Allan here at the Principal's desk. Today I want to talk a little about Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development (you might recognize this name from the posters in our classrooms), which is a big part of what leads us to our Honor Code, "I will do what is right because it is right." Kohlberg created this model to look at the different possible motivations that humans have to "do what is right." According to this model, the "higher" we ascend towards becoming morally developed, the more we become selfless and start to have growing awareness and concern for others. Clearly, the Honor Code is a goal that we strive for, a bar to set to a very high level that we challenge our students, and staff, to work towards. But we also know that this is a very lofty goal, and we know that just by saying it is our Honor Code does not magically make all the humans at our school somehow already exist at that lofty place at all times.
The thing about the Kohlberg model is that it is not a linear, step by step process. You don't move on from one level of motivation and never return to it. While we do look at them in terms of "levels" of moral development, it's very possible, even expected, that a person might address situations in their life, at any given time, from multiple levels. For example, as adults, we might automatically help someone up who fell on the ground in front of us just "because it is right," while only following the speed limit, perhaps, because it's the law (a "lower" level of development) or even simply to avoid the punishment (trouble/consequence) of getting a ticket or being arrested (the "lowest" moral level of motivation). Some of us may show up to work everyday truly because we love to help others. Likely though, at least part of the reason is to "get the reward" of being paid. While this may be a "lower" level moral motivation, it is still highly motivating and not a bad thing! If you add to it that you are regularly praised and others show or tell you that they are pleased with you at work, you are likely even more motivated to do well, and to do what is right.
See, all of these motivations exist simultaneously and as we react to the world around us and make choices everyday, we oscillate between various levels of motivation. At SVA, it is our goal to constantly ask students (and staff) to examine the motivations behind their actions. We push them to consider all the possible motivations to make the right choice and to use whatever means will lead them to that right choice in that moment. When students are to do what is right, we often work our way down the levels until we reach the level where we find some motivation for them. In the most extreme circumstances, we utilize negative consequences as a means of motivating students to make better choices, thought this is a last resort for us. We always a start at the highest level possible. When students are consistently struggling, we tend to start with adding more targeted rewards and praise. Next, we might try to build up the relationship between the student and teacher, which might lead them to do what is right to try to please their teacher. Then we might be able to start getting them to understand the need for rules and social norms, or perhaps start transferring over to more altruistic motivations, like helping others, or the pinnacle of motivation, to "Do What is Right Because It Is Right."
Our Honor Code is something that we strive toward and encourage in all that we do. It is not an expectation of perfection or altruism from all people at all times. Instead, it is a standard to constantly reach towards and a means of questioning and having conversations about our motivations. We hope that we can encourage students to be aware of, and consider, the motivations behind their actions. Over time, our hope is that we can grow their (and our own) ability to more often choose to do what is right just "because it is right." Along the way, we'll be here with all the other levels of motivation to try to support them on that path towards higher moral decision making.
Thanks, and see you around campus!