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Q&A with Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Head of School Gary Krahn, Ph.D., introduced Donna Hicks, Ph.D., and her work on the dignity model to the LJCDS community three years ago. Now, in her newly released book, Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People, Dr. Hicks recognizes LJCDS as a pioneer in dignity education in chapter five, How to Educate Future Leaders about Dignity.

The book highlights the educators of LJCDS and the ways in which they have incorporated dignity into their teaching. Early Childhood Center educator Martha Migdal introduces dignity to her junior kindergarten class by emphasizing that every person matters. Middle Schoolers talk about dignity in advisory where they contemplate a variety of topics. In Nate Heppner’s eighth-grade English class, dignity is explored through the characters in the books they read. Upper School faculty members weave dignity into their classes, with examples in the book from multiple educators, including Cortney Golub who shares that “dignity is the heart and soul of her classroom culture.”

LJCDS is committed to inspiring greatness for a better world by teaching our students how to lead with dignity.

“A commitment to dignity is both a mirror and a window,” shares Dr. Krahn. “It is a window to see the dignity within all human beings, and a mirror reflecting back on our successes and failures to honor that dignity.”

Communications Content Manager Jennifer Fogarty interviews Dr. Hicks below. Join us December 15 when Dr. Hicks will be on campus for a talk and book signing.

Jennifer Fogarty: What is the role of a parent in helping their children lead with dignity?
Donna Hicks
: In a perfect world, parents would be educated in all matters related to dignity. Having an awareness of the importance of treating yourself and others well and modeling it for your child only reinforces what she or he is learning in school. If parents have not been exposed to dignity education, learning it together can be a good way to start practicing dignity skills at home with the family.

JF: What's the best way to approach a conflict by using dignity?
: To begin with, conflicts arise when people violate each other’s dignity. The ten elements of dignity are helpful in identifying and naming the ways one experiences a violation. They are also helpful in recognizing the ways we violate others. Taking responsibility for the harm we have done is the first step in resolving conflict. Having a process where both people in the conflict have an opportunity to discuss their dignity violations and take responsibility for what they have done is essential to healing a broken relationship.

JF: Based on the current climate of our society, how do we practice dignity on a daily basis? What are some small things we could be doing to foster dignity and become dignity agents?
: It is even more important now that we are experiencing such daily indignities from our political leadership that we counteract those unacceptable behaviors with everyday acts, both big and small, of treating others with dignity. We can be conscious of how we approach others, strangers and friends alike, and make sure that we are treating everyone well, even if we disagree with them. Having a conversation with others in a way that protects everyone’s dignity will not only contribute to changing the current climate, but in no small way; it will ensure the health of our precious democracy.

JF: You mention that we are all born with dignity, however, respect is earned. Could you expand on this concept?
: We are all born with inherent value and worth. We do not have to do anything to have dignity. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu pointed out to me, dignity is in our DNA, and no one can take it away from us. Respect, on the other hand, is something others bestow on us. When we do something that is exceptional, we earn the respect of others. When we do something abhorrent, we lose the respect of others. Respect is something that can come and go, while dignity is a constant. We are born worthy and remain that way all of our lives, no matter what we do.

JF: Why is it important to prioritize dignity education at a pre-K–12 school?
: After researching dignity for more than two decades, I firmly believe that if our educational system had recognized the need to be educated about how to claim our own dignity, how to honor it in others, and how to put it into practice in everyday life, we would see far less conflict in our lives and in the world and a whole lot less suffering.

Dignity violations are a source of suffering that we can do something about, but we all need to be educated in all matters related to dignity. Even though we were all born with dignity, we are not born knowing how to act like it. It has to be learned. LJCDS is at the vanguard of this critical addition to our social learning and development.  

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