Character Development and Growth Mindset

By Dr. Maureen Fonseca, Head of School

The 2019 -2020 NAIS Trend Book includes a chapter on Student Wellness by Debra Wilson which highlights research correlating social-emotional learning (SEL) with students’ academic success. Surveys with top companies reveal that soft skills such as emotional intelligence, good judgment, decision making, working well and negotiating with others are among the top 10 skills employers want most in 2020. We concur that SEL is even more important today since there is a higher degree of loneliness, anxiety and stress levels among young people and as the article mentions this is exacerbated by technology trends.

While many schools speak about the importance of social-emotional learning and the development of leadership skills, and character, I see our educators at EMS leading the way. At our back to school nights, the ethos of caring for and embracing the whole child was palpable among division leaders and faculty. Teachers consider your children our children.

I have spent the last few weeks highlighting in various groups the strong clear aspirations of our mission. The purpose of the holistic EMS educational experience is to inspire not just “curious scholars” but also “ethical leaders, and global citizens.” At faculty meetings we have drilled down on what “exemplary academics” and “transformative student experiences” look like within each division, recognizing the interconnections of mind, heart, body, and spirit on “character development in a diverse and inclusive child-centered community.” Teachers and educational leaders are continually and intentionally challenging ourselves to truly live our mission, finding ways to be true to – and evolve – our unique holistic and child-centered educational experience. Fulfilling our high aspirations for academic and personal excellence is delicate and sensitive work that is both art and science.

As a school, we do indeed prize character and the development of the so-called “soft skills” that I think foster deep strength, integrity and the ability to withstand the pressures of peers and life, as well as of mediocrity and “group think.” These in my view are essential elements of leadership.

Our children are growing into their core values, but, are all of course works in progress. They may let themselves – and us - down in moments of conflict, pressure, and stress. At EMS, we emphasize the importance of the growth mindset that enables us all to grow from failures, setbacks, and disappointments. We strive to guide our students to see difficulties and conflicts as opportunities to grow: to name fears, stressors, and assumptions, and to think of the best course of action for next time. In so doing, they come to deeper self-knowledge, and internalize positive values that enable them to stand up as ethical leaders here at EMS and as they step beyond these walls.

The Elisabeth Morrow School