Our Charter

To provide an even more concrete idea of what an intellectual virtues approach to education will look like at IVA, we identify the following five “signature features” of an IVA education, followed by fifteen well-established methods for fostering intellectual virtues in an educational setting.


Five Signature Features of an IVA Education:


  1. Personal. IVA’s mission is to nurture the deep personal qualities essential to being an excellent and lifelong learner. It is therefore part of the “cura personalis” or “education of the whole person” tradition in education (Richards 1980; Huebner 1995; Kirby et al 2006). IVA’s small size and small classes will ensure that the school is an intimate, friendly, and personal environment. IVA teachers will attend to and nurture the well-being of each student.
  2. Relational. Character growth occurs most often in the context of relationships. This is a context in which intellectual virtues can be modeled, trust can be built, care can be expressed, and where admiration and emulation are a natural result. IVA teachers will know their students and will actively seek to address their needs. Students will work together in mutually edifying and supportive relationships.
  3. Rigorous. Intellectual virtues do not arise in a vacuum; rather, they are the product of rigorous and reflective engagement with curricular content. Intellectual virtues aim at a deep understanding and appreciation of important knowledge. For this reason, an intellectual virtues approach to education is not an alternative to a rich, standards-based approach. At IVA, the curriculum will be closely aligned with California state standards, and teachers will nurture and inspire a rigorous command of this material.
  4. Reflective. Growth in the intellectual virtues must be pursued in a reflective, intentional manner. Therefore, students and teachers at IVA will be aware of and attentive to their own intellectual strengths and weaknesses and will use this knowledge to their advantage in the learning process. Students will also be reflective in their engagement with academic content: their teachers will routinely reflect with them on why they are learning what they are learning; and they will be challenged to “think outside the box,” generate new ideas and solutions, and consider alternative possibilities.
  5. Active. Students do not become excellent thinkers or inquirers by being passive recipients of tidily packaged bits of information. Accordingly, students at IVA will be expected to take control of their intellectual growth and development. They will be trained to actively engage ideas, ask good questions, demand evidence, and support and defend their convictions.


Education researchers have identified a range of methods and strategies that, when properly employed, are effective at promoting intellectual and other forms of character development. Of particular significance is recent research on “character education” (Lickona and Davidson 2005; Berkowitz and Bier 2007) and “thinking dispositions” (Ritchhart 2001, 2002; Perkins et al 2000; Tishman, Perkins, and Jay 2009). We briefly enumerate 15 of these strategies below. The role that these strategies will play in IVA’s instructional program is clarified later on in Element 1.


Fifteen Research-Based Strategies for Fostering Intellectual Character Virtues:


