Accepting people's differences and showing empathy are values we try to teach our kids from an early age. It is essential in today's day and age to build upon that emotional intelligence as they enter adolescence, by beginning to speak to them about sexual assault, what constitutes consent and understanding boundaries. We need to draw from the same lessons we taught them at a young age about bullying, like having mutual respect for others, and apply it to this topic for tweens, teens and young adults of all genders.Read More
What's Happening in Character?
When Ashley Eckstein, an actress and entrepreneur, started performing professionally in fifth grade, the other girls in her class taunted her relentlessly. Now 37, Eckstein recently brought her 13-year-old niece to a girls leadership summit to show her a different dynamic — hundreds of girls celebrating one another’s accomplishments in fields including writing and social activism.Read More
The full-time job of parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual. No matter how many children you have – one or six – they’ll surprise you. Some mature more quickly than others, but in general, today’s children simply don’t develop adult skills without deliberate instruction. Nearly 75 percent of millennials can’t change a tire on their own.Read More
Humility is one of the most respectable and admirable traits that an athlete can possess. The prime essence of a humble athlete is the act of selflessness and modesty which transcends to the world. Oftentimes in the realm of sports we witness many accounts of prideful behavior, whether it be on or off the playing field. Being a competitive athlete myself, I’ve watched and observed professional athletes of the highest caliber. As much as I would gravitate to their individual skills and talents, I would even more so be observant of their character and demeanor.Read More
Northern Parkway School is located in Uniondale, New York. In 2015, we were recognized as a School of Character. As a school, we focus primarily on three pillars: respect, responsibility and caring. Promoting core values, as encouraged by Principle 1 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, has been one of the driving forces behind many of our accomplishments.Read More
On an early morning school climate team meeting, a group of ten educators crowd around a conference table sipping coffee and crafting a plan. They are discussing a kick-off event for their new character education initiative with the theme “kindness counts.” A buzz of excited chatter ensues as staff discuss various ideas for recognizing students for kind behavior. Then, a teacher raises a concern, “Will students like the idea of being recognized during morning announcements? Perhaps they would prefer to receive a certificate and applause at our monthly assembly?” Another teacher chimes in, “Shy kids might not like that kind of attention. What about giving out kindness wristbands?” The discussion around recognition continues another 10 minutes until the meeting adjourns. As a next step, the Principal requests that team members do some online research about kindness campaigns.Read More
I once had three students who tried out for travel soccer in sixth grade. After only one made the team, the other two spread a lie, saying that the girl had made the team only because her uncle was the coach. It wasn’t the first time in my job as a school counselor that I’ve seen kids engage in damaging behavior because of jealousy.Read More
This week I unintentionally offended two colleagues and friends by showing a lack of respect for their contributions to others and myself. I am disappointed and annoyed with myself. How do I apologize so I (we) can move on?Read More
At the end of May, I finished my 34th year of serving as a public-school educator. This hard truth that my time in school had come to an end rapidly washed over me as I retired from that role. This summer, as I’ve been reflecting on my glorious career that found me growing alongside every single developmental age and stage (from Pre-K to 12th grade), I think back through many changes and feel grateful for the one constant that anchored my soul, and kept me joyfully connected: Character.Read More
Putting Character into Innovation
If it’s true, as Alan Kay said, that “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” then how do we do that? More importantly, how do we help our students do that?
For many years I conducted a student workshop called Being Your Own Futurist that helped students design the future using two methods of envisioning technological innovation: the linear approach, which focused on incremental innovation; and the intersecting circles approach, which focused on how existing technologies are combined to form new tech, often with disruptive impacts. In this issue I focus on the linear approach.Read More
Think about something that you love to do! Perhaps it is reading a good book, playing a video game, being in nature, spending time with your family, or eating a decadent chocolate treat. Does anyone need to give you a sticker, pay you some money, or give you an award for doing what you love to do? Of course not! That’s because you are “intrinsically motivated” to do so.Read More
What are you bracing against?
Relax, you’re going to be criticized.
The title of this practice is a little tongue-in-cheek. What I mean is, most of us – me included – spend time worrying about criticism: past, present, and even future. Yes, try hard, keep agreements, “don’t be evil,” etc. But sooner or later – usually sooner – someone is going to point out the error in your ways. Often in subtle versions that still have an implicit criticism, such as giving advice, helping or teaching when you don’t really need it, making corrections, comparing you negatively to others, or focusing on the one tile in the mosaic of your actions that’s problematic while staying mum about the 99 other good tiles.Read More
A few months after my oldest son was born, I felt confident and on top of the world. The months prior to his birth, I gradually added to my toolbox and researched everything from sleep training and homemade baby food to the language I would use when he played independently and interacted with others. I would let him make mistakes, but I would also use praise centered around the character traits I valued most. I was an assistant principal and similar to my school’s mission, I would teach my son to be self-motivated. I would teach my son to think critically. I would model for him the value in helping others. I would teach him the value and joy of lifelong learning. As a family, we will take him to art museums, restaurants, playdates, zoos, and parks.Read More
Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, a K-5 public elementary school in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia today serves a diverse population with students coming from all socio-economic levels and countries of origin. Built in 1958 for African American students during the time of segregation, the building underwent a transformation in 2000 to attract other community members to the school. With the “traditional academy model” came a focus on strong academic achievement and the use of character education to set the moral compass for the students.Read More
Is it necessary to have core ethical values in place to create a caring work environment? When employers and employees exhibit genuine care for one another, they thrive and are able to produce successful results. We interviewed John Horan, a successful Real Estate Broker/Developer in North Central Florida who has owned and operated multiple businesses, to delve into why Principles 1 and 4 of the Eleven Principles are relevant to maintaining a successful work environment.
Sports, like golf, provide the opportunity for kids to gain exposure to core values and life lessons that that can help in competition, but also in everyday life.Read More
Since childhood, many of us have acquired the art of project management. From pursuing hobbies, to managing relatives and other things that comprise of basic learning, we have learned how to be project managers in one way or the other.Read More
The other day, I was walking home with my kids from school when a boy in my daughter’s class yelled, ”Goodbye” to her. I watched as her little frame looked at him, shrugged and turned away to keep walking. I was shocked. As we continued walking, I asked her why she didn’t wave or respond to the boy, but she just shrugged her shoulders. I don’t think she fully understood what she was doing or why, so I determined to help her have a clear understanding on how our actions affect others.Read More
There is perhaps no other professional subject spoken about more often in the press and in HR sessions than character in the workplace. Yet it is poorly understood in principle and in practice. The steady stream of stories featuring C-Suite deceit in the form of scandals and immoral management decisions takes a toll on those involved and erode the nobility of business itself.
Where and when then does the breakdown of character in the workplace occur?Read More
My first time going on a roller coaster was when I was 11 years old. It was a year after my sisters and I immigrated to the United States and we were excited to try as many “American” activities as possible. Going on a roller coaster ride was one of our top priorities. However, my 11 year old mind never considered the possibility of acrophobia (fear of heights) until I was buckled and strung tightly in the air. I am happy to say that after that experience, I have never gone on another roller coaster again and don’t plan on doing so any time in the near future.Read More
When I was a gymnastic teacher in my twenties at a gymnastics center, I used to instruct little girls on all sorts of tricks on the beam, bar and other gymnastics equipment. Gymnastics is not an easy sport to do. It is downright scary at times and takes courage to perform well. Just watch the Olympics on TV. So as one can imagine, overcoming fear was one of our focus at the gym. Often when I asked some young girls to spin on the beam, they usually answered with a stern no. Therefore I learned early as an instructor to immediately respond, “The word ‘can’t’ is not in the English dictionary.” As outlined in Principle 2 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education — in developing character to include “thinking” “feeling” and “doing” — I encouraged these young gymnasts to not only perceive but take actions that strengthened their character.Read More
Even though there are many ways to define character education, for the moment let’s assume that Wikipedia provides a reasonable starting point: “…an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, good, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, traditional, compliant or socially acceptable beings.” While there is plenty in this definition to inspire healthy debate, my primary concern with it is this: it assumes character development only applies to human beings.Read More
It only takes one click to reveal your character. Just one click, and anyone in the world has access to the content that exists on your social media profiles. Every status you write, picture you post, and article you share leaves a permanent trail often referred to as your social media footprint. Whether you realize it or not, the trail you leave behind says a lot about who you are. Now that social media is so prevalent in all of our lives, it is essential to ask yourself the following question, "What does my social media presence reveal about my character?"Read More
Nowadays, we hear a lot in media about environmentalism and the effect humans have on the planet. We know more now. Thankfully, for the most part, we know better. Even still, it can be difficult to get started without being overwhelmed (I need to recycle this. Wait, should this be composted? What can I plant to best help the local wildlife? I live in an apartment and don’t know what to do…). I encourage everyone to try to do better by starting small. Because even the smallest effort can cause positive change.Read More
In elementary school, Nadia and Rosie walked home together every day. They would play with Nadia’s dog and swing on Nadia’s hammock. In sixth grade, that all changed. Rosie felt suffocated by Nadia and dodged her after school. She’d hide in the bathroom until her new friends said the coast was clear. Nadia was hurt and confused, and her mother, Dana, was conflicted. “They’ve been best friends forever,” she told me. “But Rosie is in a faster crowd and constantly gets in trouble. I want Nadia to move on, but instead she’s become obsessed with who’s popular. I’m not sure what, if anything, I should say to Rosie’s mom.”Read More
Character is developed through our participation in sports and competition. I had the great fortune of playing baseball 20 years of my life—including most of college. I have found that engaging in sports can teach us a lot about life. There will be times when we have wins and losses. There will be times when we have failures and triumphs. However, the true test of character remains in how we respond to these circumstances.Read More
Social Studies is an inherently personal topic.
It is that time of the school day that has been carved out to specifically look at our history, our accomplishments, failures, systems we have created in order to survive and most importantly, relationships we have developed. It is more than the mere regurgitation of names and dates. It is a wonderful opportunity to look with a critical eye and develop our own ideas while refining our values through connections, self-reflection and conversations with peers. It offers a chance to learn from the past so we can do better for the future.
This is a realization that our world desperately needs.Read More
Workplace character is a necessary part of character development. It is imperative for staff to adhere to moral guides that allows them to freely strive for the highest form of character.
The 11 Principles sets a wonderful example for cultivating good character in all environments. These principles are valuable in schools, workplaces, homes, and sport teams. They set a blueprint for people to create spaces where positive character is fertilized daily.Read More
Stories are the original edutainment out of which all cultures flow. Before we had TVs, social media, books and formal plays we had stories. Families and communities would gather and listen to stories from elders. They would sing them, set them to music and dance, draw them, and most importantly enact them so that the essential values would be communicated and preserved.Read More
Women have made incredible impact in the world.
Everywhere you go, there are women. Everywhere women are, we see character nurtured. When it comes to exuding and embodying character, women from all walks of life like Rosa Parks (one of the figureheads of the Civil Rights Movement), and Malala Yousafzai (a proponent for the education of girls in Pakistan) have encouraged, challenged inspired many women to work in cultivating good character within themselves.Read More
Sports have been a major part of my life since I was four years old. Growing up I played all kinds sports. Golf, football, and tennis are just some of the few. These activities gave me mental and physical strength to tackle hardships that came my way. I learned that living the life of an athlete can shape and challenge one’s character in significant ways.Read More
It’s no secret perseverance is key to achieving your goals. Even the most successful individuals face their share of defeat – it is part of the journey in reaching goals. One of the most valuable lessons youth can learn in their pursuit of success is to learn how to react to failure and to persevere.Read More
“Every morning everybody makes a decision: they can let poverty, violence, tough neighborhoods influence how they come in to school, or they can say I’m in an environment that cares for me, respects me and is going to help me.” Principal Anabel Soler, North Park Academy
In January, 2017, CITRS (Character, Integrity, Trust, Relationships, Success) in partnership with Character Counts! (CC!) provided a pilot opportunity to the Buffalo Public School System to implement a ground-breaking three-year comprehensive character development initiative which has made huge strides in weaving character throughout the culture of the 21 schools selected.Read More
“Good morning, Phyllis,” the man wrote. “I’m Tim, a stranger to you from Australia. I felt it was worth a chance to reach out to you. I woke up lost, started Googling and by chance found your article on connecting with boys.” He told me he was a 30-year-old single parent to an 11-year-old, and that he felt like he was failing as a father. I did the math and realized he was still a teen when he became a parent.Read More
by Hal Urban
I was a social studies teacher in a public high school for 36 years. I loved every minute of it! Well, at least almost every minute. In all honesty, my teaching career started out wonderfully, and got better each year. I’m convinced that the key was good relationships. I was taught on my first day of graduate school in education that, “If you can reach ‘em, you can teach ‘em.” Starting with my student teaching, I put a lot energy into reaching my students, of making that all-important personal connection with them.Read More
One hallmark of a great educator is the ability to live with the unintended consequences that commonly pop up with change. Changes in curriculum, instructional strategy, even bell schedules inevitably give rise to these unintended results – some benefits and others, drawbacks. Working with educators throughout the world who are contributing to our growing library of Promising Practices.Read More
Besides talent, what determines the lasting success of someone in any career? Ask 100 people that question, and most would likely attribute workplace success to character strengths such as perseverance, empathy, kindness, honesty, humility, etc. In fact, one could argue that the importance of character has increased in the 21st Century workplace. Elmer G. Letterman once said, “Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.” This is why it is necessary to promote core ethical values within students. Encouraging character traits helps students set good foundations so they are prepared for the workplace.Read More
I have been with Character.org for more than 5 years now and have seen many awesome examples of Communities of Character built around the 11 Principles. While I’ve admired the courage and hard work of each of those journeys, I now find myself about to begin my own journey as I become a parent.
In September, I wrote a blog for Character.org about the challenges --- and resiliency--- of my hometown Houston, Texas, in the wake of the devastating floods from Hurricane Harvey.Read More
If you surveyed one hundred people on what they believe is the most important quality in a friendship, you'd likely get about a hundred different answers. Actually, if someone had asked me that just a few months ago, I'd probably waver back and forth between that many myself!Read More
There are two faces to the academic accountability phenomenon. On the one hand there is the reductionist perversion of education that is often referred to as high stakes testing. You know, the governmental requirements to evaluate schools based on some narrow and questionable metrics, usually statewide academic test scores, coupled with little of the carrot and lots of the stick.Read More
We all watch others. Sometimes we see good actions we want to emulate, and other times we see actions that are driven by selfish behavior. This is life—and life is embedded with choices. Other than our homes, there is no place better than our schools to start understanding what those choices look like. This is why the focus on building community within our schools is critical because it is people-focused and relationship-driven. Building community is a dynamic process that creates reasons to focus beyond self while embracing respect for the presence of others. The choices we make during challenging seasons in life define our character.Read More
Have you ever had a moment when you felt utmost genuine thankfulness? The kind of thankfulness that lifts up your spirit to rest in continuous gratitude.
Now think about a moment when you were acquainted with hardship--the kind when you experienced devastations and throttles that made it hard to utter words of thanks.
