Glass Half Full: Guiding children in the right direction |

Glass Half Full: Guiding children in the right direction

I spent three days earlier this month in Tacoma, participating in a board meeting and heads’ retreat for the Northwest Association of Independent Schools.

The days were packed, and I saw little of Tacoma, other than a last morning’s glorious view of Mount Ranier from my hotel window. There is nothing like three intense days of meetings in large and small rooms with no windows to make one appreciate, even more than usual, the view from my office!

The collective power and insight one experiences in the company of a dedicated and experienced group of school leaders has always been a thrill for me, and I count myself both fortunate and blessed to have been intimately involved in both association and national leadership events over several decades.

While our schools vary tremendously, the concerns we share about our students and the goals we develop are remarkably similar. We count on our national peers and colleagues to keep us on our academic toes.

One particular conversation that has really stuck with me focused on the values that we want our students to absorb. Collectively, we were asked to consider the values each of our schools holds most dear.

Then we engaged in small group discussions that focused on the question of whether those values are “taught or caught.” Do we expressly teach the core values of our institutions, or do we expect our students to assimilate them through other means?

Most of us agreed that we very consciously integrate instruction of our core values into assemblies, classroom discussions, literature, writing, playground interactions — basically most everything we do. We all believe such time and attention are essential and valuable.

Then someone asked: When you were a child, did you learn those values at home or at school? Fascinating question, as it turned out. To a participant, everyone in the room believed their core values came from home. Some, like me, had those values reinforced through our education. Why is it, we collectively wondered, that “character education” is expected to be taught at school these days, when, truly, one’s core values always come from home?

Teachers who care about children will, of course, continue to stress the importance of honesty, integrity, and respect. We will continue to talk about kindness and do our best to model the attitudes and behavior we want our children to emulate. Educators, even the most dedicated, only have your children for a few hours each day, however. Your sons and daughters get their most fundamental core values from you.

James Baldwin put it best when he said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Their eyes and ears take in everything their parents say and do. Let us continue to partner in this essential work so that our children will grow into the kind of responsible, altruistic, empathetic citizens, who can make a difference in the world.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at

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