  1. Creating a “culture of thinking.” A “culture of thinking” is a community in which individual and collective thinking is valued and promoted as part of the regular, day- to-day experience of each member of the community (Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison 2011: 219; Ritchhart 2002; Tishman, Perkins, and Jay 1995). Because excellent thinking is the activity most characteristic of intellectual virtues, cultures of thinking are places in which intellectual virtues are practiced. They involve providing ample time and opportunities for thinking, the use of “thinking routines,” attention to “big ideas,” and a focus on authentic learning over “working” (Ritchhart 2002).
  2. Staff hiring and development. An intellectual virtues educational model must be implemented and supported by teachers and administrators who genuinely understand, are passionate about, and are appropriately trained in this model (Berkowitz and Bier 2006; Lickona and Davidson 2005). Schools must give 5 substantial and very careful attention to this fact both in the hiring process and in how they train and support their teachers.
  3. Direct instruction. Research suggests that direct instruction in intellectual virtues is critical to creating the kind of understanding and climate that nurtures these qualities (Lickona 1993; Lickona and Davidson 2005). This includes instruction in what intellectual virtues are, the different groups or types of intellectual virtues, how intellectual virtues compare with related moral, civic, and cognitive abilities, their role in learning and education, and their importance to living a thoughtful and meaningful life.
  4. Family support. A culture conducive to intellectual character growth also requires strong family support and involvement (Berkowitz and Bier 2004; Lickona and Davidson 2005). This means that schools must also instruct parents in an intellectual virtues model and must provide them with concrete guidance and opportunities (e.g. through newsletters, online resources, and volunteering opportunities) to foster intellectual virtues in their children.
  5. Advisory groups. Advisory groups allow for ongoing positive relationships between students and intellectual mentors or advisors. They provide a safe environment in which teachers can nurture students’ character development through conversation, goal-setting, structured reflection, personal encouragement, and other means (Berkowitz and Bier 2004, 2006).
  6. Ongoing self-reflection and self-assessment. Self-knowledge is a critical starting point for all manner of personal growth, including intellectual character growth. For this reason, a key feature of an intellectual virtues educational model is ongoing self-reflection and self-assessment, through which students acquire an honest and in depth understanding of their respective intellectual character strengths and weaknesses (Lickona 1993; Berkowitz and Bier 2007).
  7. Modeling. Modeling of intellectual virtues by teachers and other school leaders provides students with informative and attractive examples of these traits. These examples evoke admiration and inspiration on the part of students, which in turn lead to their imitation of the relevant “exemplars.” Research indicates that natural and systematic modeling of intellectual virtues is a powerful means of promoting positive character growth (Caar 2007; Lickona and Davidson 2005; Berkowitz and Bier 2006; Davidson, Khmelkov, and Lickona 2010).
  8. Positive reinforcement. Calling positive attention to student activity that embodies intellectual virtues is a powerful tool for encouraging such activity and causing it to become “second nature” (Ritchhart 2002; Davidson, Khmelkov, and Lickona 2010). Positive reinforcement of intellectual virtues should occur at multiple levels, for example, through annual awards to students who best exemplify certain key virtues, mid-instruction recognition and praise of student comments or actions, and specific teacher feedback on student work and performance.
  9. Reflective teaching and learning. Teachers concerned with fostering intellectual character virtues will approach their craft and subject matter in a thoughtful and reflective manner. They will not be preoccupied with “teaching to the test.” Instead, they will model—and thereby promote—curiosity and intellectual passion, asking challenging and fundamental questions, and regularly identifying what is most interesting and important in what students are learning (Langer 1993, 2000; Rodgers 2002; Kitchener 1983; Baron 1981).
  10. Thinking routines. Thinking routines are simple cognitive patterns or structures that “consist of a few steps, are easy to teach and learn, are easily supported, and get used repeatedly” (Ritchhart, Palmer, Church, and Tishman 2006; Ritchhart, Church, Morrison 2011; Ritchhart 2002). They include routines for introducing and exploring ideas (e.g. “Think-Puzzle-Explore”), routines for synthesizing and organizing ideas (e.g. “The Micro Lab Protocol” and “Connect-Extend-Challenge”), and routines for digging deeper into ideas (e.g. “Claim-Support-Question”) (Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison 2011). (See www.pzweb.harvard.edu/vt/ for more on this topic.) Because such thinking is the basis of many intellectual virtues, thinking routines provide students with wide-ranging opportunities to practice and thereby to further develop these traits.
  11. Making thinking visible. Emerging from the “Visible Thinking” project at Harvard University (www.pzweb.harvard.edu/vt/), “making thinking visible” is a pedagogical approach that involves providing students with explicit representations of the structure and patterns of excellent thinking in order to deepen their content learning and foster critical thinking skills and dispositions (Ritchhart and Perkins 2008; Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison 2011; Tishman and Palmer 2005). This approach fosters intellectual character growth by making explicit, concrete, and visible (e.g. through argument maps, reflective prompts, documentation of students’ answers to questions, the use of thinking routines) the specific sorts of thinking, reflecting, and reasoning that are proper to intellectual virtues. It also provides a framework for imitating and practicing these activities.
  12. Metacognition. “Self-regulating” or “metacognitive” strategies are techniques that can be used to help learners understand, control, and manipulate their cognitive processes (e.g. Cornoldi 2010; Waters and Schneider 2010; Lucangeli 1998; and Winne 1995). They include such strategies as semantic webs, concept charts, mnemonics, and mind-mapping. Metacognitive strategies can be used by teachers to facilitate an active engagement with curricular content on the part of their students. Such engagement sets the stage for and is a crucial step in the formation of “thinking dispositions” or intellectual virtues (Ritchhart 2002).
  13. Critical thinking pedagogy. “Critical thinking” refers to the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from … observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven and Paul 1987). Research indicates that 7 pedagogical strategies aimed at critical thinking (e.g. case studies, discussion methods, questioning techniques, debates) can enhance academic performance across multiple domains (Paul 2004; Norris 1985; Angelo 1995; Ennis 1993). Because intellectual virtues are the personal foundation of critical thinking (Siegel 1988), critical thinking pedagogy can also be used to foster growth in these traits.
  14. Agenda of understanding. Intellectual virtues aim at deep understanding of important subject matters (Zagzebski 1996; Roberts and Wood, 2007; Baehr, 2011a). Therefore, teachers can promote intellectual character growth by implementing an “agenda of understanding,” which involves “pushing students’ thinking and putting students in situations where they have to confront their own and others’ ideas” (Ritchhart 2002: 223; Vygotsky 1978; Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison 2011). This approach “stresses exploring a topic from many angles, building connections, challenging long-held assumptions, looking for applications, and producing what is for the learner a novel outcome” (Ritchhart 2002: 222; Wiggins and McTighe 2005).
  15. Incorporating virtue concepts into standards and assessment. A final but essential way of fostering intellectual virtues is the integration of intellectual virtue concepts into formal assessment. This can be done in a variety of ways, including the systematic use of virtue-langue in standard grading rubrics (e.g. assessing student answers in terms of their carefulness, thoroughness, creativity, or rigor), the use of “intellectual character portfolios” (Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison 2011), and the assessment of student performance in terms of the goals proper to intellectual virtue (e.g. deep understanding or the creative application knowledge).