My question for you is this: has it ever been easy to give thanks in both of these circumstances?Read More
Each morning, the George Washington Bridge is my gateway—my means of access to New York City and more importantly my school— St. Hope Leadership Academy Charter School. If I depended on one path or gateway to the bridge, I would likely arrive at my destination a few hours late or not at all. However, in the age of navigation apps, I am thankful for the multiple paths and gateways I have to reach various destinations.Read More
The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education offers a comprehensive roadmap to building a culture of character in your school or organization. It is a research-based, proven framework that supports character development by guiding the implementation of core values and embedding character into every aspect of your school or organization’s culture.Read More
In one generation, the nature of youth sports has changed dramatically. To illustrate my point, I want to paint my childhood experience (k-8th grade). Almost every day on the bus ride home from school, we voted on the sport we were going to play and the meeting point. We played all kinds of sports – football, basketball, baseball, kickball, tennis, and hockey. We loved it. It was fun, competitive and free. We made our own rules and settled our own disputes.Read More
Over 15 years of experience in diverse Human Resources disciplines coupled with family, school, and social environments have shaped and grounded my core character skills. I am often center stage for myriads of conversations on how best to identify key character or social skills for student and adult learners. Yet, organizations and schools tend to prioritize academic and professional competencies as the dominant requisites for impactful life and workplace success. Likewise, exhibitions of noble character skills directly correlate to workplace success.Read More
As I sit and stare at this super-bright screen and this starkly-blank sheet, I’m feeling unsure that my words can do my feelings justice as I count down the days to this year’s annual Forum.
I first attended the National Forum as a vendor with my friends at Character Counts! in 2004 because it was held in Houston near my home. I won’t ever forget the incredible networking opportunity to listen and understand how character educators were weaving core values into the very fabric of their character building. I left that Forum fired up to lead the charge that would reignite the embers our community stakeholders had set aglow back in 1987. That was when a group of 120 concerned citizens decided on fourteen virtues that would serve as the foundation while we strived to educate the whole child.Read More
3 letter acronyms (along with selfie’s, snapchats, and poop emoji’s) are taking over the world.
Instead of running from this phenomenon, I’ve decided to add my contribution to the mix.
“BCQ!” Build. Connection. Quickly. Let me explain…
When I’m speaking to students in schools, (schools just like your schools) many days I’ll ask…
“How many of you, when you heard you were coming down to the auditorium to hear a ‘motivational speaker,’ thought to yourself, ‘this is going to be the longest 45 min’s of my life?’”
Nearly every hand shoots up in the air. It’s like I’m at an auction and EVERYONE is bidding.
As Chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance, I spend a lot of time thinking about how educators can foster an educational environment that encourages meaningful family involvement. Every day, we work towards the development of positive and trusting relationships between educators, parents, students, and community advocates. For educators, it’s important to be a guiding force for the development of character in young people, and it’s essential to ensure those lessons are reinforced at home and practiced in everyday life.Read More
I’m not an especially eloquent or elegant writer. Others would undoubtedly do a far better job at communicating these thoughts. Especially as I try to convey a topic that is so personally emotional and still a little raw.
Houston is my hometown.
If you didn’t grow up there, it is difficult to imagine the sheer scale of this month’s catastrophic flooding due to Hurricane Harvey. It wasn’t just parts of Houston that were impacted. Every part of Houston was impacted. Every major highway in and out of town was flooded. In a county larger than some U.S. states, every suburb received nearly 30 inches of rain --- some areas got more than 50.Read More
Ever imagine what the ideal character education experience would look like? Would it take place in a fully immersive, active skill building, natural consequence-rich and inclusive learning environment? Would it be full of genuine challenge, struggle and accomplishment to help kids develop a robust sense of self-worth?
In fact, it can be all of these things. Outward Bound has been facilitating these physically immersive learning experiences for over 70 years, worldwide. Additionally it offers expeditionary style, wilderness-based learning courses. We at Outward Bound Baltimore Chesapeake Bay teach character one student at a time through our Appalachian Trail backpacking, Potomac River canoeing, and Chesapeake Bay kayaking expeditions. We partner with Chesapeake region schools to provide a unique learning environment where students are in charge of their struggles, their accomplishments, their learning and their growth.
Character building happens one decision at a time. It doesn’t happen TO people; it is ACTIVELY self-initiated.Read More
Immigration is a hot national issue that commands many headlines, but seldom is there a spotlight on meeting the challenges of teaching the children of these “new immigrants.” Some enterprising National Schools of Character from New Jersey and New York took steps this summer to open up this conversation.Read More
As the world seems more and more divided, it has never been more important to take a look at what connects us. Join us for the fourth annual Character Day on September 26, 2018!
Character Day is a free day and global initiative where school districts, individual classrooms, companies, organizations, and families -- groups of all sizes -- screen films on the science of character development from different perspectives, dive into free printed discussion materials catered to different ages, and join an online global Q&A conversation featuring prominent leaders discussing the importance of developing character strengths (resilience, grit, empathy, courage, kindness)--all rooted in evidence-based research. Character Day is one day. The resources are available year-round. Please watch the 1 minute trailer and sign up today(takes 2 mins)!Read More
The issue of fake news speaks to the core of any character education agenda because it threatens our ability to be informed, civil contributors to social discourse. Unfortunately, fake news is not as straightforward an issue as we would like it to be. An example will help us understand the challenge we face in this area.Read More
As parents, we have many hopes for our kids. We want them to grow up to live happy, successful lives. We hope they'll find love, maybe have kids of their own, and pursue their dreams. But at the bottom of all these wishes is the hope that our kid turns into a decent human being -- someone who is kind, respectful, and honest.
How do you bolster these strengths as well as teach key skills such as teamwork, communication, and perseverance? For the most part, kids will learn these things by following your example and through experience gained at school and in their communities. But media is another entry point. Since movies, TV shows, books, video games, and social media are such a huge part of kids' lives, it makes sense that kids can learn important lessons about character through media.Read More
I interned with Character.org the summer after earning my bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, “when I grew up.” To be honest, I still don’t (If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below).
Before coming to intern with this organization, I told my advisor that I was looking into nonprofits, advocacy and education. This process lead me to character.org. When I started working there, I had my reservations. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “Character Education? What kind of feel-good, hippy malarkey is this? All we need in schools is reading, writing, and arithmetic.” However, coming right out of college, I realized that any job experience is a job experience any way you slice it, and I was happy not running a weed eater all summer for the first time since I was sixteen.Read More
Throughout my life so far I have often thought about my dream job. When I was in elementary school my dream job was being an art teacher, and my classroom would be covered in projects, colors and designs. I dreamed up how the classroom would be set up, what everyone would call me and how happy I would be. When I got into middle school my dream job was to be a history teacher. I thought of certain areas of history I would focus on and class trips that we could take. In high school my dream job was to be a photographer. I would travel all over the world taking photos and selling them to places like National Geographic. When I got into college my dream job was a place where I would have my own office, at a company I loved, that would give me travel opportunities.Read More
Let’s be honest: nearly all kids—from tots to teens—stretch the truth and for all sorts of reasons: avoid punishment, make themselves look or feel better, get out of a task, keep their friend out of trouble, and start lying as young as two or three. Occasional lying is an almost expected part of child development, but whether dishonesty becomes a habit depends largely on how we respond to that lie. Statistics show we may not be doing such a good job.Read More
Soccer has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From playing on recreational youth teams, to college, and now to my job today, soccer has been there.
While learning the fundamentals of the game was the objective, I also learned there was much more to soccer than the physical skill set. Soccer taught me sportsmanship and how to work on a team. It taught me how to handle unexpected challenges and use critical thinking to evaluate the situation. It even taught me to reach for water when I might have grabbed a soda.
While some skills did not come as quickly as others, I could aRead More
Parenting might have one of the longest job descriptions one may ever hold with the least amount of pay. In fact it costs a great deal financially, emotionally and spiritually. There is no award. There is no destination. One sometimes feels like you have to wait until the end of your life time to see the end result of your work. It seems though, that I don’t have to wait until my end to see the fruits of my labor, maybe you don’t either. Together, let’s look at parenting right smack dab in the middle.Read More
Years ago, my then one-year-old son Ben played with a ball popper during playgroup. His friend Brooke found the same toy appealing and was displeased. She couldn’t form sentences yet, but she let Ben know his turn was up and the toy was rightfully hers. She babbled loudly right in his face for a full minute without stopping for air, then grabbed the toy. As my son drooled and looked at her wide-eyed, her mother sighed. “I think I’m in for it,” she told me. “I love her toughness, but my biggest fear is that she’ll grow up to be a mean girl.”
Empathy is the ability to identify with and feel for another person. It’s the powerful quality that halts violent and cruel behavior and urges us to treat others kindly. Empathy emerges naturally and quite early, which means our children are born with a huge built-in advantage for success and happiness.
Though children are born with the capacity for empathy, it must be nurtured or it will remain dormant. And there lies the problem: studies show that American teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. That’s a dangerous trend for many reasons. First, it hurts our kids’ academic performance, relationships and can lead to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, a lack of empathy hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for life-long success.
But there’s good news for parents. The latest science shows that empathy can be taught and nurtured. My new book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me-World (Simon & Schuster) pinpoints not only the forces causing the empathy crisis but also a framework for parenting that yields the results we all want: successful, happy kids who also are kind, moral, courageous and resilient. Here are ten simple ways that we can teach our kids to care about others and boost their empathy from UnSelfie, which offers over 500 simple ways.Read More
One of the things I always liked about teaching is that each year brings a beginning and a closure. Most jobs don’t have that; days and years tend to run together, with varying projects, perhaps, but no ceremonial starts and stops. Of course, for education, the biggest ceremony of all is graduation.Read More
As a staff, we believe in practicing what you preach, and as such we often reflect on our own core values. When we drill down to the root of it, many of us come to find that it was indeed our family who instilled the values we've come to know, love and live by. Below, you'll find stories from some of the Character.org team and how our families influenced our character.Read More
The teaching of values sounds like something that should be done at home under the parents' discretion, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, not all parents are doing this. This may be due to a number of reasons, so who is to take on this essential job?
As teachers, if we focus solely on teaching academic content without a moral compass, what kind of citizens are we producing? Educated people that lack a strong moral foundation run the risk of applying their skills in ways that do not enhance the quality of our world. Even worse, they run the risk of using those skills to lead people in the wrong direction, and if one day they find themselves in a position of power, they may use it to make decisions that are destructive to our communities or world. If world leaders of the past held values that were deeply rooted from a young age, mankind would be in a better place for it. This is our chance to make a difference for the future of our world, to create a society of smart and good citizens, and it is imperative that we approach it the right way.Read More
It’s that time of year again, a chance to express and show appreciation and gratitude toward a very special group of women and men, those educators in our lives who work tirelessly to shape the hearts and minds of our most precious resource, our children. And while we don’t have to wait until National Teacher Appreciate Week to show our school faculty and staff how grateful we are for their positive influence and inspiration, the first week of the last month of school is a fantastic time to warm their worlds with kindness so that they can feel that they are valued, treasured and loved.Read More
Topics: Teacher Appreciation
The internet is considered children and teens’ territory, yet adults are still obliged to prevent cyberbullying associated with it. Usually they are parents and teachers with whom kids spend the most of their time. However, the latter are often reluctant to report about online abuse. Of course, a lot has been already done to reduce the number of victims, but the problem still remains. Considering its possible consequences, including the fatal outcome, we cannot tolerate complacency. For sure, there is a way to change the situation for the better if teachers and parents, who have the most interest in kids’ safety, join their hands to reduce the prevalence of cyberbullying.Read More
I still have the handmade pillow I sewed with a friend in fourth grade. We wrote “best friends forever” in puffy paint across the surface. I also have the "slam book" my friends and I created at a sixth grade sleepover. In it, we listed each other’s flaws, then discussed our findings. It amazes me that we considered that a good idea. At 12, peer approval was everything, and those comments stuck. It was 30 years before I cut bangs again. We alternately loved and tested one another, and it wasn’t always pretty.Read More
When I was three, I lived in the country where my mom owned 21 acres of woodsy hillside. I was too young to form many memories there before we moved, but of the ones that remain, all but two took place outside. I had a swing set that faced the hill, and on pretty days, I would swing and focus my attention to the hill with all of its untouched trees and weeds, on the hawks that soared overhead, on the sound of nature around me. I felt the warm breeze as I watched butterflies and bees pass by. That was my happy place, outside in my little clearing.
When I was ten, I begged my dad to take me to the park every chance we got to walk the paths, see the squirrels and traverse the creeks and streams. We played games and talked, but mostly, we blazed our own trails through the woods in revered silence. As we walked, we listened to the frogs and the echo of twigs beneath our feet.
Topics: earth day
Relevance A young man, formerly incarcerated, stood on our auditorium’s dimly lit stage, and asked our scholars the following question: “Raise your hand if you know someone who is currently or was recently in prison.” With each moment of silence that followed, dozens of scholars quietly raised their hands. Refoundry, a nonprofit that trains formerly incarcerated people to repurpose discarded materials into home furnishings, is one of a few organizations that our scholars partner with each year.
Each month, our scholars select a social or environmental issue or organization that is relevant to them, for which they are passionate. Our scholars select a social or environmental issue that directly affects their families and/or their communities in Harlem and the Bronx. Mrs. Stephanie Fernandez, who also mentors our student government, and Ms. Karina Perez, who also mentors our National Junior Society, mentor scholars and guide them as they write lesson plans, contact organizations, and write proposals to our school’s Board of Directors and administration. However, it is because these issues are selected by and relevant to our scholars that we witnessed the marriage of service and learning, that we saw a month dedicated to “Reducing Recidivism” or “Equality” go beyond the canned food drive.
"Your [service learning] program has allowed me to reach students that I thought were unreachable. Their entire outlook on school and on life has changed drastically; I truly cannot thank you enough.”
– 6th Grade Teacher
A year ago, an eighth grade student came into my counseling office looking stricken. Over the weekend, Lara’s parents had told her they were moving from Maryland to a country in South America. Her father’s global job had taken her to far-flung places before, but she hadn’t seen this move coming. “I thought I’d be going to high school with my friends,” she told me, “not starting all over again. I don’t even speak Spanish!”
I felt for her. Change is hard, especially when it’s foisted on you. I worked with Lara to identify any elements in her control, including her own attitude. She had lived everywhere from Germany to Texas, and we talked about how she had successfully navigated those transitions. We also identified a few positives, including the likelihood she would master a new language.Read More
"The 2016 election has been long and fraught with strong emotions. As a nation, we have much to do to heal the divisiveness that has resulted. As parents, caregivers, and educators, we have a critical responsibility to help children and youth feel safe and secure and learn how to engage with others of differing viewpoints in a peaceful, tolerant, and respectful manner.
As always, schools play a critical role in this process by creating a positive learning environment for all students. It is imperative that educators facilitate respectful discussions among students and safeguard the well-being of those who may feel at risk."
-National Association of School Psychologists, November 9, 2016
Principle 1: Promotes Core Ethical and Performance Values as the foundation of good character.
