Why Aristotle’s Virtues Shape Good Students
I use Aristotelian virtues in my picture books because they can help children develop into the best version of themselves. This post explores how each of the virtues can be applied in the classroom.
According to Meredith Evans, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Aristotelian virtues are “the building blocks to being a good and well-adjusted person.”
Aristotle suggests that balance and operating in “the mean” are key. In other words, it is not desirable to have an excess or deficiency of any of the virtues.
The following are ways to adapt the eight Aristotelian virtues to shape good students.
Qualities of Good Students
Examples of everyday ways children can show bravery in the classroom are to:
- stand up to those who are bullying other students
- answer a question when they aren’t sure
- give a presentation in front of the class, even when they’re nervous.
Kristi Jacoby, a second-grade teacher, says that, “If kids are reading about bravery in books, they will gain more confidence to voice how they feel about bullying.” (Jacoby, Krisiti. 2022. E-mail message to author, August 17).
If students know they can be honest with their teachers, they will feel more comfortable asking for help. Children—and even adults—are often afraid to be truthful about their abilities because they are embarrassed, don’t want to be a burden, or just don’t know how to ask for help.
When teachers and school staff create a safe environment where honesty is encouraged and valued, telling the truth becomes easier for students to do.
Confidence can lead to better performance in the classroom. It’s a cycle that begins with practice, self-discipline, and using time productively. As children learn to believe in their abilities, they see improvement in their grades, which in turn increases their confidence even more.
Confident children may be more likely to get involved in extracurricular activities or have an after school job. Confidence opens doors for children to discover and develop talents they might not even know they have, setting the stage for future success and leadership. This is one reason that it’s so important for schools to prioritize offering a variety of extracurricular and enrichment activities.
“Sometimes you don’t have to do anything, you just have to be patient and generous with time to help people.”— Meredith Evans
Often, students are more comfortable getting help from fellow students than from teachers or parents. And when students take the time to help each other, it builds camaraderie.
Kristy Jacoby notes, “The generosity point is really important to me as a teacher! A motto we have in my classroom is ‘I do, you do, we do,’ so we are all involved in every step of learning.”
Teaching students to be generous with their time also helps them learn to be a team—a very important life skill.
Ambition is not a bad thing—it can be very beneficial for students. When students learn to set goals and work hard to achieve them, they are more willing to take on new challenges. Striving to reach their goals also teaches students how to achieve success one goal at a time.
As Kristi reflects, “Ambition is especially important in primary grades. Letting students know that they can set goals and be anything they want in life is important. Never discourage them!”
Being a true friend means being supportive and encouraging. Teachers work hard to help their students practice being a good friend, which is important because it helps to create a more harmonious classroom environment. It can also reduce bullying and other interpersonal issues that cause pain and hurt.
“Humor is joyous in the classroom.”— Kristi Jacoby
Humor is important to development for a few reasons. What a student finds funny conveys where they are cognitively,1 but it also plays an important role in developing self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills. A child’s school experience can be greatly improved by having a good sense of humor.
Teaching students that there is a time and place to share humor is important to keeping order in the classroom. Most kids work better when there is ‘order’—routines, expectations and boundaries firmly in place. (this article has a great analogy to being an air traffic controller!) It is also important to reinforce that it’s not funny to make fun of other students.
It is important for students in elementary school to learn patience. Teachers can use visual timers for students to understand:
- wait time
- model patience themselves
- make sure that expectations are reasonable, based on cognitive development
Patience is another virtue that lends to a cohesive classroom environment. Students who exercise patience are willing to wait their turn and to be patient with fellow classmates.
This becomes even more critical when children need to be patient with peers who have different athletic, artistic, or academic abilities than they do—just as their peers need to be patient with them when they need more time or support.
Kristi Jacoby frames this virtue perfectly: “As a teacher, you have to model patience—you can’t just expect it. Patience is a virtue, and it’s the hardest one for adults and children alike!”
Putting the virtues into practice
Even though they were developed more than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle’s virtues are still relevant today. That’s why I wrote the Zuko and Allie Puff series, and why I want teachers to see how applicable the virtues can be to their classrooms, helping guide social-emotional learning and life skills lessons.
Teachers are critical to shaping our children and giving them confidence for the future—just like Aristotle wanted!