When Karen Bohlin began her career as a high school literature teacher, she was passionate about sharing her love of literature. It quickly became apparent, however, that not all of her students were ready to develop a deep appreciation of literature due to the challenges that they were facing outside the classroom.
“I thought I was just going to share my passion for literature. I thought I was going to teach them how to write and perform scenes from Shakespeare and just be inspired to learn, to communicate, read on levels that would just expand their thoughts and horizons,” said Bohlin. “And then I was confronted with all of the myriad challenges and questions and concerns that middle and high school students bring to the classroom from their family to their fears about speaking in front of a group to their desire to fit in. And it was in navigating all of those social concerns and personal needs…that I saw firsthand the whole person enterprise of character education.”
Channeling this newfound emphasis on character education, Bohlin became the Head at the Montrose School for girls in 2003. At Montrose, a place where “Girls are Called to Greatness”, the focus is not just on helping students master particular skills, but also on developing their character. Inspired by the Catholic view of the human person, this approach is motivated by viewing each student as a unique child of God.
As Bohlin observed, “Being in a school that’s inspired by the teachings of the Catholic Church gives you that rich dimensionality of looking at dignity in the fullest understanding of every person being a child of God and called to greatness in this life and and eternally, having a sense of widening one’s circle of concern and caring about those in need, those less fortunate, being called to serve and live a real servant leadership.”
After 18 years at the Montrose School, Bohlin is now the Director of the Practical Wisdom Project at the Abigail Adams Institute, focusing on formative leadership. Through a variety of programming and workshops, the Project brings education on practical wisdom to leaders of businesses, schools, and nonprofits. “What we’re aiming to help them do is to activate the skills and habits and practices at the heart of practical wisdom. And so we have a framework for teaching practical wisdom that leaders can model, coach and teach.” More information about The Practical Wisdom Framework, as Bohlin calls it, can be found in her recent article in the Journal of Education article entitled “The Practical Wisdom Framework: A Compass for School Leaders.”
Even at the Practical Wisdom Project, Bohlin remains a character educator at heart, as all of the work that the Project does is focused on teaching professionals to unlock the value of practical wisdom for their lives and careers. “That’s what our work at the Practical Wisdom Project, and the framework that I teach, is all about – providing scaffolding so that professionals can practice those skills at the heart of this great virtue of practical wisdom in the context of their professional work.”