“...the core values that underpin sustainable development - interdependence, empathy, equity, personal responsibility and intergenerational justice - are the only foundation upon which any viable vision of a better world can possibly be constructed.” -Jonathon PorrittRead More
Technological innovation moves so quickly that we often don't have time to consider its unintended consequences. A result is that it’s difficult to respond to hot-button character-related issues like cyberbullying and sexting because they seem to appear out of nowhere. Our challenge is to find ways to teach our children how to navigate the ethics of the rapidly moving digital present, consciously, proactively and reflectively. In K-12 parlance, we want them to become wise, skilled and caring digital citizens.
The Evolution of Digital Citizenship
Digital citizenship has evolved over the years. In its original set of K-12 standards for the use of educational technology, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) defined the broad area of ethics and technology as addressing “social, ethical and human issues” – the phrase “digital citizenship” was nowhere to be found. ISTE only became concerned with issues of citizenship when the development of the Internet led to the creation of common virtual space. This led to the formation of communities, which in turn made us want to understand our expectations of each other as community members. Years later, when the ISTE competencies were rewritten, the Internet had become a staple of modern society. At that point, digital citizenship had become one of its primary standards.Read More
I spent four months in Washington, D.C. to pursue a fellowship at Character.org. I wanted to gain experience in the nonprofit education management in the US and deepen my knowledge on character education. The ideal place for this was at the national headquarters of the character education movement in the US: Character.org.
I am from Amman, Jordan. Back home, I am working on developing StoryWalks; a project focused on growing the social and emotional skills of children through elements of storytelling and drama. In a region turmoiled with conflict, I hope to take part in nurturing children to become adults who accept differences, collaborate in building their communities and bring positive change to our world. My project, an instrument in character education, was furthered by the new perspectives I gained during my fellowship at Character.org.Read More
"No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." ~Aesop
Kindness is a wonderful thing! A quick look in the dictionary reveals that to be kind means to be: thoughtful, friendly, considerate, warm, helpful and caring towards others. Who among us wouldn’t wish for a bit more of that?
Join the Kindness Revolution
Most educators highly value kindness in themselves and in their students. Being kind feels good, creates more positive bonds between students (and educators), and boosts learning. It may even have beneficial health effects like better sleep and reduced stress levels. This is why programs like Random Acts of Kindness have taken off like wildfire! In the forthcoming book, Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School, my co-author and I describe the story of a teacher named Kiren Chanda. Her 8th grade students came up with the idea of a Random Acts of Kindness campaign in their classroom. The campaign quickly spread to other classrooms, and eventually, the entire school. The students’ simple acts of kindness, such as holding doors open for one another, giving each other compliments, writing thank-you notes, offering to assist with tasks like cleaning up, and simply offering smiles, created a ripple effect that made a positive and lasting impact on the school climate.
When we think of music, often what comes to mind is song. We may think of Broadway musicals, Bach or Justin Timberlake. In our minds we might imagine orchestras or pianists. Music has been central to civilization for thousands of years. In fact, before we had language we used musical tones and sounds to communicate. The tone of a grunt signaled a message in our prehistoric ancestors, while the beat of a drum brought village people together in unity far and wide. What we think of a little less often is what music is made of and how it impacts our learning, behavior and social relationships.
Music is all around us as we hear the subway cling and clatter, the pitter-patter of our children’s footsteps and the ambient noise inherent in life.Music engages our sensory, motor and auditory pathways in the brain fostering engagement and synchronicity (Patel & Iverson, 2014). Curiously, the ability to synchronize with a beat is associated with learning language and grammar (Corriveau & Goswami, 2009; Gordon et al. 2015).
At its core music is made of beats and rhythms that create sound, melody and even movement. These beats
and rhythms are meaningful scaffolds we can use in school, at home and in life to enhance foundational aspects of our learning, behavior and character.
Even my iPhone thought I was overextended. On a Sunday night, a message flashed across my screen: "There's a lot going on tomorrow. There are nine events scheduled, and the first one starts at 4 am. Your alarm is set for 5:05 am." My first instinct was to laugh, and then wonder what on earth I had going on at 4 am. A friend joked that I was so busy, I had allotted time for dreaming.
As a school counselor, I tell parents not to overwhelm their children with laundry lists of activities. Even young students can feel frayed. Recently, I met with a 7-year-old so prone to rage he avoids competitive sports, and a 10-year-old so chronically exhausted she asks to nap at school.
Many of us have scaled back our kids' commitments, yet still have trouble achieving balance in our own lives. We take ten minutes for lunch and listen to our voicemail in the car. If we exercise, it may be at the expense of sleep. Our friendships take a backseat when we connect through texts instead of over lunch.
Self-care may be an overused buzzword, but it's critical. If we follow the advice we give children, we can restore equilibrium. Here are ten tips we can teach kids and apply to our own lives.Read More
As I contemplate my retirement at the end of this month, I have been reflecting a lot about Character.org and the state of character today. As an organization, we have much to celebrate. Some notable numbers:
- Largest group of National Schools of Character in our 2016 class
- Significant growth in applicants for 2017 from 28 different states, 12 more than last year
- Most participants ever in our National Forum
- Highest ratings ever for programming--both at the conference and in recent trainings (more than 90% out rated sessions a 4 or 5 out of 5 )
- Recent grants and donations are spurring new momentum and innovations. (Look for a redesigned and improved website in 2017.)
No matter what your political persuasion was in the recent election, I have not heard anyone say, “Let’s do that again!” Maybe there are political junkies that enjoyed the whole experience, but many parents and educators just wanted to hide the kids. Most of us did not see the national election as a role model for the democratic process. While there have been rough elections in the past, the most recent displays of incivility encourage us to revisit the importance of ethics and character as part of the core function of education in a democratic republic.
It is impossible to say if the nation had embraced comprehensive character formation a generation ago, we could have avoided the ugliness in this election. However, we certainly do not want to stand by idly and allow the recent dose of incivility to corrupt our vision of political life. Elections and those we elect matter, and our political future depends on helping society affirm the importance of ethics and character for a flourishing culture. One component of a flourishing culture is the ability to resolve differences respectfully and ultimately work together to advance shared goals. Given the acrimony of the past year, we will need to work extra hard to see people of different views be willing to work together cooperatively.
So what are educators to do? Nationally we have spent more than a generation laboring in our schools without a clear consensus or commitment to research-based practices in support of student character development. In my role as a Character.org National Schools of Character (NSOC) site evaluator, it is clear that the NSOC program only attracts a small fraction of US schools. And even among NSOC schools, it is challenging to have the majority articulate a research-based view of student ethical development and character formation.
To advance a national vision for student character development, Character.org has published the research-based 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. The 11 Principles do not articulate one program for school implementation, but principles that have been demonstrated in research and practice to help improve school cultures, student academic performance, and positive character. The NSOC program was founded in 1999 and has subsequently recognized hundreds of schools that have demonstrated school-wide improvements and positive student character.
One teachers’ story captures the school culture impact of the NSOC program. During an NSOC site visit in New Jersey, a veteran teacher of 25 years told me, “I almost gave up on public education. I was frustrated with issues associated with student discipline and learning. This fall I transferred to my present school, and it has become a joy to be a teacher again.” This public school was only a few blocks away from where she had taught for over 15 years. The school was in the same district and enrolled essentially the same blue-collar socio-economic population. What was the difference between the two schools? The teacher’s current school had chosen to include character development in its strategic plan and participate in the NSOC process. The principal, teachers, staff, parents and students were all working together in support of the understanding and demonstration of positive character. The teacher noted, “This school and its focus on character have revitalized my vision for public schooling. This is a caring and responsible place to learn and a great place to teach." The change in school culture had re-energized this teacher who provided clear anecdotal evidence of the benefits of educating with character and the NSOC process.
Space prevents a full introduction to the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, but they are available to review online and include things like: (1) The school community promotes core ethical and performance values; (2) The school defines character comprehensively to include thinking, feeling and doing; and (3) the school uses a comprehensive, intentional and proactive approach to character development. The identification and instruction focused on core ethical, and performance values create a distinction between ethical and character education and some other positive youth development programs - programs such as social-emotional learning and growth mindsets. This is not a criticism of these other initiatives, but a recognition that while they may serve to develop a complimentary set of skills and attitudes, they are not a substitute for ethics and character development.
The unique role of modern ethics and character education is to help focus adults and students on the critical need to create and sustain an ethical learning community. As recognized by the founders of American public education, our democratic republic requires a society that is literate and ethical. How we have ignored the second dimension of this equation is a matter of much debate. As an example of this omission, I have observed that many teachers and students struggle to clearly define a strategy to address an ethical dilemma. A minority of those interviewed will suggest steps that include “make a good choice” with little reference to how the “good choice” might be defined. The core ethical values identified in the first principle of the NSOC program help students frame the outline of a good choice. Regrettably, core ethical values are not broadly recognized as an important guiding component of American public education.
The opportunity offered by the recent election helps us all look in the mirror and ask if we are doing all we can to raise up a new generation of ethically literate citizens who seek to demonstrate positive character. Those of us working to advance research-based character education hope the election is an opportunity for reflection and recommitment to this basic purpose of education.
While the NSOC project has been cited as one resource, my agency The School for Ethical Education also supports free resources for educators to advance ethical reasoning and student character formation. Secondary teachers are invited to visit our Reasoning with Ethics blog page to learn about a strategy to catalyze ethical discussions using dilemmas in current events.
I just finished reading Brain on Fire , a powerful memoir of journalist Susannah Cahalan’s descent into madness. It is a gripping personal story as well as a fascinating look at the cutting edge of neuroscience. But one small story in the book really captured my heart--the story of Dr. Souhel Najjar, the doctor who was instrumental in diagnosing Cahalan’s disease. No one else had been able to figure it out. Dr. Najjar was impressive with his heartfelt and sympathetic bedside manner, but it was his backstory that touched me and explained why he had such an affection for the weak and the powerless.
“Leaving Your Ex(trinsics)” is the title of Chapter 6 in my book You Can’t Teach Through a Rat, and the one I most frequently recommend to educators, because the issue of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation seems the most nagging and intractable issue that educators in general and character educators in particular struggle with. There are multiple reasons to struggle with this issue. On the positive side: (1) it is the point of Character.org’s 7th principle in their 11 Principles of Effective Character Education (which is used to evaluate schools nationally for excellence in character education, namely Schools of Character); (2) it is after all the point of character education; that is, getting kids to internalize core values so they become part of who they are and take them wherever they go in life; and (3) it works.Read More
Topics: intrinsic motivation
The 2012 Presidential election coincided with my very first year of teaching. My students often came into my classroom asking if I watched the debates or if I’d seen the latest attack advertisement on President Obama or Governor Romney. Of course they’d always follow up asking which candidate I was voting for and what party I supported. As a new teacher, this all felt so overwhelming. I knew it was critical to teach my students about civics, but how?
If you are a new teacher or a veteran, this election cycle might feel overwhelming. The seemingly 24/7 media coverage of the candidates and the issues is not going unnoticed by your students. It is our responsibility as educators to engage our students in thoughtful civic conversation, but without allowing our own opinions to influence our conversations. I’ve collected a list of resources you can use in your classroom to teach about civics and the democratic process in an educational, bipartisan and thought-provoking way.
REALITY CHECK: During the past decades, the U.S. prison population skyrocketed, and so did the number of children experiencing the consequences of having a parent incarcerated. From just 1980 to 2000, the number of kids with a father in prison or jail rose by 500 percent.
Today more than five million children in the USA have a parent who is incarcerated.
The number of women in prison has also increased dramatically which poses a marked risk on children: incarcerated women are much more likely than their male counterparts to be primary caregivers of minor children at the time of their imprisonment. Derek Kreager, professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State points out: “Previous research indicates that if a mother becomes incarcerated, it increases the child’s risk of entry into the foster care system, which can further disrupt child well-being.”
I strongly suggest you watch Ava DuVernay’s powerful new documentary “13TH” about our broken prison system. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
America is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the prison population.Read More
Being an educator caught me by surprise. I had a different route in mind when young, even though my older sisters were both teachers and I admired their work. During college, while an apprentice at a summer theatre company in Western Massachusetts, I was assigned to (or “gifted” with) developing a day long theater experience for kids coming out from Boston. Under a canopy of trees with a lively bunch of tweens, suddenly I found myself in a role I had not expected, and absolutely loved.
Today my inspiration comes from a vision of young people engaged in a world that extends beyond classroom walls. Of course I admire what occurs inside schools and universities. However, not all environments operate equally.Read More
Topics: National Forum
Over the years my bullying language has evolved and I’m grateful to the students, educators and parents who have helped me rethink my vocabulary. To begin with, my first book on bullying was written in 1996, three years before Columbine. The title was “Bullies and Victims, Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield” But, today I would never use those words!Read More
Last week we celebrated Character Day along with 90,000 organizations in 124 countries around the world. It has been exciting to watch the exponential growth of Character Day in just three years. Clearly there is interest in the idea of character and momentum is building.In Tiffany Schlain’s Character Day movie “The Science of Character,” she inserts this quote that she attributes to Frank Outlaw. “ Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
What is Character Day?
Character Day is tomorrow, Thursday, September 22. The beauty of it is that it can be whatever you want it to be! It is the day to have conversations about character, to hold an event or kick off a new initiative. It’s a great day to connect with others in your community to learn about their commitment to character. Tomorrow is a great opportunity to use the Character Day films and discussions as a powerful catalyst for reflection.
While we believe that every day is Character Day, it’s nice to set this day aside to spread the message to a new group or to focus in and begin a longer-term conversation. Part of the beauty of Character Day is you can develop an event around just about anything related to character. In fact, this year, Character.org D.C. staff decided we wished we knew our neighbors better, so we’re holding an open house on Character Day to get to know one another.
While we always like flexible approaches, maybe you’re looking to learn more specifics about Character Day and get some ideas for how to celebrate.
Topics: Character Day
Back in college I never had the opportunity to study abroad. My strict soccer schedule paired with a strategically planned academic course load never lent itself to the novelty of traveling and living in another country for a semester, let alone a year. As my friends shipped off for England and Spain, I envied their photographs, travels and adventures. My friends were riding camels through the deserts of Morocco as I was writing my papers in the January permafrost of Kansas. I thought studying abroad was just to provide the student with opportunities to explore and adventure, but I learned this summer that it offers so much more than that.
Last March I was accepted to a program through George Washington University to travel to Germany. The International Education Program offered me the chance to conduct authentic research in education through an intensive 12-day case study. I was able to interview college professors, teachers, members of government and private/public sector employees. Everyone we met was filled with knowledge on higher education, educational opportunities in Germany, and much more.
In this class, I was one of the only students who had not studied abroad during undergrad and who had never been to Europe. I sat back and listened to my classmates as they questioned German officials on their study abroad program and involvement in Erasmus+. I quickly realized that Germany views study abroad differently than I previously did. They don’t see study abroad as just a chance for the individual to explore and adventure. To them, it is a much richer opportunity than that.
