David Helter didn't enjoy the note he found on his desk following his absence. He had left his sixth-grade classroom for one day to improve his professional practice by attending my "Teaching for Respect and Responsibility" seminar. He returned the next day and found the following communiqu written by the substitute teacher:
"I had a very frustrating day. I found your class of sixth graders to be immature and disrespectful. I had trouble quieting them down, their listening skills seemed nonexistent, and they frequently put each other down. I gave two students detention notices. Brandon Haller and Justin Semanski refused to cooperate, and I finally sent them to the office. Although they were the biggest troublemakers, several other students contributed to the overall negative atmosphere. Some students were cooperative and respectful, but not many. You sure have your hands full here. Good luck the rest of the year."
David read the note three times. He had no trouble visualizing the picture painted by the substitute teacher. Each time he read it, his anger climbed to a new level.
Possible punishments and penalties rushed through his mind. Fragments of lecture-bursts formed as he mulled over how to respond to the situation created by his eleven- and twelve-year-old students. As he waited for them to arrive for class that morning, David prepared himself to move in with the words and actions that he felt his students deserved. But it was at this point that he recalled something he had learned at the professional development seminar the day before: "Move up before you move in."
Although the "Move up before you move in" concept had been new to him, David immediately recognized it as a strategy he could use. He knew it could help him be the type of teacher -- the type of person -- he really wanted to be. While learning it, however, he had had no idea he would be putting it to use so quickly.
What David learned at the seminar was this: Before you move in to deal with a situation, it is important to take time to move upto a higher consciousness, to a higher self. He knew he would have to rise above this particular situation in order to avoid taking it personally. He realized he would have to raise his consciousness in order to free himself from the emotional snarl he had felt when he first read the note. He knew that if he didn't want to add the energy of frustration and anger to the mix, he would have to detach emotionally from the situation. Not wanting to create a struggle, he decided that the most effective way to stay off the battlefield was to rise above it. David decided to "move up" before he "moved in."
David took the last few minutes before his class arrived to put the skills he had learned the day before into practice. He reminded himself not to take this scenario personally. "This is not about me," he told himself. "This is about my students -- their behaviors, their beliefs, their choices. It is not a reflection on my teaching or who I am as a human being." He knew if he could disconnect his ego from the events that had transpired, he would be more likely to respond to his students' needs and motivations rather than to his own unconscious needs to influence their actions.
Using another newly acquired skill, David decided to see the situation as perfect. "It's all perfect," he repeated to himself a few times. If his students had been respectful and cooperative, he reasoned, that would have been perfect -- the perfect time to celebrate and congratulate them for their behavioral choices. Since they had chosen to be disrespectful and uncooperative, that was perfect too. It was the perfect time to help them look at their behaviors and learn from them. David knew that if he told himself the situation was terrible, awful, and a pain to deal with, he would not be moving up in consciousness. But by realizing the situation was indeed perfect, he continued to ascend.
"What is, is," David thought to himself. He remembered that any time spent wishing, hoping, or "shoulding" ("things should be different") was time that would not be invested in solving the problem. He knew he had to accept the "isness" of the situation emotionally before he could effectively search for solutions to improve it.
From his newly created perspective of not taking the situation personally, realizing that it was perfect, and refusing to resist it emotionally, David quickly created a few ideas to present to his class. When the bell rang and his students began filing in, he was ready.
"Please take out a piece of paper," David directed, after the morning routines were completed. "I have several questions I want to ask you concerning the events that transpired yesterday when the sub was here. Please respond privately and nonverbally."
David used the overhead projector to create a continuum numbered from 1 to 10. "Rate yourself on this Respect Scale," he suggested. "Ten means you were respectful the entire day. Zero means you were totally disrespectful. Place an X where you feel you personally belong on the scale. Then write a two-sentence explanation that tells why you placed yourself where you did on the continuum.
"Now do the same thing on another continuum," he continued. "Only this time, think in terms of the entire class. How respectful was the class to the substitute teacher? Once again, give me a two-sentence explanation.
"Next, complete the following three-sentence starters:
I was being respectful when
I was being disrespectful when
One thing I could do to be more respectful next time is
David sat back and watched as his sixth graders struggled with the thinking skills he had set before them. The point of the assignment -- self-appraisal, self-evaluation, and self-reflection -- was to help his students become conscious of their behaviors on the previous day.
When the students finished writing their responses, David put them in groups to compare and contrast answers. He then heard a report from a spokesperson from each group. Following the reports, David asked students to generate a class list of what they had learned during the activity. The list follows:
With the list complete, David had each student begin a Respect and Responsibility" notebook. Their first entries included their personal responses to the self-appraisal debriefing questions and the class's list of what they had learned. He then had his sixth graders add a paragraph detailing what they intended to do differently next time.
The debriefing now complete, David moved on to social studies. Before he did so, however, he paused a moment to give himself a mental pat on the back to acknowledge his efforts to put what he had learned at the seminar into practice. He liked what he had chosen to do, he liked who he had chosen to be, and he liked the results. He was grateful that he had learned to move up before he moved in.
3. Moral IQ Is Not Guaranteed. Moral IQ is learned, though developing it is far from guaranteed. To ensure kids acquire it, we must intentionally model, nurture, reinforce, and teach it. If we don't, the result is tragic: an increase in insensitivity, dishonesty, aggression, incivility, cruelty, hatred, and injustice. We must be deliberate.
4. Protects Against Toxicity. The truth is, toxic influences are so entrenched in our culture that shielding kids from them is almost impossible. That's why it's crucial to build Moral IQ. It will serve as their moral compass so they have deep-seated convictions to stand by their choices and counter any pressures from inside or outside that go against the principles of good character.
5. Teaches Critical Life Skills. Moral IQ is comprised of the skills needed to protect kids' moral lives such as resolving conflicts, empathizing, knowing right from wrong, asserting themselves, controlling anger, learning tolerance, negotiating fairly, communicating respectfully, cooperating, using self control, sharing, and knowing right from wrong. These skills are needed in all life arenas, and especially in today's troubled world.
6. Creates Good Citizens. It's important to remember that the most important measure of a nation is not its gross national product, its technological genius, or its military might. It is the character of its people. Moral intelligence consists of seven timeless virtues that are the bedrock of good citizenship and responsible living.
7. Counters Temptations. Moral Intelligence gives kids the power to counter outside and inside vices so they do what's right. It's what helps them navigate through the ethical challenges and pressures they will inevitably face throughout life and make the right moral choices so they do act right, with or without adult guidance.
8. Prevents Violence and Cruelty. Of the 26 wealthiest countries, our youth are the most violent. And peer cruelty is rising. Yet we continue to erect metal detectors and hire guards to "protect" students from themselves. The best protection is fortifying them with Moral IQ and teaching them the three core virtues that lay the foundation for nonviolence: empathy, conscience, and self-control. Without them, kids become time bombs just waiting for explode. We can't afford not to build their Moral Intelligence: it's our best hope.
9. Inspires Good Behavior. Moral IQ is comprised of the essential moral virtues needed to help our kids become decent, caring, and respectful. Those seven virtues become a template for creating our kids' character, guiding their actions, and ultimately defining their reputations as caring, good human beings.
10. Shapes Moral Destinies. Moral growth is an ongoing process that will span the course of our children's lifetimes. But the habits and beliefs of Moral Intelligence we instill in our kids now will become the ethical foundation they'll use forever. It is what will greatly decide our children's moral destinies and what will be our greatest legacy.© 2007 by Michele Borba. Permission to reprint if left intact.