April 24, 2013 01:35 Age: 5 yrs

A Light Bulb Moment: The Fusion of Academics & Character Values

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By: Ami Patel

Ami Patel is the dean of academic culture at AF Brownsville Elementary.

In my first year of teaching, I stumbled across some words that lit a light bulb for me. That light bulb has been on ever since. The words came from Rafe Esquith’s book, “Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire.” He wrote:

"It is wonderful to have a terrific mind, but it's been my experience that having outstanding intelligence is a small part of the total package that leads to success and happiness. Discipline, hard work, perseverance, and generosity of spirit are, in the final analysis, far more important."*

When I first read those words, I realized that while my instruction focused on the essential academic skills my students need, it is those character values like hard work and generosity that are the keys by which life achievement is truly unlocked. That is what Achievement First is really all about.

This year—my first as the dean of academic culture at AF Brownsville Elementary—I have the opportunity to focus on mixing and welding academics and character together. It has been inspiring to witness and ignite sparks of success in academics and culture in the classrooms I support.  

I recently saw a spark in the second-grade writing lesson I observed. Students had been sitting in their chairs for a while, so the teacher engaged the students with cheers and body breaks, correcting students who were off task and giving shout outs to students who were ultra-focused. Still, the energy seemed to be waning. So, the teacher stated a simple fact: “We need to sit up tall and proud with our backs straight.”

Then, she asked a game-changing question: “Why do we need to do this? How will this help us get closer to college?”

In that moment, I saw the light bulbs turn on inside each student in the classroom—you could imagine sparks coming from their shining eyes and raised hands.

“It shows that we are confident,” said one student.

“We sit up so our brains can really focus,” said another student.

“It helps us learn the most,” a third student said.

That was it. In that moment, the pathway to learning was paved by the spark of character. Academics and culture are so entwined, and in moments like that—they both shined brightly.

 *emphasis mine.

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