I now understand why Germany chooses to invest and send a large percentage of students abroad to study. Germany uses the study abroad platform to encourage students to continue to build relationships. In return, they bring in students from all over the world to attend German institutions for free. If these students don’t stay and work in Germany after graduation, their economy actually loses money.Read More
In writing and researching UnSelfie, I flew the world, spoke with hundreds of researchers, conducted focus groups with more than five hundred children, and visited dozens of schools. I witnessed countless ways to cultivate empathy, but the most effective were always real, meaningful, and matched a child’s needs. Here are a few of the most creative ways adults around the world are making a difference in cultivating children’s empathy, creating an UnSelfie world and giving them the Empathy Advantage.
Empathy is always a “We” affair. A simple, overlooked way to increase empathy is by making the culture friendlier. Just being with people in a friendly setting can increase your empathy toward them and make you want to be kinder. The small South Pacific island of Vanuatu exemplifies that social premise. It’s called “the Friendliest Place on Earth” and after visiting their island, I can see why. Everywhere residents greeted you with a sincere hello and a smile and seemed genuinely interested in you. Their friendliness was contagious, so you responded right back with a hello and a smile to a stranger.
When I asked Vanuatu residents why they were so friendly, their answer was simple: “Because everyone else is.” Friendliness makes you tune in, observe emotional cues, be more receptive to others’ feelings and needs, and instead of walking by, you smile and acknowledge a person’s existence right back. But you don’t have to move your family to the South Pacific to gain that “friendly effect.” Just intentionally take friendliness up a notch in your home, school, and neighborhood; here are a few ways.
Building relationships with parents is an essential component of the start of your school year. Once these relationships are developed, the next question becomes how to maintain communication throughout the year, and through the ups and downs that students may have.
I am a teacher at a National School of Character in Dundalk, Maryland. One of the reasons that we are a National School of Character is our focus on Restorative Practices. Restorative Practice is a social science that blends education, psychology, social work, criminology, sociology, organizational development and leadership with the goal of decreasing antisocial behavior and creating healthy communities.Read More
Practicing kindness is what helps children tune into other people’s feelings and needs, trust more, step out of their own skins to understand others, and become UnSelfies (“more we, less me” oriented). Each kind act nudges kids to notice others (“I see how you feel”). Care (“I’m concerned about you”), empathize (“I feel with you”) and help and comfort (“Let me ease your pain”). And helping students practice kindness also activates empathy. That’s why I named “Practicing Kindness” as the sixth essential habit of empathy.
Over the last years, I’ve observed countless classrooms around the world as I was researching ways to nurture children’s empathy. Here are a few favorite ways educators help students practice kindness and acquire empathy from my book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. (I’ve included over 300 practical ways based on the latest science, and none cost a dime and are simple to implement).
By Philip Brown
A recent article (July 20) in the Washington Post by parenting consultant Meghan Leahy entitled Five things you can do that will make you a better parent right now captured my attention because each of her five points are also sound recommendations for educators. I’ve reworked her five points – see if you agree that school culture and teachers lives would be much saner if we kept these in mind and took them to heart:
1. Cultivate a value system in your classroom and school. Of course core ethical and performance values are core aspects of the 11 Principles of Charcter Education, and Character.org has emphasized the importance of including stakeholders in the process of creating core values. Beyond establishing core values as the bedrock for your school culture, the important word here is ‘cultivate.’ As Leahy points out, “Americans don’t have a common parenting culture that has been passed down to us. Our wonderful mix of religions, ethnicities, worldviews and customs means that we are able to create our own parenting and family mores.” This means as well, that, if we are lucky, children bring those diverse values into the school house, and we must send a very clear message in our cultivation that just as families need to have their values to function effectively, so must our classrooms and school. And if there are values conflicts, a discussion with parents early in the school year is important to avoid misunderstandings and support both diversity and the need to adapt to American school culture.
Wisdom Thinkers’ story started in response to a post 9-11 arson attack. With a climate of fear stoked by the media, 4 teens got drunk, and thinking the Sikh community with their distinguishing turbans were supporters of bin Laden, decided to perform their patriotic duty and burn out the invaders. They attacked my place of worship in Palermo, New York.
Being the first such attack, it received a good deal of publicity. I responded to this hateful act with a message of forgiveness that was heard around the world uniting communities and helping to transform the lives of the young arsonists. While in prison, the young men wrote, “If only we’d known your story, if only we knew what you stood for, we never would have done this.”
And so the idea to develop a series of stories for educators and communities to honor diversity, nurture character and develop a shared narrative for peace was born. Now almost 15 years after 9-11, while much of the country is still struggling to find solutions to the divisiveness, “Stories to Light Our Way,” has been embedded into many of the districts in the county, including where the arson took place. We’ve begun to change the story!
Our goal is to provide teachers with a framework, which on one hand aligns with elementary and middle level Common Core Standards domains and modules, and yet is flexible enough that teachers can adapt it to their particular classroom settings. They can even integrate it into “extras.” The stories are short enough that they can be dropped into teachable moments, so the characters are referred to and reinforced throughout the day creating a shared narrative. The cross-cultural pieces speak to honoring diversity, a critical piece in creating a respectful and safe class climate.
With another school year just around the corner, let me share some of the ideas, which our teachers have used successfully.Read More
Last week, I shared 3 great ways to prepare your classroom for excellence as you head back to school. This week, here are three more ways to improve your room!Tip 4: Developing "eyes in the back of your head"
Tip 4: Developing "eyes in the back of your head"
Have you ever had one of those moments that, with just the sound of your voice, you got a student, on the brink breaking down, back on track? Maybe your back was turned but you felt something or you just knew exactly what to say. For these moments to happen, it takes foresight on your part but also your students must know what they should be doing.
So what does this mean? If we want to encourage good character in our classrooms, everyone has to be on the same page about what that means and looks like.
Set Class Rules: Enlist your class to create rules on the first day of school. It fosters a sense of ownership for those rules. They won’t simply be the teacher’s rules, they become their rules. Some studies suggest that if you give students the proper guidelines for developing class rules, what students come up with is about the same as anything you would have picked, given the same criteria. So what are those guidelines?Read More
I’ve been thinking a lot about our focus this month on integrating academics and character education in the classroom. We truly believe they should be intertwined, but sometimes when I go to a school for a site visit evaluation, I observe lessons that seem like were planned just for my visit, as if someone had said, “Be sure to teach a character lesson today.”I like it best when I get to observe a challenging academic lesson that engages the students and incorporates the natural intersections with character that most content contains. Exploring the ethical issues in science, debating historical decisions, and of course, exploring character traits and ethical dilemmas in literature are obvious choices, but there are ethical considerations in every subject.
efit the self and others. Agreeing on that should be easy. What’s next is more difficult. How can we, as education professionals, help schools improve as environments that nurture character development?
If you haven’t recently read How Children Succeed, perused any stellar Promising Practices or reflected on your own experiences as a student, here’s a succinct summary: there are many ways to teach good character. And there’s no specific formula to doing it – at least not yet (fingers crossed and wishing on a star here, folks).
Lucky for those of you starting on that old agrarian calendar system, the staff at Character.org and I figured we could give you some useful tips. If you’re familiar with research in classroom management, that’s where the bulk of this originates. Classroom management (i.e., class structure, time allocation, and instructional practices) is an area where teachers often report wanting additional training. Improvements in classroom management practices are associated with positive impacts for student prosocial behavior (character in action) and academic outcomes. So, let’s get started!Read More
By Dr. Philip Vincent
At least 15 years ago I received a letter (people still wrote those then!) from an educator who had recently heard me in her school district. She shared with me how she had moved to a new large school district, interviewed at two schools and accepted the job at one of the schools. The letter really impacted me and I was honored that she shared it with me. Now the actual letter is long gone but I remember it in great detail and will now share it with you in her words. The following is her story.
By Kelly Warfield, Editorial director of Teacher Products, Carson-Dellosa™ Publishing Group.
We can all think back on the school environments of our youth and reflect on the classes we preferred, the topics we found most engaging, and the teachers who blew us away. But what about the classroom surroundings that supported that education? Were there specific activities, environments, or rules that seemed more conducive to learning than others? And what about the classrooms of today?
How can we set up our classrooms to the best of our ability with the physical, structural, and psychological support necessary to provide our students with an idyllic learning environment? Through studies, statistics, and trial and error, we’ve learned some things about classroom environments and how they can affect student performance.
Cooperation and Relevance
Creating a cooperative learning environment has both a positive social and educational impact on each participating student. Cooperation is a critical skill that has far-reaching effects and can help your students in the classroom, as well as in their day-to-day lives. Cooperation helps students explore and celebrate the diversity among them, overcome their differences, learn by actively listening, work as a team, develop stronger interpersonal skills, relate to their peers, create new friendships, improve their social interactions, gain additional feedback from their peers, and exchange new ideas. All of these benefits contribute to a better, more comprehensive learning environment.
Successful learning environments also require that learning objectives be relevant to your students and their lives outside of the classroom. Without the ability to explore how information applies to daily life, your students are less likely to engage in their lessons and commit that information to memory.Read More
Dr. Michele Borba writes in her new book Unselfie, “While we may be producing a smart, self-assured generation of young people, today’s kids are also the most self-centered, saddest and stressed on record.”
According to a University of Michigan Study,
- Teens today are now 40% lower in empathy levels than 3 decades ago.
- In the same period narcissism has increased by 58%
And multiple studies have shown there has been a clear increase in peer cruelty.
We need to counteract those trends by teaching empathy. Sometimes considered a “soft” skill, new research featured in Dr. Borba’s book shows that empathy plays a surprising role in predicting kids’ happiness and success. And it’s not an inborn trait, but a quality that must be taught.Read More
By Maggie Taylor
A little over a year ago I left my role as educator and started the grueling and rewarding process of graduate studies. As a student earning a Masters in Education Policy in the heart of Washington, D.C., I shouldn’t have been surprised to be engrossed in K-12 policies and politics in almost every lecture. I was not prepared to take courses entitled “Congressional Budget Making” or “Lobbying for Funding”—but here I am, a year in, and I have learned more than I imagined. As I reflect on my first year as a scholar, I can’t help but think how this knowledge would have changed the way I viewed things as a teacher.
As a former classroom teacher, it was easy for me to bury my head in the sand and ride out every new policy that came down the pipe at the start of each school year. My local, state or national government would create policies or programs that would inevitably trickle down to my classroom. As these things trickled down, I often heard educators say, “This too will pass,” and heard myself echoing these sentiments as I learned this process firsthand. I passively allowed decisions to be made at the local, state and national level and didn’t think my opinion was worth sharing.
What I didn’t realize, however, was how much I could have done to change these policies, and how my voice should have been raised a little louder to be heard. This blog comes to you—educators, administrators, parents, concerned community members—to read into what is happening in Congress now and how we can all work together to make changes that suit the needs of our students.Read More
By Kris Yankee, Co-Founder, High 5 for Character
Summer reading was always an escape for me. I read as much as I could and as often as I was able. The Nancy Drew Mysteries series was one of my favorites. I loved that there were twists and turns, and even though it was always possible that Nancy wouldn’t solve the mystery, I was still so happy in the end when she did. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was learning trustworthiness, reliability, responsibility, friendship, integrity, and many other character traits that are so important to the formation of young minds. I was just having fun reading!
As a parent, I wanted to instill the love of reading in my kids. Every night, my husband and I would each take turns reading with both of our sons when they were very young. We had so many books to choose from! We’d read one of our many Dr. Seuss or Harold and the Purple Crayon books. Our boys loved the Veggie Tales stories, Thomas the Tank Engine, and the Berenstain Bear books. I secretly loved reading the Laura Joffe Numeroff books If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Pig a Pancake.
We spent quality time with our sons, making memories that none of us will forget. And…the boys were entertained but they were also learning about confidence, creativity, purpose, responsibility, friendship, integrity, and trustworthiness. My husband and I wanted our kids to have a sense of positive character and we made sure that the books that we read to them exuded those principles.
Once our boys were a bit older, our reading time together changed. They wanted to read on their own (which was fine by me) and the books they chose usually were in line with the standards we had created. Occasionally when each would bring home a book that I thought was a bit too silly, each would be able to tell me something redeeming about it, i.e., “It’s so funny, it cracks me up every time I read it” or “The pictures are so cool.” But really, how could I complain? They were READING! Still, though, I felt that they were making positive choices and the books continued to contain positive, or at least redeeming, character qualities.
As an author, I’m often asked what inspired me to write. My resounding answer is always, “My boys!” Then to add to that…all of the other kids who are out there. I believe that books are so important and that when kids are reading “good stuff,” they will imitate and emulate “good stuff.” A well-written story can really effect a child, making that child believe that he or she is one of the characters or is taking part in the world created by the author. How cool is it to soar through the sky or hang upside down in a tree in a jungle or be as small as a mouse and scurry across the floor!Read More
By Rebecca Bauer
Teachers assign summer reading. Parents nag their children to complete it. Students begrudgingly obey. I’ll always remember the summers I spent resentfully slogging my way through dense and difficult reads from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Teaching challenging texts is an integral part of a high quality education, but is not necessarily an essential component of summer work.
What if summer reading instead aimed to help students develop a voracious appetite for literature and connect them to their communities? While schools may not be thinking in terms of these more innovative summer reading goals, many libraries are.
When I was home from college one summer, I interned at the summer reading program at the Montclair Public Library. I noticed the program did a lot more than simply promote literacy, here were a few of its impressive characteristics:
Inclusive of the Entire Community
Whether you were 2 years old or 92 years old, you were invited to have a summer reading book log of your own. Library staff encouraged parents to sign up even their youngest children and keep track of the number of books they’d read together as a family. In addition, the program intentionally targeted teenagers, an age where students are known to be particularly disengaged in school, by offering a slightly modified program with age appropriate prizes and a free copy of the Hunger Games to each participant.Read More
Although summer suggests time to devour fun beach reads, I suggest you consider adding one, or all, of the following new books by our upcoming Forum speakers to your reading list.
Michele Borba’s new book—just out this week—UnSelfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, is fabulous. It’s clearly the work of a lifetime as she includes anecdotes from decades of work in education psychology. I had tears in my eyes before I even finished the introduction. She opens with the story of a dad who after hearing her speak on empathy 10 years ago gave her a picture of his son who had hanged himself after relentless bullying. He said, “If someone had instilled empathy in those boys, my son would be alive today.”Read More
How do we build caring and productive communities?Read More
We asked four veteran Character.org trainers: What Makes Professional Development Effective?
Here’s what they had to say:
Make learning interactive.
The most meaningful PD I have been a part of is when there is a lot of interaction/participation. We all learn by doing or participating. We silo or compartmentalize so many facets of education these days and don't have the time to "fit" everything in a day, week, month, or even school year. I find PD is effective when teachers can see the connections and have dialogue about implementation.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- How do all of the things we are asked to do fit together?
- Where are the connections between Character Education and The Eleven Principles, Academic Curriculum, Social, Emotional, and Character Development skills/standards, Diversity, Discipline, Global learning, Project-Based Learning, Service Learning, Career Awareness, Integration of Technology, etc.?
- How do we help students and parents see the connections between these areas?
- Tamra Nast
Create a Culture of Ongoing Professional Learning.
