Thomas Hoerr shares ideas on preparing students for success beyond school with ‘St. Louis on the Air’

Thomas Hoerr on St. Louis on the Air

Thomas Hoerr, a scholar in residence in UMSL’s College of Education, appeared on Thursday’s edition of “St. Louis on the Air” and discussed his new book, “The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs.” (Photo by Kelly Moffitt)

Thomas Hoerr’s philosophy on education was honed over 34 years as the head of New City School, the non-sectarian co-educational independent school in St. Louis’ Central West End.

Hoerr, who left that position in 2015 and has been serving as a scholar in residence in the College of Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has gathered some core tenets in a book titled “The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs.”

The book – Hoerr’s second – was published in November, and Hoerr discussed its contents on Thursday’s edition of “St. Louis on the Air” on St. Louis Public Radio.

Host Don Marsh opened the interview by reading from Hoerr’s text: “Who you are in life is more important than what you know.”

“I love that sentence,” Hoerr said. “Basically, the book is written from the premise that what we need to be doing is preparing students to succeed in life, not just to do well in school. They need to do well in school, but that should be the floor, not the ceiling.

“So in the book, I’ve identified what I call the formative five, and these are the skills, virtues that are going to become successful adults, the kind of people we want to live next to, that we want to have our friends marry, that we want to have as partners.”

The five: empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit.

He offers ideas to help educators teach each trait.

Of integrity, he said: “One of the things we can do is not only look at what happened in history – the battles, the generals, the dates, who won, the economic downturns –we can look at the motivation. Why did people feel the way they feel? What caused them to act that way?”

Grit appeared last on the list but is no less important than any of the others for success. In fact, it was the sole focus of Hoerr’s first book, “Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world?

“Grit is basically simply tenacity, it is not giving up, it is recognizing that success doesn’t come easily and that, if you want something, you’re going to have to work at it,” Hoerr told Marsh.

“It’s always been the case but particularly in what I call a trophy society, where every kid gets a trophy on every team,” he added. “We need to teach kids that learning should be enjoyable, it should be fun, but it should be hard too.”

Last month, Hoerr delivered the address at the College of Education’s commencement ceremony. He also received an honorary degree.

To read more about Hoerr’s appearance on “St. Louis on the Air” or listen to the full interview, click here.


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