Reflections on How Children Succeed: Behavior Goals for an Organization

As we at The Third Teacher+  structure our designs to be as human-centered as possible, we identify the student behaviors that our design should enable, if done correctly. Paul Tough illuminates research that can help schools design their human-centered organization. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson classifies and measures widely valued positive traits. This resource can serve as a glossary and menu of options for schools to choose their behavior goals. KIPP uses seven of them: grit, self control, zest, social Intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

While the authors frame their traits as universal and objective - intellectual rather than moral - I would argue that each community is different. There’s a great community-building opportunity in defining a school’s specific, personal set of goals. An ethnographic fieldwork process can gather the perspectives of students, parents, teachers and administrators to identify the community’s shared values and facilitate consensus-building conversations.

Imagine a strategic planning session that explores: Who are our students and who do we want them to become? What psychological, emotional, academic and spatial pathways must we construct to get them there? How do we align and deploy our organization to accomplish these goals?

And imagine an evaluation session that asks: Are our students practicing the behaviors and traits we laid out? Are they practicing them more frequently than last year?

It’s exciting to think of how research can empower a behavior-based organizational strategy and value-based definition of success.

Reflections on How Children Succeed: Culture Creation in Schools

There’s another way of viewing our education crisis: it’s a culture crisis. How many schools have taken a mirror and clearly articulated the shared values that unite their community, how they define success in a graduate (in terms of mindset, not test scores) and how they specifically approach learning? Let’s consider each school to be the community center that it is. We need to bring administrators, teachers, parents and students together to co-create their culture and value set. This will give them the clarity and purpose for their pedagogy that is necessary to move forward with unified pride and confidence.

Paul Tough describes KIPP’s attention to culture to give students an identity and sense of belonging.


Psychologist, Angela Duckworth explains:

“KIPP’s approach to group identity is a central part of what makes the schools effective: ‘What KIPP does is create a social role shift, so that a child will suddenly switch into a totally different mindset.’”

Cultural values are stated both explicitly with messaging posted everywhere and implicitly, woven into the DNA of how the school functions. This ethos and set of mantras help communicate a positive and opportunistic message: that intelligence is malleable and success is achievable for all.

We all need something to believe in. Culture doesn’t mean religiosity or exclusivity. It means finding a story that gives us motivation and a clear way to feel successful.

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