During our interviews for our dissertation, one the participant said, "Professional development is something that is done to you. Professional learning is done with you." ORead More
By Jennifer Pilarski, STAT Teacher* at Norwood Elementary
*Baltimore County Public Schools has developed the Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) initiative which has provided each school a teacher who is a professional development resource and instructional coach.
If you are a teacher, you've been told to create a student-centered environment, shouldn't those creating PD for teachers have to do the same thing? The traditional forced faculty meetings and lecture style professional development are just as ineffective as lecturing to our students. It is time to provide teachers with customized and personalized learning opportunities and to capitalize on the leadership and expertise within the staff.Read More
by Becky Sipos, President & CEO, Character.org
"In a completely rational society the best and brightest of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing on civilization from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have." --Lee Iacocca
Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1-7) is a time to reflect on the importance of teachers and how we can best honor and encourage them. As a former high school teacher, I remember the teacher appreciation breakfasts and lunches, the occasional mug or teacher appreciation planner, but not much more.Read More
By Svetlana Nikic, Academic Instruction Coordinator & Algebra Teacher, Busch Middle School of Character
In these times of great technological change and computer apps, teachers are inundated with data and therefore often puzzled how to revise their approaches to assessment that often fails to inform about direct learning, teaching and the whole child. To resolve this dilemma in my Algebra 150 class, I developed a scorecard for daily lessons, skills, activities and homework.
Students grade themselves using a point system for every activity based on modeled exemplary answers. I found this assessment tool to be a best fit for my students because it aligns with our school’s core values and mission statement in terms of commitment to inspire our students to value academic and personal growth through character education.Read More
By Linda Inlay, retired principal of The River School, a National School of Character
Those of us who have been talking for years about the importance of school culture or school climate and how it can improve student achievement, are heartened by the inclusion of this topic in the national conversation about school improvement. ESSA’s requirement for a non-cognitive measure in assessments has given school climate credibility as a serious focus of consideration.
The Research Alliance for New York City Schools recently shared its findings of the “robust relationships” between school climate, teacher retention, and student achievement. And Education Week published a blog on the U.S. Department of Education releasing a free, web-based survey that schools can use to track the effectiveness of school climate efforts and resources on how to best improve learning environments for students.
I’d like to offer in this posting some considerations before deciding on the school climate survey for your school or district.Read More
By Suzanne Lyons, Founder, Cooperative Games
Background on Bullying
The basic fact of bullying is that it is a cruel torment, so disturbing that most educators would prefer to look away. But of course we know we cannot. The Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying this way:
Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time…Bullying includes such actions as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physical or verbally, and excluding someone from a group.1
Bullying typically begins in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and declines in the final years of high school. Its effects can be severe and long-lasting. Kids who are bullied are five times more likely to be depressed compared to their peers. Bullied boys are four times more likely to be suicidal. Girls who are bullied are eight times more likely to be suicidal.2 Nevertheless, bullying is shockingly common. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 27 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school during the school year in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available.3
Moreover, the link between bullying and later delinquent and criminal behavior is clear. Nearly 60 percent of boys classified by researchers as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24.4 It’s not just the bullies who are at risk for later criminal behavior. Victims of bullying sometimes explode in ways that threaten the school community, including school shootings. A Secret Service study of school shootings found that “almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident.” 5
Besides all of the suffering, bullying is also tragic for the loss of opportunity it represents. Both bullying and being bullied destroy the basic peace and sense of security students need for happiness, learning, and growth—all the normal positive experiences that should be available to every child in school.
Preventing Bullying with Cooperative Games
Teachers and administrators are responding to the bullying crisis in two main ways, 1) through anti-bullying measures and 2) through bullying prevention. Though both approaches have their place, just as in medicine, prevention is generally easier and more effective than reacting to damage that has already occurred. As the experts at the Department of Health and Human Services website StopBullying.gov say, “The easiest way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts.”
Prevention is where cooperative games come in.
Cooperative games are games based on playing together toward a common goal rather than competing against one another to win. Cooperative games can be board games, active physical games, circle games, online games, etc. The point is that players are always on the same team and working together toward one goal. There is no competition, exclusion, or being left behind in a cooperative game. Goals, resources, and winning or losing are all shared.
Research on cooperative games shows that when people work, or more accurately play, toward a common goal, divisions are healed. Friendships are forged and aggression is replaced with camaraderie. The pro-social effects of uniting people through cooperative games has been observed at all age levels and among at-risk groups such as juvenile offenders. Research going back decades substantiates this.6 What is new however is applying the peace-making power of cooperative games in the effort to prevent bullying.Read More
On April 13, we hosted a #SchoolsofCharacter chat that focused on ways educators can connect character education to their Earth Day initiatives. Question 4, “What are your favorite children’s books that promote environmental action?” prompted so many great responses that we wanted to share them with you. These suggestions are elementary level texts. If you have to resources for older students, we’d love to hear them in the comments!Read More
Book Review: The End of Average, How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Harvard scientist Todd Rose
By Becky Sipos
You might think a book about the story of “average” would be arcane and uninteresting, but I was hooked from the opening anecdote. The book begins with the story of the Air Force in its early days when planes kept crashing. In fact, 17 planes crashed on a single day. Investigators kept saying “pilot error.” But one researcher kept digging. The cockpits had been designed for the average dimensions of pilots, but researcher Lt. Gilbert Daniels found that out of the 4,063 pilots, none had all the “average measurements,” not one. Even if you took only three of the measurements, less than 3.5 percent of the pilots were “average.” That may not seem significant, but taking a split second longer to reach a control or to make an adjustment to a piece of equipment just slightly out of reach could make the difference between flying or crashing. To their credit, the Air Force took that knowledge and created flexible cockpits—adjustable seat belts, mirrors, helmet straps and foot pedals—things that we take for granted in our vehicles today. The Air Force created a radical plan: to design environments to fit the individual.
Today that concept of individual fit is being applied to medicine as oncologists, neuroscientists, geneticists and more try to design medicine and treatments best suited to match an individual’s DNA. Some successful businesses also have begun to implement these principles. Google found relying on standard measurements did not help them find the creative employees they sought. There is even a new interdisciplinary field of science known as the science of the individual. With the “average” philosophy, we aggregate and then analyze; the science of the individual says analyze and then aggregate
And yet, this mindset is not everywhere. It is not widespread in schools. The age of average persists.Read More
by Rebecca Bauer
When I was in college, my professor told me that education reform is like a pendulum. It will swing to one side, but eventually it swings back to the other. This explanation was his attempt to offer assurance to his classroom full of pre-service teachers, who were already worried about our country’s reliance on high stakes standardized testing.
Last fall, when President Obama called for reduced testing in schools, I grew optimistic. Maybe the pendulum was finally swinging back the other way. Maybe ESSA would successfully deviate from typical testing indicators and encourage classroom observations, student portfolios and other methods of formative assessment.
Fortunately, there were some improvements. As Anne O’Brien’s article, “5 Ways ESSA impacts Standardized Testing,” lays out, states have the power to limit the amount of time spent on testing. In addition, the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) somewhat reduces the stakes of high stakes testing.
However, the problems with standardized testing are not limited to the amount of time students spend on them or how high the stakes are. The quality of the test matters, too. That’s why I’m particularly concerned about another way that ESSA changes testing:
The new law allows states to use a nationally recognized test, like the SAT, instead of a state level test.Read More
By Rebecca Bauer
With the announcement of the 2016 Promising Practices only a few days away, I’m feeling excited to welcome a new batch of teachers and schools into our network. Promising Practices are an integral part of our work at Character.org because they give us the chance to recognize the amazing work happening in classrooms all around the world.
“These great ideas really highlight the creative efforts of outstanding teachers across the world,” said Dr. Dave Keller, Program Director. “It’s great to recognize what’s going well in the classroom. These practices represent practical, effective ways to develop empathy, conflict resolution skills, and good citizenship.”
Before we announce hundreds of new Promising Practices, I wanted to go back and share a 2015 Practice that I found inspiring. I love to read Promising Practices that focus on service learning because the students don’t merely scratch the service of giving back. Instead, they truly embody the key ingredients that make service learning effective.
Let’s take a look at some of the unique and compelling aspects of Beasley Elementary’s Promising Practice, Hunger Stops Here.Read More
Topics: Service learning
By Scarlett Lewis, Founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement
Following the murder of my 6 year old son in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I asked myself the same two questions that everyone was asking: how could something like this happen, and what can I do to make sure this never happens again?
I knew that anyone who could have brutally murdered 20 first graders and 6 educators in his former elementary school, must have been in a tremendous amount of pain. This pain fueled unrelenting anger. I realized, this whole tragedy began with an angry thought that was precipitated by pain. And an angry thought can be changed.
Pain is a catalyst for anger. Instilling character values such as gratitude, forgiveness and love helps us choose the right thoughts and provides us with tools to understand and overcome our pain and thus deconstruct anger. Character values give us basic tools that are the foundation of essential 21st century life skills.Read More
Competition often inspires excellence. I have been teaching in the public school system since 1999, and I have routinely witnessed students increasing their efforts and on-task behavior in the weeks and days leading up to specific competitions. Music festival competitions, sports competitions and anything with a grade or a score that has the potential of being compared with a classmate or students at other schools can lead to improved effort during rehearsal, practice and study.
On the other hand, I am aware that too much competition in everyday situations can lead to stress, fear, and exclusion. Constant competition seems to engage in young people the same fight or flight responses found in the wild especially at the middle level where the quest for popularity and acceptance becomes a driving force.
When I was teaching middle school choir, I noticed that often the stress and competition for social status that was happening at the bus stops, in the hallways and in the lunchroom was making its way into our rehearsals. It would come out in mean comments, cold stares, scoffs and that wicked, sneaky laughter that some middle school students mastered. This was the laugh that said, “You’re gross, or you’re stupid, or you don’t belong here.”
Each year in choir there would be at least five or six opportunities for the singers to audition for solos. Sometimes, when a student who wasn’t popular outside the classroom auditioned for a solo, they would be hit with that meanness that emphasized the “us/them” of the situation. In this circumstance, competition did not result in excellence. Competition was stifling to creativity and it limited our opportunities to learn from each other.
One day, I took the members of my girls choir (about 15 girls) into the bathroom where the metal, porcelain and concrete of the room created the most amazing acoustic space. We had to huddle in a little bit so everyone could fit.Read More
By Emina Ahmetovic Grade 12, Meris Saric Grade 11 and Patrick McEvoy, Principal
Bayless High School is making students smarter, better and stronger. The students and staff feel so safe and secure at school that they never lock their lockers.
Yes, you read that correctly. 90% of the student body feels so safe that, in most cases, they never lock their hall lockers. The locks just hang on the locker handles like ornaments. They serve no security purpose in a school where everyone feels safe and their personal belongings are secured by the collective trust that each student has toward each other. They trust the environment they are in, so it makes it easier for the students to attend school over 96% of the time.
Some might wonder how this is accomplished. Below are some of the ways the school does it.
Unconditional Support from Staff
Senior Taylor Owens said, “We feel safe in this school because of how close we are to our teachers and counselors. We have unconditional support from them, and I could not imagine going to any other high school.”
The students at Bayless High School enjoy including their staff in all of their activities and fundraisers. They host Teacher Talent Shows, Teacher Grammys, staff athletic events, and occasionally serve them breakfast or stock their faculty lounge fridge. At Bayless High School they have formed a home away from home making Bayless so unique, and safe, that many would doubt this could ever be achieved. It is something you have to experience and see in order to fully understand.Read More
by Kim Dailey, Special School District Educator, Lindbergh Schools
Thirty-one years of classroom teaching has taken me from my home in the Midwest, to the East Coast, to the West Coast, and home again. Today I’m very fortunate to live in one caring community and work in yet another. I see evidence of this care in my school every day. Though I am employed by Special School District of St. Louis County, I provide special education services at Lindbergh High School and have been actively involved in the district’s character education initiatives for many years. As a special education teacher and the parent of an adult son with autism, my heart is in developing opportunities for disability awareness. I have seen firsthand the value of a caring community in the life of my son, Zachary, and in the lives of my students.
Several years ago, an assistant principal at my school approached me about organizing a disability awareness event sponsored by former NFL player, Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda’s First Things First Foundation. I had no experience in organizing such an event but couldn’t resist the opportunity.Read More
By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.
Perhaps at one time we considered school a bubble isolated from the world. Not anymore.
Across the globe, school administrators, teachers, and students aim to connect what they are studying to the array of societal issues and concerns they see or read about every day. More and more as educators, we aim to dissolve this separation and recognize school is the real world for youth. And what’s more, they love to look out the windows! And rather than just “looking”, we can create learning that allows for permeable walls. This way we create authentic connections between the academic knowledge, transferable skills and dispositions developing and strengthening in our classrooms with the genuine learning that is available by connecting with community. Once learning connections are made and students become more cognizant of community assets and needs, like all of us, children and teens want to take action.
What could this look like? You probably know. This concept of service learning emerged, as we know it today, in the mid-1980s to provide a viable framework for applying what occurs in math, science, humanities, arts, physical education, and social studies (to name a few subjects), toward alleviating the problems we see in our neighborhoods and communities. Who would have suspected this to become an international phenomenon occurring in K-12 schools and universities around the world!
Your school may already have the beginnings of service learning or a more advanced program. Or you may have a community service program operating on the fringes of the classroom and you recognize that service learning embedded within an academic study has a myriad of benefits including to:
- Improve the eagerness of students to be self-motivated to extend their learning
- Stimulate curiosity and question-asking that leads to deeper understanding
- Engage every student in a way that both differentiates and encourages students to appreciate the abilities of their peers
- Create multi-disciplinary pathways for connecting curriculum
- Heighten social and emotional development as students become more sensitized to the lives and stories of others
- Bring learning to life!
Service Learning Snapshots
Weaver Academy (Greensboro, North Carolina)
How do power tools relate to reading? At Weaver Academy’s high school construction class students are building 138 tiny houses, complete with shingles, to promote literacy.Read More
by Connie Dougherty, School Counselor, Cold Water Elementary School
Cold Water School’s transformation to a School of Character can be summed up perfectly by this quote:
“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”
The major changes that have happened in the front office of Cold Water School (Florissant, Missouri) within the last five years are a true testament to creating a caring school community. The vital components that make Cold Water a School of Character used to get lost amongst all of the stakeholders in our school, especially those who weren’t regularly in the classroom.
An Inclusive Community
When administrators made a priority of supporting autonomy and belonging within all of our support staff, the changes were astounding. Just as students thrive when teachers proactively establish a caring culture, so did our secretaries and in turn our entire school community.Read More
Topics: Caring Community
by Jennifer DiStefano, Student Assistance Counselor, Cherry High School East
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of four students will experience bullying during their school age years. This is an upsetting statistic, but one student was determined to do something about it.
Student on a Mission
A student-athlete at Cherry Hill High School East, David Golkow, class of 2016, had the drive to make an impact on his building and his community. Along with his passion for sports, he was inspired by the anti-bullying work done by Eagles player, DeSean Jackson, and David had the determination to help to put an end to bullying. He knew the influence that sports had on the community so he decided to found the club Athletes Against Bullying. The mission of Athletes Against Bullying is to educate student-athletes at Cherry Hill High School East in order to prevent bullying on the school’s sports teams and for student-athletes to promote the anti-bullying message throughout the school and the community.
