All Meat, No Sides

Walk into any school in the country at this time of year, and you are sure to observe lessons of gratitude. It is cultivated in community service projects like providing Thanksgiving meals to local families, holding a coat drive, toy drive, can drive. It is seen in class projects with the local assisted living facility, or even in the carefully crafted art projects lovingly created as holiday gifts. It has become a theme in many schools, as we all strive to codify character and community education and make it a living part of our mission.

The ‘how’ is the issue, though, isn’t it? HOW do we cultivate this ‘attitude of gratitude’ in our students? HOW do we make sure that we are walking the walk where character and community are concerned?

I won’t say that it’s easy in a K-8 school, but teaching gratitude, character and community feels a bit simpler and more authentic. Teaching children in Kindergarten to look out for their neighbor and empathize with them IS the lesson. And, maybe we all have a lot to learn from that. If we start from the standpoint that empathy, kindness and gratitude are the starting points of everything else that we do, it becomes easier to extrapolate that out to our family and friends. And then to our greater community. If we start believing that it is not only “the right thing to do” to look out for our fellow students, but it is “the only thing to do,” then we have placed character and community front and center.

At Maple Street School, students are assessed by their teachers from Kindergarten, all the way up through 8th grade on how they take responsibility for their actions, how they respect themselves and others, and how they take care of each other. And, if we ask them to consistently think about how they are navigating the waters of their educational day through this lens, we believe that it can shape who they become as scholars and as people. Really, it is a matter of making character and community the meat of the educational meal, rather than the side.

It is, for sure, a cliché to talk about learning lessons for life in Kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’ve learned so much from all of the students and teachers here – how to take responsibility for my actions, how to take care of my colleagues and students, how to put myself in other people’s shoes and rush to help, not to judge. At this time of year especially, I am so grateful for these lessons, and I plan to keep working on them all year long.

About The Author

Meredith Morin

Director of Advancement & Communications, Maple Street School

Meredith Morin is the Director of Advancement and Communications for Maple Street School, a K-8 independent school in Manchester, Vt. Meredith started in the classroom and has worked in many areas of independent school management for more than 20 years. She lives at Stratton Mountain with her husband and two children.