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Four Lost Qualities We Must Build in Students Today


I find myself challenging adults to call students back to fundamentals today. It’s not that I’m against progress; technology is not going away and most of us don’t want it to. Our world is growing at a fast pace, and change always comes with growth. But I am concerned we adults are not helping young adults navigate their lives. We are losing what I consider to be timeless qualities. May I suggest four lost characteristics we need to be intentional about instilling in kids:

1. Vision – This is the ability to see a goal in the future before it is reached. A vision is a picture of a better tomorrow. Many students must simply envision themselves graduating; others must envision what their career might look like; or how a committed relationship would work in their lives. Those who are already self-actualized must see themselves adding value to the world. Vision is a blueprint for the future that prevents youth from merely existing; to keep them from maintaining instead of growing and improving.

2. Virtues – Virtues are character qualities that separate humans from animals. When animals fight, they don’t fight about who’s right or wrong, but who’s strong or weak. Remove virtues and people begin acting like animals. Ironically, the Greek root for “virtue” means strength. But it refers to moral strength. A person of virtue is honorable; they don’t act merely out of self-interest, as a reptile does when it seeks food to eat, but in the interests of others. People of virtue act with civility in the face of adversity; they can be poised because they act instead of react to situations.

3. Values – Values today are either lost altogether in young people or they are products of individual taste or personal convenience. Studies show that college students say anything can be right and values come and go. I believe we must instill a set of timeless values that govern conduct—values such as honesty, service, trust, character, dependability and so forth. Values are like a compass that reveals your true north: they’re the guardrails to keep you on the right road and the horsepower behind every major decision you make.

4. Valor – Valor is rarely spoken about today. It literally means strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery. The true mark of valor is the absence of indecision even in the face of death. In the past, we spoke of soldiers or knights who acted with valor. Today, I believe we need to regain this quality that empowers young people to have clarity about what must be done and the courage to act on it.

How Can You Cultivate Them?

Coaches can build these character traits using teams and sports as a platform. Teachers can do it using subjects, classrooms and service trips. Parents can develop them in their homes and by creating family experiences that spark them.

In your setting, how could you create environments and experiences where you begin developing these lost qualities in the students around you? Ask yourself:

  • What contexts or people could I expose them to that would kindle vision?
  • What needs could I help them spot that could entice them to serve?
  • What conflict could I help them discuss and begin to cultivate values?
  • What problem or crisis could I resource them to courageously address?

Do you see the need for these qualities? Are they irrelevant or too old-fashioned in our 21st century, postmodern world? Is it possible to build them in students today?

Let’s talk this over.


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  1. Billie McConnell on February 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I agree with your points, Tim. Creating well designed learner-centered cultures can give students the opportunity to learn these characteristics. I will never forget the two freshmen girls that I interviewed who made me realize that the type of learning learning environment we design can really change culture and character. We were interviewing six students, and I could tell there was something that these two girls weren’t sharing. So, I stopped the interview and asked them specifically what they weren’t telling us. They said that what we didn’t know was that the year before at their other school, they were mortal enemies. But, now they were friends. When I asked what changed they said this school. They said that they were required to work together and they figured out that if they did not learn to overcome their differences and learn to work together that they never would get their projects finished. So, they did and now they are friends. They were also now planning on being the first ones to go to college from their families. Wow! Not a lesson learned by teaching to the test and assessing just core knowledge.

    • Ed Oyama on March 1, 2014 at 3:46 am

      What? Wow, that’s awesome. How on earth did the school change them though? Did they give any more details than that?

      • Billie McConnell on March 1, 2014 at 8:46 am

        I can’t tell you anymore about the girls, but I can tell you
        more about the school environment. The school is built around the following principles: Trust, engaging/challenging work, collaboration, and communication. Trust is given. Students have privileges to work in a more adult like environment. They have the privilege to move around, check e-mail, get a
        snack, use their phones appropriately, etc. They can however lose their privileges if they break the trust. If the break it, then they must go to the teacher whose trust they broke and negotiate how to earn their trust back. I believe that
        this one school may even require students to apologize in front of the group.

        All the classes are learner-centered environments, so the
        learning is engaging, authentic and challenging. Students work in teams, so they have to learn to work together. The student team members also create contracts with each other to decide how they will work together and the consequences for not keeping the contract. Most contracts have a final consequence of being fired from the team, meaning that you leave the team and your work and you must go create the project on your own. Many times the team contracts get
        very specific on what they will allow. For example, a contract may state that you get 1 minute to check your Facebook account and then it is back to work.

