, a family photo, some homemade art or craft, soap and a pen.
Residents shed tears of joy when the brightly wrapped boxes were delivered, the school’s Assistant Principal Religious Education, Manda Young, said. She believes teaching children values such as giving and kindness helps guide them to a fuller life. “It is in giving that we receive,” Manda said.
“Young children are still developing their sense of self. If we can encourage them to learn and adapt these values, through role modelling and explicit teaching, they will grow to be happier people, in turn creating healthier and happier communities.
“Students from our earliest years display these core values and begin to understand how the way we treat others out of the kindness of our own hearts impacts others and ourselves.
“These values taught means that the students leaving our school have the tools in their toolkits to become empathetic and supportive adults.”
Maria Beswick, a teacher, has been running the Justice Squad at St Gerard Majella School in Woree for 18 years. “I’ve had contact with some students who have gone on to be vocal members of the community and have made reference to their time in the Justice Squad,” she said.
“We don’t just teach charity. We have organised postcard campaigns and petitions. These ranged from support of refugees, to maintaining the aid budget, to campaigning for sustainable fishing, to asking the Government to release children from detention and forgiving Third World debt.”
Maria believes some children have a natural disposition for empathy and compassion, but kids can equally be taught these values. “The naturally empathetic ones discover they have a quality that is valued and important, and that gives them more confidence to be that person,” she said. “The ones that need a little help to develop this sometimes go on to be some of the strongest members. It definitely can be taught and is so important for the complete development of a person.
“Being mindful of others is a quality we need in people, especially now. In a digital age it can be easy for students to develop other traits. Grounding them in compassion, kindness and sharing will help them through this.”
HOW SHOULD PARENTS CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION AT HOME?
“Talk to your child when you see an issue worth supporting. Children understand more than we think, or want to understand at least,” Maria said.
“Make sure your children are clear about your values. Don’t let them second guess. Explain why you are sending an email to challenge something that’s happening in our country or overseas. Tell them why you value the environment but more importantly show them what you believe. Introduce them to books and websites. Take them on a protest to show your support for something.
“Use people like Greta Thunberg as an example of how one person can change things. If you support a charity, tell them. Show them documentaries. Answer their questions no matter how hard. If you don’t know the answer, look it up. The world won’t change unless we have well-educated students. Educated in how the world works and what we need to do to make it a better place. Acknowledge their concerns about what’s happening in the world.”
Holy Cross School in Trinity Park runs a Service and Outreach Program on Friday afternoons, for students in Years 5 and 6.
The program encompasses a range of groups, including Justice Squad, Kindness Crew, Environment Committee, Playground Group, Reporters and Photographers, and the Construction Crew.
Activities are student-led, with staff assigned purely to help turn ideas into achievable actions. The groups lead a series of projects, including promoting and coordinating recycling initiatives, fundraising to assist the purchasing of items such as a motorised wheelchair for an elderly parishioner, helping at local daycare centres, growing and supplying food for outreach organisation Rosies, making care packages and cards for children in hospital, and creating safe play spaces and activities for the younger students to enjoy.
Year 6 student Danika said participating in the program helped put things in perspective.
“When you help someone, it feels really good to know that you are actually making a difference in someone’s life,” she said.
Luka, also in Year 6, believes: “It’s about putting yourself in other people’s shoes” while classmate Mia reflected: “Some people don’t really understand how much impact this can have. It could change people’s lives.”
Principal Sarah Hamilton described how she was sought out by high school principals following enrolment interviews, commending Holy Cross students and remarking that the students were each able to talk widely about their own values, and the importance of service in the community.
She said the program was “another forum for children to find their spark and shine”.
“Some children who are really passionate and vocal during these initiatives don’t necessarily put themselves forward and shine in a traditional classroom context,” Sarah said.
“But ask them to stand up and talk about why recycling plastic is important, and they will do that with great enthusiasm and passion. These children are our future, and we need to listen to them. It is vital that we acknowledge the importance of their voice.
“For an hour each week our students are connecting with their passion, learning who they are, and what they can do to leave the world a better place for having been upon it. By having a really firm foundation and a true understanding of their spirituality and identity as a member of a Catholic community, they will be well positioned to live a happy, fulfilling life. Our Service and Outreach initiative is a living and breathing model, unpacking some of the things they can continue to do throughout their lives.”
Involvement in programs such as Justice Squad can help kids to find a sense of purpose, Maria said.
“In their daily lives they can walk tall,” she said. “I have actually had feedback from some parents of kids who weren’t so good in class behaviourally and/or academically but they have commented how different they have been because of the Justice Squad and what they do. It has given them a confidence they didn’t have before, feelings of satisfaction and sometimes of recognition.
“Mention any person in history who is renowned for their humanitarian achievements, and people look up to them more than any politician or movie star.”