Self-Directed Learners with Strong Character will be the Next Generation of Leaders

Our nation’s 2015 High School graduates began Kindergarten at a time when there was no Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Solar energy to power a home and electric energy to power a car were ideas of the future. Google was just getting traction after having been incorporated from a garage in California. Today, these companies, and many others like them that were not even imaginable twelve years ago, are leading multi-billion dollar industries creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

So how can we prepare our students to flourish in all aspects of their lives ahead when the context they will be living in after they graduate is not even imaginable today?

Addressing the serious gaps in the K-12 educational ecosystem will require key stakeholders to adopt a more expansive view of education, moving beyond a narrow, albeit critical, focus on academic achievement. As we seek to create thriving school communities, we must now count character formation and personalized learning as critical elements for student success. Moreover, schools must address these critical elements in ways that are sustainable and embrace strategies that are increasingly more cost efficient.

At the heart of a thriving school community is a commitment to building self-directed learners. The capacity for students to own their learning, and have the motivation to do so, is a primary determinate of success in college, vocation and in life.

Central to developing self-directed learners is forming character. Forming character includes, but goes far beyond learning behavior norms. It requires an intentional effort on the part of the school to deepen a student’s understanding of their identity and purpose(s) in contexts greater than self in life. Foremost, believing that character is more “caught than taught” through powerful adult influencers, character formation includes a commitment on the part of the leaders and teachers in the school to intentionally grow their character alongside the students.

Armed with an understanding of their identity and purpose, students are inspired internally to perform in ways that maximize their potential to advance greater purpose. For this to happen, educational opportunities of the future must provide opportunities for conversations about a common commitment to common contexts and causes greater than themselves that inspires them to act. We believe that the purpose of a school is to both form character and grow students in their knowledge and skills.

To prepare students to be self-directed learners, who continually pursue personalized learning to advance their freedom and opportunities for the future, we must consider virtues which have been catalysts for this cause for centuries. As we reflect on the past 250 years of our nation’s history, select virtues have been vital to advance freedom and opportunity across all demographics, contexts, time and cultures. Virtues such as:

  • Diligence,
  • Self-sacrifice,
  • Courage,
  • Respect,
  • Justice,
  • Integrity, and
  • Responsibility.

These same virtues, lived out in appropriate ways for each student’s identity and greater purposes, will continue to be important for future generations to flourish in a rapidly changing world.

What does this educational model framework look like?

The “core” of a thriving school model is an infrastructure and delivery process that unleashes personalized learning. School models must commit to “matching” not “batching” content and learning strategies to individual student needs. As children grow, personalized structures provide more and more flexibility for learning in regards to time, place and even in some areas content.

In regards to the type of learning, the personalized system must integrate learning opportunities in academics and character formation which will result in internally-driven passionate learners who are connecting learning and all other areas of their performance to contexts greater than self. Powered by an infrastructure fixed on personalization, students will have personal learning pathways, transparency in learning goals and increased access to high-level cognitive skills like inquiry and analysis.

As students progress towards graduation, students will begin branching into additional learning opportunities providing individualized vocational pathways that align with their knowledge and skill competencies as well as their understanding of their greater purpose(s) in contexts greater than themselves.

Long-term this turns self-directed passionate learners into self-directed passionate parents, workers and citizens equipped to continually grow in character and knowledge prepared adapt to the rapidly changing world around them as they become our next generation of leaders for the 21st Century.

Getting started with Character Formation in Schools – People and Practice:

  • Educators in the school intentionally work on their character right along with the students by modeling target character traits.
  • Adults and students consistently reflect on their identity and purpose by examining critical questions: Who am I? Why am I? How am I doing at living my purpose?
  • The school community is inspired by and shares affection for a context that is greater than the individual (e.g. advancing freedom for all).

About “GenDIY”
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY. For more, check out:

Dr. Jack Preus is National Director of People Development at Educational Enterprises, Inc. Follow Jack on Twitter, @JAOPREUS.

Dr. Andrew Neumann is Executive Chair & CEO at Educational Enterprises, Inc.

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