Character Educator in Focus: Tom Pole

The MA Character Education is a part-time distance learning programme run by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. The Centre is proud to welcome students from around the world who come from a range of sectors, including education (both formal and non-formal), voluntary and business. In this Virtue Insight blog, 3rd year MA Character Education student, Tom Pole, shares his motivation to study on the MA and explains how his studies have supported his work as Associate Principal at Tudor Grange Academy Solihull.

Why did you decide to study on the MA Character Education?
Teaching has always been a vocation for me and I have worked hard throughout my career to be the best educator I can be. To this end I have always been an avid consumer of books on teaching, psychology and leadership amongst other things. However, I have often found the strategies that many of these books offer to be unsatisfactory. They only ever seem to address disparate elements of teaching and fail to offer an overarching narrative that speaks to my vocation.

When I stumbled upon virtue ethics and character a few years ago, I felt like the pieces of the puzzle I had been trying to solve started to fall into place. I strongly believe that successful and sustainable practice is only as good as the theory that informs it. The ideas that underpin character education have not only helped me understand my practice better, but they have given me a new clarity of purpose and a better understanding of myself and others around me. I now see and understand my vocation much more clearly in terms of the flourishing of students, my colleagues and those around me.

How has studying on the MA influenced and supported your work so far?
Over the past few years we have been working hard to develop a culture of character in our school. What has been most exciting to discover is that both staff and students have also found character education to fit with their intuitive ideas about what is important to them and what they understand to be important in living the good life.

The culture of character that we have worked hard to develop at Tudor Grange Academy Solihull has never been as important as it has over the past few weeks with the effects of COVID-19 on the school and the community. I have just finished one of the hardest weeks of school leadership I have ever been through. The effect of the school closures and cancellation of exams on the whole of our community has been enormous. Staff, student and parent worries about the effects of the corona virus on our friends and families have been compounded by what I can only describe as a sense of bereavement at the sudden loss of our community, everyday ways of life and purpose, and important rites of passage for both staff and students.

The school’s experience with COVID-19 would have been far worse were it not for the fact that, through the work of the Jubilee Centre and what I have learnt on the MA, we have a vocabulary and framework around which we can support our whole community. We have been able to face the challenges this week positively from a perspective of strength, compassion, civic purpose and courage. Importantly, we have the language to help us speak to each other about the difficult emotions and turmoil we are all experiencing.

How do you think your dissertation research will influence your future practice?
I am currently writing my dissertation on the part that schools might have to play in supporting students to develop the virtue of justice. All teachers will be very familiar with the refrain of students that “that’s not fair”. I am wondering how we might go about helping students to refocus their powerful sense of individual justice towards a more expansive understanding of what justice for everyone in our community might look like and how that might ultimately lead to the flourishing of society.

With thanks to Tom Pole for sharing his insights.

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