Character

Upward: Our Head of School's Blog
One of the great side benefits of being in the field of education is summertime. For me this time provides the perfect occasion to step out of my hectic day-to-day life, climb onto that metaphorical hill above the fray, where the view is new, fresh, and 180 degrees wide. It is here that I gain true objectivity, a healthier perspective and, if I’m really paying attention, it’s where I find wisdom.

It’s on this hill that I like to think big and ask questions such as, “What is the overarching aim of education?” “What are we really preparing our students for?” And it’s on this hill that I long ago concluded that CHARACTER development should be the primary aim of a high quality educational system.

In his article in “Kappan” Magazine, Professor David Shields writes, “Education should develop intellectual character, ethical character, civic character, and performance character.”

So how does VMS stack up to Dr. Shields character challenge?

You tell me…

Intellectual Character emphasizes the importance of being curious, open-minded, reflective, strategic, skeptical, and truth-seeking- the quality of a student’s thinking rather than the process of simply memorizing facts. Even in an era of polarized political vitriol, a person of high intellectual character is able to understand and even respect diametrically opposing positions. VMS inspires students to apply their critical thinking abilities amid the complexities of life through a culture of thinking.

Ethical Character emphasizes doing what’s right because it’s right—not because of the consequences. In situations of choice and conflict, the person of ethical character gives priority to ethical over non-ethical considerations. According to Dr. Shields, this requires a culture of love and justice, which in my opinion, is at the heart of the VMS mission. I am delighted to report that Bob Bandoni is back teaching our upper school ethics courses!

Civic Character emphasizes a desire to work toward the common good of a community. Knowledge of democratic principles is part of developing civic character. Our Vail Mountain School community has a passion for public good, evidenced by the robust community service programs and projects that permeate all three divisions. VMS personifies a culture of service and community engagement.

Lastly, Dr. Shields asserts that Performance Character lies in the traits of perseverance, diligence, courage, resilience, optimism, initiative, and loyalty… all traits harmonious with Vail Mountain School’s core beliefs—and demonstrated daily by our students. Performance Character requires a culture of quality and excellence. One only needs to be in the presence of our graduates or examine their accomplishments and schools they’ve been accepted to over the years, to conclude that quality and excellence is at the foundation of a VMS education.

It’s nice escaping to my imaginary hill where I can collect my thoughts and reflect on our mission, our core beliefs, our extraordinary students, and their high intellectual, ethical, civic, and performance character.  It’s even more enjoyable, however, to come down from that hill and see these grand ideas in action and these character traits embodied in our students.

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.