The club works to achieve this mission in multiple ways.Primarily, all of the members attend periodic half-day training sessions. During these sessions, various activities educate them on bullying. For example, there have been presentations with bullying experts, guest speakers such as professional athletes, Brandon Bair of the Eagles and Vince Papale, and recently, an examination of a staged bullying incident in their own school. These discussions of how bullying takes shape, how to respond to and prevent bullying, and other important subjects help to create awareness and ensure that a huge part of the school can serve as role models.Read More
by Becky Sipos
Teachers matter. Decades of research and studies have found that, what to me, seems obvious--the quality of teachers has a bigger influence on student achievement than school facilities or curriculum. But what the studies have not clearly defined is what we mean by student achievement. Nor have they figured out what to do about ensuring teacher quality. (See the latest issue of Education Next for a range of articles and commentary on this issue as they explore 50 years since the Coleman Report.)
Those who think student achievement is best measured by test scores are among those who wanted to tie teacher evaluation to student outcomes. Taking it a step further, many wanted to use those tests to eliminate the low performing teachers. That led to hotly contested policy debates on teacher evaluations and protests on time spent on testing. Not to mention that the lowest performing teachers were often those at high poverty schools, and there was not a long line highly effective teachers waiting to take those challenging positions. Those debates may have dissipated a bit with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act that reduces the role of the federal government in requiring test score accountability in teacher evaluations. How the states will move forward remains to be seen.Read More
In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re featuring the voices of two young women, Jasmine and Ndasia, current students at Early/Middle College at Bennett, a 2015 National School of Character. Early/Middle College at Bennett is an all female high school located in Greensboro, North Carolina.
by Ndasia Gerald, a student in the Class of 2017 at Middle College at Bennett
At a school where sisterhood is a part of the foundation, it is important to serve as your sister’s keeper. I especially enjoy having the opportunity to get involved in different things at school that give me a chance to get to know my fellow Bennett sisters on more personal levels.Read More
by Margo Ross, Senior Director of Development, Center for Supportive Schools
School-based, cross-age peer mentoring programs tap into the power of older students to create nurturing, supportive environments for younger students and can be a highly effective tool to address Principle 4, creating a caring community.
“Students are not able to focus in the classroom if they don’t feel emotionally secure,” says Doris Lee, Principal at Village Academy Middle School in Queens, New York City. “What [peer mentoring] has helped me do with my school community is create kind of a positive peer pressure where the leaders are working with younger students and using their relationships to help them do the right thing.”Read More
by Dave Keller
As a parent, some of my fondest memories revolve around countless evenings reading with my children. Most families have their own personalized rituals -- my family is no different. For us, reading was more of an event, rather than a mere activity. We read together as a group, often using silly accents and eccentric voice characterizations. Stuffed animals joined in nightly, with my children giving them voice and various quirks as they read certain page.
My children are largely grown now. The days of huddling together reading stories heading into bedtime are long gone.
I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but, looking back, I now realize much more was happening during those times than merely spending quality time together -- even more than simply teaching my children to read. We were modeling the joy of reading to our kids. We were increasing their desire to learn.
We were also passing along important character lessons, both directly and indirectly. We’d talk about the choices of characters -- and the consequences of those choices. We talked about how the characters treated one another. We talked about desired qualities such as honesty, kindness, and perseverance.
The cognitive benefits of reading are well-known. Research clearly shows consistent reading with children improves critical thinking, brain development, and enhanced communication skills. Indeed, the month of March has several focus points for reading: March is National Reading Month, and March 2 is designated as Read Across America Day by the National Education Association.
As a character educator, I am particularly interested in harnessing the power of reading to help develop character values in young people. Character.org has consistently recognized schools across the country with academic initiatives that enhance character development, through both our National Schools of Character and our Promising Practices programs.
One of our current initiatives is an emerging partnership with the great folks at First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 135 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.Read More
by Anya Warburg
As of 2010, approximately 4 million students were impacted by online learning components embedded into their daily curriculum, cementing blended learning principles in schools across the world - and that number is growing. Exponentially.
It is no secret that technology in the classroom has the ability to engage students like no other learning tool. Technology has become so ingrained in our society’s culture that students gravitate to the educational programs that have resulted from this growing accessibility to technology in schools.
But when you begin to place a stronger emphasis on social and emotional skills in your curriculum, a new question comes into play: how can emotional exploration and expression specifically function without a human being present to guide participants through challenges, ideas or stressful moments?Read More
As this month, and with it our focus on technology, draws to a close, I wanted to make sure that I shared a couple of the exciting new ways Character.org is using technology to enhance our resources and our ability to connect with educators across the world.
A Brand New Webstore
We’re now offering even more products, including our first ever digital download available! Browse through our collection of Schools of Character Magazines, White Papers and much more. Now featuring books by character education expert, Hal Urban.Read More
by Jason Ohler
In many parts of the world, one of the most universally available international experiences is traveling the World Wide Web. It’s hard to believe, but the Internet and the world of ubiquitous connectivity have only gained widespread adoption within the last fifteen years. Yet they are so embedded in our everyday experience we can’t imagine life without them.
It is because the Web is so pervasive and invisible, and provides access to so many different kinds of experiences, that we have developed such a keen and sometimes urgent interest in understanding how best to help students navigate this new world. In the educational arena, this interest has been given the name “digital citizenship,” a reference to our belief that the Internet offers a kind of community experience. Our goal as educators is for students to become the kinds of citizens who know how to interact safely and responsibly in this new community without losing the sense of hope and creative possibility that the Internet inspires.
In a few words, our goals for our students are as follows. We want our students to be safe, ethical and responsible; inspired, innovative and involved; passionate, reflective and empathetic; and informed, savvy and ultimately wise. We want them to interact in this new land as skilled researchers, participants and leaders. As we move forward blending and balancing our lives in the real and online worlds, here are some points to consider to help us realize those goals.
Digital citizenship and character education need to inform each other.
We tend to think of digital citizenship as a technical matter. However, the foundational issue is character, and the digital citizenship movement needs the foundation that character education provides. Yet the digital domain introduces new situations and considerations to issues of character that are complicated and challenging, and bring a breadth and depth to issues of character that are quite new. Character education and digital citizenship need to join forces. Our focus needs to be on how character plays out in both worlds, and how students blend those two worlds into a single, integrated, healthy approach to life.Read More
How many times have you looked at your cell phone today? How many times have you checked your email? How about Facebook?
Whether we like it or not, technology is integrated into everything that we do. Because of that, need to think critically and intentionally about how we want to integrate technology into our schools and classrooms.
What is Digital Learning Day?
The Alliance for Excellent Education is hosting Digital Learning Day today, February 17, 2016. Their website explains, “Digital Learning Day is not about technology, it’s about learning. It’s not about laying off teachers for laptops, it’s about enhancing the role of the teacher in America’s classrooms. Digital Learning Day promotes the effective use of modern day tools afforded to every other industry to improve the learning experience in K-12 public schools.”
I really love this idea of technology about not replacing certain teaching practices or classroom routines, but enhancing them. But how does this tie in to character education?Read More
By Jessica Berlinski, Chief Impact Officer of Personalized Learning Games (PLG)
Up until now, measuring the efficacy of your character programming has been challenging. Essentially, there’s been two ways to measure students’ character traits and social and emotional learning (SEL) skills: teacher observations and student surveys. As most of you are all too aware, teacher or counselor observations take a long time and can be arduous to fill out for each student. They also include the natural biases of the observer. Student surveys are subjective, challenging to administer, and, for younger students, largely not tenable - given the obvious literacy challenges of children in kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Enter game-based assessment. Last spring, the first video game to validly measure six character traits or SEL skills was launched in schools in across the country. The K-5 game, called Zoo U, assesses empathy, emotion regulation, impulse control, cooperation, communication and social initiation. Students play through a set of six short game-play scenes, after which a report is generated showing their percentile ranking against a national sample of their peers in each skill.
In less than a year, the field of character and SEL assessment is quickly transforming due to this new method. Here are five reasons game-based assessment improves on traditional methods:
#1 Games are performance-based.
Character traits or SEL skills are more often about what students do with knowledge than the knowledge itself. For instance, students know shouting in the hallway is wrong, yet they don’t always speak quietly and respectfully. Performance-based assessment allows you to see what students do, not just what they know. By putting students in a simulated environment and watching how they respond to challenges in real time, you get a more accurate measure of their skills, particularly skills like impulse control and emotion regulation.
#2 The assessment is hidden to the student.
If students know they’re being assessed – either taking a survey or being observed – they’re not always likely to behave as they would in real life. In game-based assessment, students don’t know they’re taking a test. They also don’t feel like they’re taking a test, so naturally they don’t have the test anxiety that can often throw off results. The result is, again, a more accurate measure of character traits and SEL competencies.Read More
by Becky Sipos
As the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have dominated the news, I have been thinking more and more about citizenship. Peggy Noonan’s recent column talked about how seriously New Hampshire residents take their responsibility. They even have a state law that requires they host the first primary.
After someone described the people at one event as “professional voters,” Noonan said it was not that. She described the diverse group in attendance and said. “It is more like: ‘We may be a field hospital, we may be high, we may be damaged by the collapse of the American culture, we may be the prime victims of deindustrialization, but we are: citizens. And we do our job. We will pick a president.”
Noonan said, “Choked me up as I witnessed it. No joke. Choked me up.”
That sense of responsibility, of caring about your country and the process of electing a president made me stop and think Are we instilling that feeling in our young people today? Not just the sense of responsibility, but the sense of caring, the sense of taking care of your community, planning for the future.
Thinking about community brought me to thinking about Jason Ohler’s new book that I just read, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future, a compilation of four presentations that he has given. The idea of digital citizenship figures prominently in most of Ohler’s work. What brings these four presentations together is Ohler’s vision of helping people reshape their attitudes toward learning, community, and living a technological lifestyle. Ohler writes: “At the end of the day, we all want a more humane world that honors human potential. We want a world that channels our innately innovative selves toward creating the futures we want, and which can sustain us spiritually, emotionally and physically.”Read More
By Chris Parrott
As the statistics on cyberbullying and sexting rise, a growing sense of alarm does as well. Parents and educators want to know, “How do we protect our kids? How can we safeguard them against the potential dangers involved in social media and Internet use?”
The truth is: nothing is 100% foolproof. Handling social media and the Internet is a lot like driving a car: risks exist (actually, are everywhere), but you can take precautions. We don’t stop riding in cars even though we know they can be deadly. Car transportation has too many benefits, and cars are an essential a part of our lives: they get us where we need to go for just about everything.
The same is true for the digital world. Just like driving a car, we can get really hurt using social media and the Internet. It’s always possible. But the risks are less when we know how to drive - when we know how to navigate the infosphere (the digital world). Yet, rarely do we “teach” how to handle social media to our kids. Rarely do we have discussions about how to use it properly and what the safety precautions are. Instead, more and more, parents and administrations are restricting access to social media out of fear for what could happen (you can’t drive the car). This is a normal human response. But it is not a response that is always in our children’s best interests.Read More
At the 2015 National Forum on Character Education, I visited the Center for Civil & Human Rights with a group of educators. I ran into another conference attendee and asked her how she was liked the museum. She excitedly informed me that she was able to videochat one of the classes at her school, using Skype. A group of elementary school students in New York experienced part of this amazing museum in Atlanta, right from their very own classroom. I was amazed by the power of technology to enhance education when you think creatively.
During February, we’ll be posting about how you can harness these powerful technology tools to enhance your teaching and students’ learning.
Still unconvinced you need to enhance your use of technology in the classroom? Start by reading 10 Reasons Today’s Students NEED Technology in the Classroom.
Technology can help you and your class connect with others, build relationships and learn about the world.
As the educator at the conference demonstrated, Skype is a powerful tool. There are plenty of other video-chatting options, but Skype is one of the most popular. You can skype to connect with your class’s favorite authors, interview an expert on a topic your class is researching or even stay in touch with a student who moved away. Check out the Skype in the Classroom blog for more great ideas.Read More
A Message from Heather Cazad, Director of Operations:
During this National Forum in our capital city only a few weeks before a presidential election, we will discuss civic responsibility, creating good citizenship and building leadership in our communities. It’s up to us to make the world better, and we can do that by first developing better people. That’s why we’ve chosen the theme... Educate, Inspire, Empower: Building Productive and Caring Citizens.
With national leadership on our minds, let’s work on helping our students become engaged citizens. Not only are our youth the leaders of tomorrow, we can help encourage them to lead today.
Every fall for the past twenty-two years, educators, researchers, authors, and even students have come together in the interest of improving schools with character education to create a brighter future.Read More
Topics: National Forum
By Bob Efken, Assistant Principal and Doug Harness, Principal
Doug and I have been at Bayless Junior High, a small school of 350 students in the Bayless School District, for fourteen years. We love that Bayless is the most culturally diverse district in Missouri, with over 50% of students speaking a primary language other than English. However, this is also our greatest challenge.
The school’s refugee and immigrant families from Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and twenty other countries find their way to our community in search of the American Dream, and we consider it an honor to help them accomplish that dream. At Bayless Junior High, we realized ten years ago that our students struggled academically and linguistically. Bayless needed an instructional model that would benefit all students, but especially our growing English Learner population. We began to implement the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol or SIOP, which promotes learning the English language while engaging students in rigorous academic content. SIOP was a perfect fit for our unique school, and the accomplishments of our students have been nothing short of amazing.Read More
As you have likely noticed from our recent posts, “A Collaborative Curriculum: The Strengths of PBL,” “How Real World Lessons Lead to Academic Achievement,” and our latest, “4 Tips for Providing Effective Feedback,” this month Character.org is focusing on Principle 6, how to link your character education initiatives to a rigorous curriculum.
With the recent passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have the opportunity to reexamine their curricula and reassess what will work best for their students. It is an exciting time to be learning more about best practices in education and advocating for the whole-child approach to education.
Well, you know what they say, great minds think alike and our friends at the Journal of Character Education have also decided to focus on Character & Academics for their upcoming issue. Below you’ll find a special message from its editor, Dr. Jacques Benninga:
The Journal of Character Education is the only educational journal specifically devoted to research and practice in character education and should be a boon to both practitioners and researchers. Topics are varied, but include both reports of research and practical applications as well as book reviews and Character.org news and announcements. This is THE journal in our field.Read More
by Dave KellerRead More
By Lisa Stutts, Special Education Teacher, Northern Parkway School, 2015 National School of Character
As educators, it is essential that we make the process of providing feedback a positive learning experience for each student. Feedback paves the way for continued learning.
Consider the following 4 tips to effective feedback all while building character.
