You’ve heard these words at Park – what do they really mean?

For the past several years, the Upper Division faculty has been focusing on exciting new thinking about how certain character strengths are important predictors of success.
What we have learned is that these performance-based character strengths are more like habits than innate traits and that when they are clearly defined, emphasized and modeled intentionally, as well as understood in terms of what they actually look like in a school setting, they can be practiced and honed. Our study of character strengths led to the creation of a checklist for the Upper Division comment forms, one that helped us to focus on these important habits. We have been using this checklist since the fall of 2013.

Our checklist focuses on five areas that we call Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship at Park. Each of the five words on the checklist stems from the list of predictors of success compiled by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and in addition has a deliberate connection to the words found in Park’s mission statement. While the words themselves are important, it is the definitions that we have developed for each which are most critical to understanding these words within the context of being a student at Park School.

The words and definitions are listed below.

  • Curiosity is the desire to personally connect with learning. This begins with a sense of wonder, requires an open mind and a comfort with not yet knowing, and leads to learning for its own sake.
  • Grit is having the discipline to persevere in the face of hard work or setbacks with the belief that success is possible.
  • Gratitude is looking outside of oneself, recognizing the value of relationships within our community, and showing appreciation through ones actions.
  • Zest is an excitement for learning, which may be expressed overtly or quietly, that motivates oneself and inspires others.
  • Personal Responsibility is a student’s commitment to developing effective work habits and taking charge of her/his actions and behaviors in order to meet the daily expectations of school life.

Students at each grade level have defined what it looks like to demonstrate these habits in a school setting. Teachers use these student generated lists as they fill out the checklists on the comment forms, and students will use them as they self reflect and set goals for themselves. Here is an example of the list generated by the new sixth grade class.

The checklist on the comment form allows teachers to provide their students with feedback about the ways they demonstrate these character strengths in the classroom. The word demonstrate is key, here. For example, a student may be very curious but may not be demonstrating that in his or her classes as frequently as he or she could. This checklist will give students and parents that crucial feedback. Students will also self-reflect at each interim with their advisors and will set goals for themselves as necessary. As we think about this checklist, we want to stress the concept of growth mindset as defined by Carol Dweck. A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort (and that) everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

In the end, we hope that our intentional focus on these character strengths will lead to important conversations between students, parents and teachers that, in turn, will lead to meaningful growth.