Children in Grades 4 and 5 are entering a time of autonomy. They are beginning to see themselves as individuals, as separate, which is why Class Teacher Rachel Flores decided to find a way to bring them together. She began to work with her class of 4th and 5th Graders on recognizing virtues in others and practicing those virtues every day. We sat down with Ms. Flores to hear more about The Virtues Project and what inspired her to bring it to her class.
How did you come up with this idea?
Working with virtues was intentionally brought during this time as a way of strengthening the social fabric of the class. By building language and empathy, we're working to preempt bullying and recognize the humanity in each other. When we talk about virtues and what they mean to us, we are building ideals that we want to live up to. This idealism is found weaved throughout Waldorf Education, particularly in the stories that are brought. Now that the students are reaching an age where individualism is important, this more direct work with virtues is helpful as a way of coming together and building the class community.
How does The Virtues Project work?
The class was given a list of more than 50 virtues as a place to start. For the first week, I chose patience as the virtue we would all work on. When someone showed patience, their name was written on the board. By the end of the week, everyone's name was on the board! We were able to celebrate this accomplishment as a group. At Community Circle that week, I asked the class to tell me which virtues they felt that our class was really strong in and which ones we needed to work on. It was amazing to see just how well they know themselves. We wrote lists on the board as a way to remind us of our strengths, and the class selects one virtue a week to focus on from our weakness list.
How are you using The Virtues Project in your classroom?
It's a way for us to work on our language between each other and also readjust our view to see good in the other person.
For example, I gave each child a classmate's name - a person in the classroom who was randomly selected. They were to observe that person throughout the week and write down any virtues that person was exhibiting. This way they are able to see this other person in a new light. At the end of the week, when we had our Community Circle, each child read the name of the person they were assigned and the virtues they saw in that person throughout the week. It was touching to see the shy smile of the child who was hearing all the virtues they had shown without even knowing it.
What do you hope to accomplish through this work?
Through our work together, my hope is that the class is able to recognize the perspectives of others as valid and use words that build up and not tear down one another. We're working on shifting our language. When we get upset, instead of saying, "You've done this thing to upset me," we're working with a "feelings" list - on saying, "I felt like you were angry with me when this happened." We are working to de-escalate our language and feelings. It's really just a shift of how we see one another and how we communicate.