- Be Specific and Factual
When providing feedback, it is very important to be specific. Being specific helps students increase understanding and become partners in the learning process. Although saying “good job” may evoke a smile, it will leave the student with a sense of vagueness. Those words never tell the learner what he did right, and where might he go next. Statements such as “Not quite there yet” or “almost” don’t give any insight into what was wrong and what can be done differently. Teachers will also be left with the same sense of uncertainty. This vagueness hinders the assessment process and is not productive. Specific feedback allows students to takeRead More
For a number of years now, the Corporation for National and Community Service has declared Martin Luther King Day, “A Day On, Not a Day Off.” It is truly fitting that we honor this American hero by giving back to others.
For lesson plans, promising practices and articles on service learning, we encourage you to become a Character.org member to receive an official Day of Service Toolkit. For inspiration, read these words of wisdom from MLK.
Topics: Service learning
by Pam Mitchell
Beginning the Journey
Mockingbird Elementary embarked on a Project Based Learning (PBL) journey seven years ago after observing PBL in action at New Tech High @ Coppell, another school in our district. We had already been focusing on Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship (Dr. Bill Daggett) as a district, and we had also been conducting effective service learning projects for several years. Mockingbird educators were planning challenging, authentic learning experiences as well as outstanding service learning projects, so PBL was a natural progression for our innovative educators.Read More
by Becky Sipos
When I was a beginning teacher, I was often dismayed how students didn’t improve their writing very much despite my best instruction. When I was “forced into” sponsoring the school newspaper as a job requirement and I began teaching journalism, I was amazed by the writing growth I saw in my students. What made such a difference?
As I began to assess the situation and to figure out what made the difference, a figurative light bulb went off. Students were doing real work for a real audience, and they wanted to do well. Students had a choice in the type of assignments they had. And they were truly responsible for their work. In my typical English class, if they didn’t do their work, they would get a poor grade and I would be upset. But on the newspaper staff, if they didn’t do the work, someone else would have to do it. After all, no newspaper leaves a big blank space that says “so and so didn’t finish his story.” Students who didn’t complete assignments had to deal with the wrath of their classmates. They immediately saw the impact of their failure to meet deadlines.
When the paper was published, they also learned immediately how well they did. If readers liked their stories or photos, they would get praise from teachers and students alike. If they got something wrong, boy, did people let them know. They soon learned emphatically the journalism rule of double checking and having multiple sources. The old journalism adage “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” was not a joke.Read More
As we get ready to ring in the new year, we’re taking a moment to share some of our favorite blog posts of 2015. This year, Character.org posted nearly 100 new articles. Here are 10 you definitely don’t want to miss!
- Starting Your Character Education Journey by Becky Sipos
Looking to change your school culture but unsure where to begin? Character.org President & CEO, Becky Sipos provides four ways you can jumpstart your school’s character journey now.
- My Son is not My Dog by Marvin Berkowitz
Sit. Speak. Stay. Do you motivate your students or do you issue commands? Marvin Berkowitz shares research on and best practices for motivating students and the perils of extrinsic rewards.Read More
by David B. Wangaard, Ed.D., The School for Ethical Education
Character.org has many resources that provide a clear definition of character education and effective practices. It is not unusual, however, to find varying interpretations by educators. Specifically, the distinction between moral and performance character has created a division within the field of character education. Some educators have chosen to focus singularly on performance character such as perseverance, creativity and positive attitude with the goal to market to parents these attributes as uniquely supporting student success. While those values may be well received by parents and the public, it is important to consider why we should include moral values and sustain the connection between moral and performance character.Read More
By Philip Brown
Whether we are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, we can all agree that the holidays can bring out the best of us and the worst of us. As the big end of year holidays approach it is a common experience to get anxious about how much there is to do, whether we have enough gifts to make everyone happy, and if our celebration of family and religious traditions will go as we hope. Our motives may be the best, but execution is daunting.
For parents there is a particular dilemma that is in our face every day because of the commercialization of the holidays that begins in early November. How can we help our kids understand the joy of giving as well as the pleasure of receiving? How can I make it a holiday filled with love rather than a time of regret and emotional emptiness?Read More
By Jennifer Paterson, Founder & President of California Music Studios
The impact that music can have on our lives is incredible. Exposure to music can shape our emotions, advance our intelligence, and impact our future, starting in the womb and continuing throughout our lives. The right melodies, in the right moments, can be essential to nourishing better emotional, physical, and mental growth - trigger states of calm during stress, or offer motivation in times of need. On top of this, music can also build and strengthen relationships, improve social skills, and act as a bridge for human connection.
It's no surprise that you'll often hear music playing wherever you see a group of children. Even when playing as background noise, music can help to develop the social skills of children by bringing them together. This avenue for communication doesn't stop in childhood either. Consider the benefits of musical therapy - an established treatment route in mental health used to address emotional, cognitive, social, and physical needs. Through musical therapy, patients strengthen their ability to communicate with others, allowing for improved engagement, and offering a form of expression for feelings too difficult to describe.
But how exactly does the connection between music and forming relationships work? How can music form a basis for higher levels of confidence, improved interaction, and strengthened social skills?Read More
by Sheril Morgan, Director, Schools of Character
Entitlement. Webster says the definition of entitlement is the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges). There have been many conversations about younger generations having a sense of entitlement these days. When parents ask their children to do something, it is often attached to a reward for carrying out the task. Often children are paid for good grades on a report card, and we forget the power of making meaning which is pointed out in Marvin Berkowitz’s latest blog, “My Son is not My Dog.”
The truth is, we all are inherently selfish, and yet we have an incredible capacity to give of ourselves. The holiday season tends to highlight both sides of humanity, our selfish and selfless tendencies. Thankfully, what we become is often what is nurtured and this presents an amazing opportunity to educators. This is the perfect opportunity to empower young people to serve their community!
Many educators cringe at the thought of service learning because there is so much misunderstanding of the term in educational circles. However, it doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, and with creativity and shared leadership, it can have a life of its own.Read More
By Laura Taylor, LCSW, Lower School Counselor and Keith Sarkisian, Lower School Director
Have you ever eavesdropped on a group of 1st Graders discussing the difference between feeling included vs.feeling liked? Have you had the opportunity to listen to two 4th Graders disagree over the subtle nuances of feeling optimistic vs.feeling hopeful? How about a class of Kindergarteners voting on which they would rather feel: excited vs. happy?
By Captain Rick Rubel, USN, Ret ,Distinguished Military Professor of Ethics,U.S. Naval Academy[i]
The Goals of the Institution
One of the goals of any institution should be to create an ethical climate of integrity. The individuals of the institution should not only uphold the core values of the organization, but should rise above the minimum moral expectations of not lying and cheating. They should strive to improve their own morals and character to the level where they do the right action when ‘no one is watching’. While this might sound trite, this standard is the goal of developing individual integrity: when someone does the right thing without the promise of reward or the threat of punishment -- a very high level of moral reasoning.
This article will discuss the approach taken to create a climate of integrity at the U.S. Naval Academy. The process includes a moral remediation program for students who have committed honor infractions (lying, cheating, stealing). Remediation involves a process of intense counseling with a senior staff or faculty member. Students engage in exercises and conversations to help them understand the wrongness of their actions, examine their morals and character, and “map” their own character using a tool called a Character Map.Read More
Principle 1, ““The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation for good character,” becomes a little bit more challenging when you apply it to an entire district. How can an entire district create an intentional and unified effort to promote core values?
We turn to 2015 National District of Character, Pennsbury School District for the answer. Pennsbury unites all 15 of its schools with character education and each school manages to bring its own unique flare.
Here is an excerpt from “Roaring and Soaring Pennsbury Sounds Off for Character,” by Eileen Dachnowicz, an article in the 2015 National Schools of Character Magazine.Read More
by Patrick Keenoy, Principal, 2015 National School of Character, Rogers Elementary
One is not simply a leader because of a title or position held, rather, a leader is one who demonstrates positive character through their words and actions. These words and actions, should motivate others to give their best effort and be people of integrity. There is a definite link between leadership and gratitude.Read More
by Becky Sipos
Which is better: honesty or integrity? empathy or compassion?
Of course, it’s a bogus question. Both are good. At first glance, principle one sounds easy “Choose your core values.” But there are so many good qualities out there, how do you choose? And how long do you stick with your choices? When should you change?
Over the years that I have been evaluating schools for our Schools of Character program, core values seem to follow trends. In 2007 most of the schools had some variation on these: respect, responsibility and honesty. But in recent years, schools have been including values such as empathy, compassion or kindness. Is that because of the times? The Great Kindness Challenge got over 2 million students to perform acts of kindness last year. Did it also influence schools to change their core values?
Do events in the news affect what schools choose? Smith Street School’s whole education program came about because of their environment. “The stakes are so high,” says Dr. Triplett, “Because of the realities outside of our school, many kids in our area are in danger ... good character is, in many cases, a matter of life and death to our kids. They have to make good choices in life -- and we want them and their parents to understand the connection. For this reason, we see these students as OUR children. CE is so, so much deeper here for that reason.” They chose “reflection” as one of their core values as they really want their students to think through their actions.
Schools seem to fit into three categories when it comes to selected core values.Read More
by Rebecca Bauer
During my freshman year of high school, my favorite teacher pulled me aside. She explained that she was assembling a committee to rewrite the school’s character expectations and she was hoping I would help. Having attended the Montclair Kimberley Academy since age 6, I’d been hearing about these expectations for nearly a decade.
Respectful. Responsible. Confident. Friendly. Informed. Temperate. Fair. Honest.
There were a lot of them. And still, I knew them well.
I remember attending that first meeting. There was one representative from each grade, which meant I was only freshman in the room. It was intimidating but exciting. We began by discussing what purpose the character expectations served. Why were we revising them? What were our goals?Read More
While there’s no particular order you need to address each of the 11 Principles, naturally, many schools start with principle 1, “The school promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundations of core values.”
When it comes to principle 1, the most valuable resources you have at your disposal are your stakeholders: administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents, community leaders…
However, there are some resources that can help you jumpstart the process, as well!
If you want to make the most of your most valuable resource, your stakeholders, first you need them to buy in. Need help convincing your staff, parents and larger community that character education isn’t just nice to have but absolutely necessary?
Show them “A Question of Character,” a short documentary from the Jubilee Center of Character & Virtues that demonstrates the need for character education and the impact it can make.
Looking to brainstorm core values before beginning your selection process? Take a look at the words Core Essential Values has chosen to highlight in their 2015-2016 Values Calendar. The Virtues Project is a great resource as well. Be sure to check out the comprehensive list of values complete with definitions.
There are so many core values to choose from, we couldn’t possibly name them all, but here are a few examples and some resources that can help you approach the topic.Read More
by Michele Borba
There’s something about the Thanksgiving season that tunes up my “reflective switch” and makes me think a bit more about our children. I worry that over the years we’ve removed ourselves a bit as a society from the real meaning of this glorious holiday. We’re seeing an upsurge–even in a recession–of kids who are a bit too spoiled, a bit too unappreciative, and a bit more ungrateful for all the good things life has to offer.
Don’t get me wrong, of course we want our kids to be happy and give them what they want. But have you noticed that sometimes our best intentions backfire? Instead of our kids being grateful for what they are given, they are disappointed or always seem to want “more.”
In all fairness, there are a number of factors that curtail our kids from being appreciative about the good things of life.
For starters: a relentless consumption-driven media that pushes kids to think they need more, and a fast-paced lifestyle that leaves little time to help kids count their blessings.Read More
By Marvin Berkowitz, Ph.D.
It was early in my career when I first had to confront the idea of how we think about kids. As an undergraduate at the University of Buffalo over 40 years ago, I took Willis Overton’s developmental psychology class, which focused on a chapter he was writing with Hayne Reese on what they called “models of man.” It essentially explored the assumptions about fundamental human nature implicit in the leading psychological theories of the day. And it starkly contrasted a behaviorist (mechanistic) approach from a constructivist (organismic) approach. The former sees the person as a recipient of external inputs (experience) that accrue molecularly. People are not initiators of interactions nor interpreters of experience, merely the passive recipients of and responders to what the world does to us. And development happens smoothly as these bits of experience add up, much like the formation of a stalactite in a cave. It is largely a mechanical cause and effect process. The great thinkers in this tradition are B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov.
Quite differently, the constructivist approach sees the child as an innate meaning maker. Even the newborn infant interprets experience. And initiates interactions with the world simply to help make sense of it. We develop not in straight lines but in spurts and steps and in stages that may be more different in kind than in amount. We are innate scientists trying to make sense of a complex world. The great thinker in this tradition is Jean Piaget.
So which are we? What is our true nature?Read More
By Tamra Nast, Birmingham Covington School Counselor
Edited by Lori Soifer, Michigan State Schools of Character Coordinator
There is no owner’s manual for parents and teachers to tell us how to help each child grow into ethical, empathetic and responsible learners, leaders and citizens. Students come to us with unique abilities and talents. I believe the development of self- motivation is a lifelong skill, and one that can be a powerful force in a person’s life.
Principle 7, of the 11 Principles of Character Education, emphasizes intrinsic motivation over extrinsic rewards. In other words, doing the right thing for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do. True satisfaction and joy come from finding meaning and purpose in what you do in life. This principle emphasizes true heart change over compliance, celebrating and recognizing over rewarding.
Meaningful service learning (embedded in the curriculum), allowing students' voice and choice, and implementing a discipline system focused on learning, fuel the growth of self-motivation in students.
Last year, a group of 30 middle school students from Birmingham Covington School, attended the Character.org National Forum. They came to teach teachers about their service-learning project. What started as a local water project focused on sustainability grew into a global project focused on eliminating poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. The depth, breadth and scope of this project grew exponentially, all because their teacher, in fostering students’ self-motivation, allowed the class voice and choice, and nurtured each student’s talents to determine how best they could meet the goals of the project.
By Terry Gill B.Ed., B.Sc.N., Student, Ph.D. Program, Educational Psychology, Walden University
With society’s preoccupation on success, it is not surprising that children see value in the pursuit of good grades and rewards. Unfortunately in this pursuit of extrinsic rewards (controlled motivation), students may lose appreciation for the joy of learning (intrinsic motivation).
Instead of focusing on the students’ lack of motivation, we must assess our teaching practices or attitudes that can undermine a student’s motivation to learn. We must understand how we can empower students by focusing on what motivates them. Failing to empower students, ignoring their abilities and interests, can result in low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
As an educator, I have come up with the 6 Cs of character that are essential in providing an intrinsically motivated learning environment. The formula for change is (6C+s = change)Read More
Topics: intrinsic motivation
by Dave Keller
Thankfulness is a word often synonymous with the month of November. I was in an elementary classroom a few days ago and saw bulletin boards already filled with construction-paper turkeys, harvest foods, pilgrims, and other iconic Thanksgiving Day images. It brought back fond memories of my own childhood Thanksgiving classroom rituals.
But November also provides another important opportunity to offer thankfulness: Veterans Day.
I must admit I don’t have any childhood school memories of Veterans Day celebrations at my school. Perhaps my school didn’t celebrate it openly. Perhaps we did and I simply failed to fully understand it at the time.
Today, I am personally grateful that so many schools are actively taking time to celebrate Veterans Day. I see a deeper understanding and appreciation in the hearts of so many young people these days. They have been appropriately taught that many of the freedoms for which they openly show gratitude on Thanksgiving Day were bought and paid for by the sacrifices of veterans throughout many centuries.
