Jonathan Whereat reflects on the origins of the Habits of Heart
What was the need or challenge being addressed?
While The Southport School is a Christian and Church school it is embedded in the secular and liberal context of modern Australia. This context is influential in shaping both the values of the students and the educational approach the school takes. The school employs several conceptual frameworks to assist the boys to learn and develop such as Habits of Mind, Positive Psychology and Well-being. I like these frameworks and can see the contribution they make, but to my way of understanding human nature, they lack something.
It occurred to me that the Habits of Mind as used at TSS and used universally offer no real moral direction. You could use all the Habits of Mind to be an evil genius. In fact one of the signs of “bad guys” is that they are instinctively very clever at applying the Habits of Mind!
I believed we needed something to ethically and morally direct our actions if the Habits of Mind were to serve us in the most beneficial way.
What was the response to the need?
We created Habits of Heart. I like symmetry so I thought creating Habits of Heart was a good solution. They could be on a poster opposite the Habits of Mind in each class room. We created them to have about the same number as the seventeen Habits of Mind used at TSS. In the process of developing the list I worked with the Anglican Literacy and Ethos Committee (ALEC) of the Schools Commission in Brisbane and we ended up with sixteen in total. There is one overarching habit “Be loving” and the other fifteen are in three groups: ‘Personal Habits’, ‘Relational Habits’ and ‘Communal Habits’. These groupings are a little artificial as all the Habits of Heart are personal, relational and communal, but we hope that it helps students see the impact they have on different parts of their lives.
Obviously we couldn’t use all the good virtues that could be identified but these sixteen provide a set of specific ones that we can aspire to and practise. They give us something to take our bearings from as we navigate through life seeking to use our mind fully and being ethical at the same time. Most importantly all of the Habits of Heart are grounded in the Gospel.
What was impact?
Deciding the best way to implement the Habits of Heart has been fairly drawn out at TSS. I know that other chaplains and schools have just started using them as topics for chapel services.
The daily notices includes one each day for staff to read out for their mentor groups.
There is group of us from the Anglican Schools in Southern Queensland developing resources that will include scripture, music, prayers, songs,quotes and activities
At TSS I wanted to have a strong and clear kick off but that has not happened as well as I hoped. In chapel I open with the idea of the importance of the human heart, before directly presenting the Habits of Heart. I think that the focus on the brain and psychology in modern secular terms avoids using terms like the heart, soul, and spirit in any specific sense. What I have hoped to do is use the language of the heart and I reiterate as often as possible that it picks up a set of terms people use loosely that refer to this aspect of human nature. I use ‘heart’ to refer to conscience, inner self, conscious awareness, soul, will, spirit, mind, psyche, personality and character. Each of these points to ideas of our core nature which we express through our brain and body.
What were the greatest challenges or issues faced?
I would suggest the greatest challenge is the overriding focus of the school which I suspect is reluctant to use spiritual terminology to refer to human nature. It does not sound scientific enough!
Positive Psychology and Habits of Mind have books written about them by PhD aspirants. This has helped them gain credibility. As Chaplain I have a limited budget and time to develop resources. I am still working with the person who created the icons. We are designing posters for class rooms and individual icons for PowerPoint use.
I suspect that there will be a growing set of uses and ways of expressing these in chapels and schools over coming months and years. These might include banners, stickers, short stories, path ways, school publications, short talks by students and also a requirement to reflect on the Habits of Heart in assessment alongside the Habits of Mind.