The standards and expectations of The Key School are intended to nourish ethical growth and to build a community characterized by respect and concern for others. In learning to balance his own requirements with those of the school community, the student develops responsible habits and attitudes that encourage good citizenship. In this way, the foundation for a constructive role in a free society is established.
From the Key School Philosophy Statement, 1970s
Helping children to learn to respect, to trust, and to support one another, to develop empathy and compassion, and to act responsibly is as vital to The Key School’s fulfillment of its Mission as is the commitment to sustain a strong academic program and guide the intellectual development of its students. While the era in which we live has brought a heightened awareness of the importance of practicing good citizenship within our society at large, Key School has long been distinguished as a learning environment that is dependent on the fundamental principles of respect and responsibility.
By promoting respect for the individual, respect for multiple perspectives, and respect for the needs and contributions of others, the School not only fosters a climate in which authentic teaching and learning can flourish but also it builds a trusting environment in which students are encouraged to make decisions and to assume responsibility for those decisions. The challenge set forth by the School’s founders was that these core values serve as a foundation for establishing all that the School strives to accomplish. Ethical development is organic to the way of life at Key School, not only for students but also for the adults who serve as teachers, mentors and role models.
The School’s Mission...
It is interesting to note the consistency with which these cultural and ethical values are embedded in the School’s Mission statement. Not unlike the ways in which this aspect of the Key experience is integral to all the School’s endeavors, the expression of this sentiment is interwoven throughout this important statement that serves to formalize the School’s stated purpose. Taken from the Mission Statement, the following phrases clarify the School’s dedication to: Encourage openness to differing ideas and perspectives…Support and guide students in their efforts to mature socially and emotionally with teachers who respect and care about them…Affirm each student’s special strengths…Provide students opportunities to make appropriate decisions for themselves, to take responsibility for those decisions, and to learn the value of cooperative and competitive effort…Sustain an ethical school culture that engenders an inherent respect for the dignity of every human being, recognizes that personal liberty must be balanced by personal responsibility and individual action by the needs of others, and stresses to all members of the school community the importance of trust, mutual respect, and compassion.
Transmitting the Values... Establishing the Rules
Understanding and conveying the School’s values and standards as well as practicing and upholding its rules and customs, requires the ongoing mindfulness of all members of the community. Prior to the beginning of each academic year, a statement articulating the School standards of behavior is issued in the Student Parent Handbook to be read anew by Key teachers and parents. Further, faculty members at the Division levels are given opportunities to discuss more explicitly what these core values mean in terms of student habits of mind and behaviors within the classroom and on the playing field. Next, during the first days of school in September, the students are brought into the process as they are given the opportunity to think and talk about the classroom practices that they will need to establish in order to work and to play productively as a community. While Key students range in age from three to eighteen, there is remarkable consistency in regard to this process School-wide. In speaking of her Division, Pre-School Head Susan Rosendahl conveys the fundamental principles that underlie the expression of School values across the campus. “During the first week of school, in each classroom, the children work in conjunction with the teachers to establish standards for behavior and to create the class rules. As a result, each class develops a set of rules that are very similar in content but unique in the language selected by the children. This sets the pace for student ownership of the rules and for a democratic decision-making process, utilized throughout the year, that includes identifying a problem, sharing and analyzing ideas, and reaching consensus.”
Lower School Head Mary Jane Milner echoes the importance of the shared process of establishing expectations and speaks further about the ways in which the School’s principles are reinforced and then fostered throughout day-to-day life at Key. “We need to establish standards so that we are physically and emotionally safe…additionally we need to articulate rules and standards that ensure our ability to work within an atmosphere that is conducive to good thinking. The classroom is surely a context for teaching and modeling those traits of responsible citizenship that we wish our students ultimately to embody…. We encourage every one of our students to be actively engaged not just in the initial making of the rules but also in the very hard work of interpreting and upholding these rules in daily life.”
Integrating the Values... The Curriculum
Beyond the collaborative effort to establish a thorough understanding of these basic expectations regarding citizenship at Key School, the study of values is woven into the curriculum at all grade levels and across all academic disciplines. For example, using literature as the basis for classroom discussions, character analysis provides understanding, in a mindful fashion, of the human condition in real life. Social studies, history, and geography classes facilitate student understanding of the culture of others and instill a respect for different beliefs. Moreover the study of history helps students to grapple with increasingly sophisticated concepts such as law and justice, equality and freedom, prejudice and discrimination, and rights and responsibilities, all of which foster moral development. From the foreign language classroom to the art studio to the science laboratory, Key students learn about cultural similarities and differences, as well as, man’s attempts to understand his place in the universe, and his increasing awareness of his role in preserving a healthy environment.
Instilling the Values... Teaching Methodology
Teaching methods at Key are employed to instill the values the School embraces. Student discovery through experiential learning is a teaching methodology that shares with students the responsibility for learning and thus serves as a powerful expression of the School’s respect for the intelligence of its students and a basic trust in their ability to assume responsibility. With increasing responsibility, students not only assume a greater investment in their work, but also become practiced in taking the initiative that empowers them to make a difference within the School community and ultimately within the world.
The emphasis on classroom discussion, from Pre-Kindergarten through twelfth grade, further distinguishes Key and cultivates an atmosphere that is conducive to the development of values. The Upper School Head described the fundamental principles behind the School’s inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. “At the core of the Key culture is participation. Our students want to talk about ideas and they want to hear the faculty talk about ideas, and they want to explore their own ideas. We call this exploration of ideas discourse…. Discussion plays a central role in our support, encouragement, and tolerance of all voices, which extends into all aspects of the community and is not just restricted to the classroom. We believe that discourse is a primary means of moral and ethical education.”
