Mr Kemp NZ

Character – taught or caught?

Today’s blog is a guest post from an inspirational mentor in my career, Mr. Simon Camby. Simon is Director of Education for Cognita, a global family of schools in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Without doubt, great teachers work hard to plan so that their students are engaged and fired up by their learning so that they progress well and ultimately attain high grades. But how is it that you can have teachers in parallel classrooms delivering the same curriculum, using shared plans and find that students make different amounts of progress?

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Of course, each student is different – that’s obvious. However, the thing we mustn’t forget… or at least in my view…in teaching is about human endeavour. There are technical aspects of teaching, without doubt, but these are secondary to the relationships and culture present in a classroom. The invisible bond between a teacher and their students cannot be under-estimated. Alone it is not enough to guarantee progress, but without it, progress just won’t be the best it can be. On my travels to schools around the world, the educators I meet are in wholehearted agreement on the importance of this combination of relationship and technical.


So what about another often ‘invisible’ aspect of a quality education? Character. The academic content of school is easy to measure, we can see it. Character development can be harder to quantify. There is lots of talk about character in education but it can often seem intangible.

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There are many views of character, but for me, the essential point for us as educators is the strong evidence base that shows character is malleable. In other words, it can be taught – not in isolation as its own topic or subject. Rather we can structure opportunities for students to engage in learning which supports character development. It is not something you either have or do not have. Many schools talk about character being part of the ‘invisible’ or ‘implicit’ curriculum. This is because we know that non-cognitive skills have a powerful impact on academic outcomes.

A big focus of my work as Director of Education for our global schools family, Cognita, is talking to teachers around the world to work out what makes a genuine difference in this area. From these discussions there are three traits which teachers talk about again and again, albeit using different terminology:

Metacognition – the ability to think about one’s own thinking, including self-awareness and self-regulation

Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

Agency – the power to take meaningful and intentional action based on a view that you can make a difference in a specific context, either to yourself or others

But these three characteristics impact more than a child’s academic progress, they have an equally powerful effect on mental wellbeing. I think that there is an inherent danger in thinking we should develop one set of character traits to support academic progress and another set to support student wellbeing. How can that be right? Students are students, their brains are not compartmentalised for academics and well-being. These are inextricably linked.

What do you think? Do these resonate with you? Do you think that these traits will help our students manage themselves and become prepared for a prosperous future?

What about digital? How does the use of digital learning impact on the development of these three character traits? I look forward to hearing your thoughts …

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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