Tracey Crouch may not be a household name in the United States, but her role as Britain’s first Minister of Loneliness embodies many of the aspirations we hold for our students’ character growth. Ms. Crouch was appointed to lead the work of a government-wide group with responsibility for developing policies that will reduce loneliness and promote inclusion in education, commerce, government and sports.
Loneliness has grown into an epidemic in the United Kingdom; nearly 10 million people report always or often feeling lonely. And the problem is not limited to Great Britain; last year, the AARP surveyed Americans over the age of 45 and found that more than 42 million of the participants had experienced chronic loneliness and isolation.
Unaddressed, this epidemic will continue to inflict harm on ever younger generations.
As teachers and parents, we know that the root of adult isolation and fear of social engagement begins when children enter school, interact on the playground and participate in community-based sports and recreation activities. What often distinguishes the children and adolescents who are most often severely impacted by loneliness and isolation? Many are children already coping with social, emotional, cognitive and physical challenges. All of which brings me to one of my favorite topics: Promising Practices.
If there is a common theme to the initiatives and instructional activities that are recognized as Promising Practices, it is that all of them place the student at the center. Whether it is a variation of the buddy bench which swept the country over the past three years, encouraging high school students to mentor and support middle school students already no stranger to a lack of acceptance or a year-long faculty and staff initiative that recognizes and supports efforts to create an ethical and character-rich environment where every teacher and student can thrive; all begin with a personal commitment to character, empathy and inclusion.
At the end of this month we will be recognizing those districts, schools and organizations who have shared their effective promising practice with a growing international body of educators, parents and students. We are currently taking pre-orders for the Character Exchange (save $70 by pre-ordering!), which will feature many Promising Practices that you can download, revise and personalize for your district, school or classroom. As we collectively support students’ character journeys – as well as our own – we might appropriately identify ourselves as Ministers of Character and Inclusion.