Opportunities for collaborative learning experiences abound at Key School. As students work in small groups or in pairs to conduct science experiments and to plan and execute class projects, debates and presentations, they learn from their earliest years at Key that effective teamwork, good communication skills, and respect for the needs and contributions of others are essential for success. Whether it is a group of Pre-Kindergarten children who are working together to plan, establish and tend to a class garden, or third graders whose collective efforts have raised the bar for recycling campus-wide, or the entire seventh grade whose support for one another enables them to reach the top of Old Rag Mountain together, or a group of juniors who create and produce a professional quality power point documentary on Huck Finn’s America, Key students learn to respect one another, to understand their sense of obligation to one another, and to work cooperatively toward the attainment of a common goal.
These teaching methods, in tandem with the authenticity provided by the curricular content, in many ways define the culture of the School, and in so doing, shape the personal characteristics and habits that the School strives to instill in its students. On the one hand the School encourages its students to be independent and confidant, to be risk-takers, to be strong-minded and determined; and on the other hand these characteristics must be integrated with the capacity to be cooperative, compassionate and sensitive to the needs and perspectives of others. A tall order, but this balanced growth is as essential to the overall healthy development of each student as it is to the School’s fulfillment of its Mission.
Participation... Making a Difference
As is age appropriate, students’ conceptual understanding of caring for the community continues to develop as they move up through the Divisions of the School. Throughout their sojourn at Key, children engage in real life experiences that make these concepts of responsible citizenship both meaningful and compelling. Voluntary community service endeavors, such as collecting for UNICEF in the third and fourth grades and the multitude of activities initiated by the Middle School Social Action Club and the Upper School Students for Social Change, as well as student stewardship of the environment, are but a few examples that speak to the student commitment to make a difference.
Addressing the development of these characteristics from a political vantage point, Middle School Head Dave Magnus said, “Nowhere are these values translated more explicitly into the world of political activism than in seventh grade Civics, where students learn about the political systems of our government and the rights and responsibilities of both individuals and groups within that system, all in a discursive, collaborative classroom environment that very much replicates the very tenets of democracy being studied. Many students take their interest and role in Civics well beyond the classroom to passionate debates with their parents on special Civics issue nights, while others have taken their political activism directly to the Maryland State Legislature. Some would say that these are uncharacteristic behaviors of today’s adolescents, who generally are not inclined to spend evenings debating current political issues with their parents or who would more likely be found hanging out in a mall on a day off from school than arguing legislation at the State House. Not true of Key students, who are instilled with the values, knowledge and passion that take this notion of citizenship from a passive, theoretical concept and create an active, practical role – a role that appeals to and energizes our students.”
Policies Support Mission
Consistency regarding the beliefs that have distinguished Key since its inception can be found in a review of school policies. For example, as stated in the School’s profile, “Key prefers to foster and recognize excellence in all its students through adult-to-student communications, both written and oral, rather than through the use of such devices as academic awards and honor roles.” The absence of academic prizes, class rankings, and even valedictorians and class presidents, speaks to the School’s belief that all of its students deserve to be affirmed as individuals who bring unique strengths to the School and who have equal opportunities to assume leadership roles and make an impact on the School community. Furthermore, such policies affirm that which is also near and dear to the heart of Key School – the notion of intrinsic motivation, the learning for learning’s sake, which not only promotes life-long learning but also inspires an interest in the world and thus productive citizenship.
Life Skills Program... Supporting the Goals
To further support of the overarching goal of preparing students to assume a responsible role in a democratic society, students and faculty are guided in their work by a Pre-Kindergarten through grade twelve Life Skills curriculum. This curriculum is designed to advance, promote and sustain the wellness of students, to guide students in their personal development, and to foster Key School’s core values of trust, mutual respect, and compassion. There are multiple avenues in which these goals are pursued that range from seminars to explicit Life Skills classes designed to teach character building skills such as active listening, empathy training and conflict resolution. These programs, often supported by outside community resources, also serve to support Key teachers in their daily efforts to respond to personal, social or learning situations that have far-reaching implications in a child’s development as a person and as a student.
President of the Character Education Partnership in Washington, D.C., Eric Schaps wrote an article with two of his colleagues, Esther F. Schaeffer and Sanford McDonnell, titled What’s Right and Wrong in Character Education Today. These prominent advocates for character education express concern about what many schools are doing, and not doing, to help students become caring, principled adults. “Unfortunately, too many programs that say they are developing character…are aimed mostly at promoting good manners and compliance with the rules, not at developing students of strong, independent character.” These problematic programs, they explain, are generally based on a combination of approaches that include: cheerleading, praise and reward, define and drill, and forced formality. “These approaches aim for quick behavioral results, rather than helping students better understand and commit to the values that are core to our society, or helping them develop the skills for putting those values into action in life…” School practices that yield deep and enduring effects on character, they assert, are those that: “inspire students’ hearts as well as their minds…. enlist students as active, influential participants in creating a caring environment in the school…involve students in honest, thoughtful discussions and reflections about the moral implications of what they see around them…and work to see that the goals and values it professes are embodied in what it does – that its policies and procedures reflect the values it wants its students to embrace.”
Key School’s long held beliefs are affirmed, and so, too, is the commitment to an unrelenting focus on promoting informed citizenship and diligence in caring for one another within the School community and within the world.