        I have visited and worked with many schools and it is
        impossible to copy any one school exactly. Every school has their own demographics, personality, and culture. However, there are some basics that I think can be common: trust, meaningful work, engaging classrooms that challenge
        students to think critically and creatively, communication, and collaboration. I think the other big aspect is that the teachers and students work together and hold each other accountable: teacher to student, student to student, and student to teacher.

        • Ed Oyama on March 1, 2014 at 2:04 pm

          Wow – thank you for sharing so much about your school and how things go. It’s quite an achievement – really quite awesome! It’s totally different than any school I’ve been in as well!

          What school is this? And is there a short version of the story of how your school grew this kind of culture? (or if you’re willing to share a long version, I’d totally read it anyway!)

          • Billie McConnell on March 1, 2014 at 2:46 pm

            It wasn’t my school, but a school where I had taken a group of teachers to see what a new culture could look like. My job now is helping schools leaders and teachers create new cultures. There are a number of schools creating this kind of culture, but this interview took place at Manor New Tech High School in Manor, TX. I know they welcome visitors and you can also look them up online. They have been featured on education sites like Edutopia as well. Hope that helps.

          • Ed Oyama on March 4, 2014 at 3:56 am

            Hey, thanks – that’s great. All the best in your work, Billie!

          • Tim Elmore on March 4, 2014 at 3:35 pm

            Thanks Billie for sharing! I love what the school you are discussing is doing…reminds me of teachers I have seen who embrace the EPIC mentality of interacting with today’s students.

            I also saw how they are using equations rather than rules to help students succeed. These students will graduate with the understanding that their actions have rewards and consequences.

            Thanks Billie! Your input on this blog is great.

  2. Ed Oyama on March 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hey Tim! Great post. Do you think any of these V’s are more important than the others? Or do you suggest trying to build all four at once?

  3. Nick on May 5, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    As a 13 year old boy, I can tell you that this article was really helpful to me and it just made me, well, think. It’s really exciting to me. A lot of people take this kind of stuff for granted. I hope to pursue the options of being either a pro tuba player (tubist? I don’t know) or a programmer. Next year I will be moving into high school, and I’m really nervous that I won’t make friends or people won’t be friendly. I’m sure it’ll be fine, but it just makes me think.
    Thanks for making this article. It has really truly given me something to think about.
    -Nick Alexander, 8th Grade, SCDS
    (PS: You have my personal approval of this article. If you can get a person like me to read (and enjoy) this article, you know you’re doing a good job.)
    (PPS: I’m serious. Awesome job 😀

    • Fu Man Chu on May 6, 2014 at 11:30 am

      As 14 year old boy going to the same school as you. I would agree with you greatly. Thank you so very much for your positive input and I greatly appreciate what you have to say. Greatest wishes to you.
      -Mr. Chu

    • Tim Elmore on May 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Hey Nick! Thank you for your thoughtful response. It’s becoming more and more rare for someone your age to care about topics like these, so I commend your interest and self-awareness!

      What’s more, don’t be discouraged or fearful as you enter high school. If you truly strive to live with Valor, to find your Vision, to develop your Virtues, and to stick to your Values, you will begin to be recognized by others for your unique strength. So go ahead and pursue what you are interested in, whether it’s becoming a professional tubist (it is a word!) or a computer programmer, and as you follow your dreams, the right friends will come along naturally. 🙂

      Good Luck, Nick!

      • Nick on May 8, 2014 at 12:09 am

        I’m glad to know tubist is a word 😀

        I am really honored that you responded to me. I can’t wait to show my teacher, he will be so happy to see this!! I know he is a big fan too. Thanks for the support, and I am excited to read more of your articles! 😉

        And “Mr. Chu” is a good friend of mine 😉

        Thanks again Tim!!
        -Nick Alexander

  4. Ben Seiler on December 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I work on campus at Oklahoma State and agree that these are four values that are needed in students today. In addition, as a millennial myself, I have come to understand I need development in these areas. This was done by a combination of things such as church, school, family, sports, and summer camps. However, a life on life mentor solidified my growth in these areas from the theoretical ideas that I should be doing, to heart felt ideas that I wanted to live by. There is something powerful about an older person that you admire reinforcing these four characteristics.

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Four Lost Qualities We Must Build in Students Today