As a professional character educator with Character.org, I see enormous potential for educators to use Veterans Day to intentionally enhance the character development of their students. At a minimum, there are four powerful character development forces that synergistically come together as we seek to find creative and meaningful ways to honor veterans:
1. Connect to the curriculum
As students learn about U.S. history, Veterans Day provides a unique opportunity to personalize the history lessons beyond merely reading about it in a text book. For example, the website history.com offers the following explanation of the origin of Veterans Day:Read More
By Becky Sipos
The first is Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, my book club’s nonfiction selection this month. I thought the horrific stories of life in the slums of Mumbai, India, would be too awful to read, but Boo’s empathetic portrayal really drew me into their lives. I cheered for Abdul, the young garbage sorter, who works hard to get ahead, and was intrigued by Zehrunisa, his mother, whose efforts so often backfired despite her best efforts. As I got to know the complexity of the people, I was appalled by the corruption in society. But even when I felt that some deserved some blame for certain outcomes, I certainly understood and empathized with why they did what they did. I liked that Boo did not just focus on the terrible things. She showed the fun and playfulness of flagpole ring toss, teenage girl tell-all sessions and more. The book gave me a look at an aspect of society I had never really contemplated before. As a former journalism teacher, I read with amazement wondering how she gained the trust of her subjects and got such details of their lives. It also made me think how important it is that she makes us look at something we’d normally not notice. Now that we’re aware, what should we do? The author said in an interview: “If we don’t have all the time in the world to make things perfect, we can still make incremental and meaningful improvements. And seeing what’s wrong—seeing it clearly—seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.”Read More
We’d like you to meet a newly assembled team of loyal Character.org supporters, our Champions of Character. Champions of Character are membership ambassadors for Character.org. They help us stay in tune with the needs and interests of our members as well as being character education experts in their own right. These individuals understand the transformative power of the 11 Principles of Character Education and have been strong advocates for character education in their schools, districts and states. Learn more about them below!Read More
When do you feel most motivated?
It’s unlikely your answer is, when I’m studying for an arbitrary standardized test or completing activities that require rote memorization. Perhaps you feel most motivated when you’ve set clear goals for yourself that are meaningful to you or when you’re working on a project that draws on a passion of yours.
This month’s resource roundup focuses on how you can truly engage students in meaningful ways so that students will eager and motivated leaders and learners.
by Rebecca Bauer
Are you looking to revamp or improve your service learning program? Challenge yourself to go beyond the typical annual food drive or fundraiser. Read about these three schools’ unique and powerful practices and the lessons we can all learn from them. Consider how you can make these ideas work in your own community!
- Use service learning projects as an opportunity for students to hone their research skills.
At Carusi Middle School, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the Community Reading Program, Reading is My Superpower!, offers 6th, 7th and 8th graders the opportunity to inspire a love of reading in their younger peers. While many schools have reading buddies and peer mentoring programs, Carusi Middle School’s program stands out for its intentional approach.
Reading mentors take their jobs seriously and understand the importance of their work. Assistant Principal, Kelly McKenzie, shares that they “prepare for the field experience by researching the history of mentorship, selecting texts to read to their mentees and reading texts aloud to develop fluency through the Language Arts Enrichment course.” She adds, “This practice generally fosters strong leadership, models instructional excellence and promotes a positive school environment.”Read More
By Susan Bakus, Campus Assessment Coordinator at Fort Settlement Middle School, a 2015 National School of Character
Fort Settlement Middle School prides itself on how well our students follow our Falcon Code of Conduct: Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe, and Be Ready to Learn…
Because we teach our student expectations starting on the first day of school and consistently reteach these expectations throughout the school year, our school has had no reported cases of bullying in the past several years.The code of conduct is intertwined in our weekly Advisory lessons as well as on our half days of instruction with a character focus.
Every October, our district has a half-day for staff development. Because of this schedule, teachers see only half of their classes that day; rather than working on content curriculum, we use that morning with our students to build our anti-bullying program and provide lessons for the teachers for the day. The strength of our lessons is in the fact that they are primarily student created and teacher facilitated. Our PALs (Peer Assisted Leadership) students work with their teacher and our Campus Improvement Specialist/Assessment Coordinator to develop ideas for the focus of the lessons.Read More
In the 2015 Schools of Character magazine, we featured advice from six principals at National Schools of Character, but we received great insight from a number of other educators from these schools, as well. Here's what they had to say:
How does creating a caring school climate help students improve academically?
"When a school has a caring climate, the ability to reach more students in a positive, impactful way increasing exponentially. Students become more engaged in an environment where they feel connected and cared for. This goes for all of us. When parents are part of a caring school climate they are more inclined to open up and build trusting relationships with those in the school community. Teachers are integral piece to this puzzle as they are on the front lines with students and parents. They are the ones who are building positive, lasting relationships with the families they serve. Education is all about relationships and making connections to learning. Having a warm, caring school climate allows students, parents and staff to feel more comfortable to take risks and engage in courageous conversations built on trust.” - Michael Anselmo, Principal, Selvidge Middle School
“When our freshmen receive those first quarter grades, many encounter earning their first non A/B grades. That fear of failure disappears when they quickly realize that our school provides a safe environment to face the frustrations of new expectations and challenging classes. They grow confident in their own skills because they know the school provides peer tutors, one-on-one time with teachers, and open doors with administrators. These lines of communication encourage students to find ways to succeed, which only makes that accomplishment more rewarding by creating relationships which will help them as they continue through their high school careers. While we celebrate our students achievements, it is the opportunity for intrinsic reward in a caring school climate sets it apart from others. “ - Rachel Montgomery, Assistant Principal, Windsor High School
“The benefits of a caring school climate go beyond a social and emotional level. The academic successes take hold, BECAUSE of the social and emotional skills that are nurtured in a caring school climate. This year our kindergarten students were able to work cooperatively and creatively to complete a PBL (Project Based Learning) project about their community and display it at our annual School Fair. All students felt the pride and success of their month long endeavor. This was all possible as a result of cultivating our caring school community.” - Kim Ramer, Kindergarten Teacher, Bridgeport Elementary School
by Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac (Twitter: @docsheilah), Assistant Principal, 2015 National School of Character, Northern Parkway School
#Learningisjoyful is a hashtag that I often use when tweeting however I have used the phrase “Learning is Joyful” to describe my educational philosophy for a number of years. To be clear joy for me does not necessarily equal fun and games. It is more of an intrinsic feeling that you achieve when you are passionate about learning something and you are involved in the learning process. Joyful learning experiences can involve games and play but working diligently to solve a problem...and solving it can also evoke feelings of celebration and satisfaction. Joyful learning experiences are inherently tied to character education. When you are learning in an environment that supports you, values you, connects with you, respects you, and cares about you…#learningisjoyful. So how does the hashtag #learningisjoyful connect with my experiences at the 2015 National Forum on Character Education held in Atlanta, Georgia (October 15-18,2015). Take a look:Read More
by Lisa Stutts, Special Education Teacher, 2015 National School of Character, Northern Parkway School
“Students will rise and fall based on the level of expectation you set for them” Scott Shickler
An overarching theme of the forum has been to be aware of your words and actions when interacting with others. Scott Shickler focused his breakout session on the seven mindsets. My first thought was, "wow, our mindset dictates our life." Teacher mindset determines classroom climate. Increase our expectations with a positive outlook on the future. Ask yourself, "what do you expect from my students? How can I push them further?" Pushing students with challenges and motivation builds character. Model positivity: if you believe they can, so will they.Read More
By Maricarmen Esper, Character Education Author and SpeakerRead More
In the 2015 Schools of Character Magazine, Clifton Taulbert and Anthony Moore weighed in on the importance of teaching about race in the classroom and editor, Lara Maupin, offered advice from an educator’s perspective. As these experts suggest, teaching your students about race relations is an essential part of producing a safe and caring school climate for your students. However, it still may feel like an overwhelming topic and one that you should not broach without proper preparation. Here are some tools to equip you to lead these crucial, courageous conversations.
Lessons & Activities
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a wide variety of race relations resources for students of all ages. A couple of our favorites include:
An Anti-Racism Activity: The Sneetches combines the whimsical tone of a Dr. Seuss story with important and meaningful issues. Appropriate for grades 1-5, the lesson encourages students to brainstorm ideas for ending discrimination and includes valuable opportunities for reflection.Read More
By Becky Sipos
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and so I wanted to write my column to fit in with that theme. But I am no bullying expert. I’ve learned a lot about bullying since I’ve been working at Character.org, but for real expertise, you should turn to our own board member expertMichele Borba, or our Education Advisory Council expert, Jonathan Cohen of theNational School Climate Center, or students themselveshttp://www.tolerance.org/blog/expert-opinions-students-speak-about-bullying
In fact, so much has been written about bullying that I fear that the topic doesn’t generate the concern it once did. And all 50 states have now enacted anti-bullying laws, so every school has mandates to do something on bullying. But what works best?Read More
Topics: bullying prevention
According to the Center for Disease prevention, nearly one in five students experiences bullying at school. Clearly, bullying a serious issue but bullying prevention does not have to be a gloomy topic. Bullying prevention is about standing up for what is right and defending the underdog. Bullying prevention is about building a culture of care and offering support and encouragement to all. This month’s resource roundup provides resources to help you celebrate bullying prevention month in practical and enjoyable ways!Read More
Enter the school garden. It was time to plant our fall beans. His eyes began to sparkle as he helped prepare the warm dry soil, breaking up clods, removing obstacles, and smoothing the dirt with his hands. Hope was planted in one small bean seed. Motivation was nurtured by teachers who encouraged him, saying, "Let's check to see how our beans are doing."
The reason for hard work sprouted from the kindness of caring for the needs of baby plants. Self discipline grew as he turned his thoughts to the garden, initiating visits to water, weed, and admire growth. Just as the beans matured, so did his respect for himself and others.
He took joy in gathering the crop to share with his school community, knowing he had been responsible for the outcome. He washed and stemmed the beans for cooking, being accountable for food safety. He delighted in the fruits of his labor, smiling as he ate. He saved one bean to take home, sharing the miracle of growth and transformation with his family.
The school garden, impacting the community one child at a time.
This excerpt, written by Brenda Proebsting, a teacher at 2015 National School of Character, Southwest Early Childhood Center, beautifully depicts the power of getting students out of the classroom and into school gardens.
In a recent Harvard Graduate School of Education EdCast, “Roots of the School Gardening Movement,” host Matt Weber interviewed Jane Hirschi, author of Ripe for Change: Garden-Based Learning in Schools. Jane shared, that while school gardens are not new and date back to John Dewey, our current school garden movement is “driven by an interest in food” and serves as a “link between kids knowing about foods and making healthy food choices.” It is especially important, as our students’ lives become more and more dictated by technology, that we continue to value time outdoors and cultivate their love of nature.Read More
by Michele Borba
Academic success impacts our children for the rest of their lives: it influences their self-esteem, college selections, job attainment, financial success, and even their choice of spouse. It’s no wonder we go great lengths to give our kids an academic edge.
But despite our good intentions, we often overlook a few simple strategies that research has proven to impact children’s academic success. Even better, these seven science-backed solutions are things that every parent can do, don’t cost a dime, and they are proven to boost children’s school success.
Here are seven surprising simple solutions that every parent should have in their toolbox for back-to-school.Read More
By Tom Lickona
In theory, the character education movement has always recognized what Principle 10 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education affirms: Parents are the first and most important character educators of their children.
If we take that principle seriously, we’ll do everything possible to honor the importance of parents and support them in their vital role. We need to tell parents, again and again, how important they are in their children's lives.
Schools should share with families what the research shows. For example, the National Study of Adolescent Health found that “family connectedness,” a feeling of closeness to parents, was the most important factor in keeping teens from engaging in anti-social or high-risk behaviors such as juvenile delinquency, violence, substance abuse, and sexual activity. Regarding sexual behavior, the study found that teens who believed that their mother disapproved of their engaging in sex were more likely to delay sexual involvement.
We should also share stories that bring the research to life. Permit me to share one from my own experience as a father.Read More
by Meghann Persenaire, Assistant Principal of St. HOPE Leadership Academy, a 2015 New York School of Character
A few days ago, we welcomed approximately 150 families to our 3rd Annual Family Fair, an event that replaced what makes many families groan, “Back to School Night.” I recall my own parents quietly sighing as they drove off to another “Back to School Night” to sit in desks too small for them and listen to our teachers talk on and on about what we’d be learning, among other things they would soon forget.
Each September, we turn our gymnasium into a state fair-like atmosphere. Each grade team has a table, uniforms are sold for a percentage off, St HOPE “swag” if freely given, food and refreshments are overflowing, and we even raffle off several great prizes. When parents arrived a few days ago, they were welcomed and given a passport and were also given instructions to obtain stamps in their passport by visiting each table while also learning about our school’s offerings. Parents received a stamp when they setup their parent account for our online standards-based grading system, and parents received another stamp by visiting the table hosted by their scholar’s teachers. While there, parents received course syllabi, magnets with teacher contact information, and more St HOPE “swag.”Read More
by Kara Coleman
The days of summer are no longer stretched out before us with long vacations, fewer rules, and flexible bedtimes. A new school year has started and the pace has changed. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or both, your plate is probably overflowing. But isn’t it like that every September? Isn’t it fascinating how quickly we are able to switch into our old efficiency-driven modes? Hectic morning routines, carpools, long meetings, extra curricular practices, parent-teacher conferences, and homework battles quickly become the norm and we often don’t look back.
Children, especially those in elementary school, are not as experienced with this jarring switch to systematic chaos. With the hustle and bustle of fall, it is easy to forget thatstudents may need a "brush up" on social skills to navigate new and unfamiliar settings with peers, teachers, coaches, and school staff.
Building and maintaining healthy relationships with others should be a priority for teachers and their students. Sure, everyone spends time on rules in those first few days, such as respecting others, but how often are students given the opportunity to practice and refine relationship building skills throughout the school year?Read More
I’ve been working on making the 2015 National Forum on Character Education inspiring, educational, and transformative since we signed the hotel contract in February 2014. Although I know with any event, perfection is out of reach, I have made it my personal goal to make this Forum, my third, Character.org’s most successful yet.
But my idea of success is measured by more than number of attendees. I want every teacher who joins us in Atlanta this fall to walk away not only knowing s/he can instigate real change but also having the tools to do so. I want this large group of caring and determined educators to leave with that spark of hope for the future that I get every time I talk to a teacher at a School of Character.Read More
Throughout September, our blog has focused on engaging parents, families and the community at large in your school’s character education efforts. While consistent involvement throughout the year is important, as our resource roundup suggests, holding school-wide events can be a great way to build connections and create a sense of unity.
Your school may already engage the community in typical events like Back to School night, choral & band concerts and sports games, but do you have a community event dedicated specifically to character? Consider participating in Character Day 2015, as way to show your commitment to character.
What exactly is Character Day?
Watch Let It Ripple’s video to find out:
How can I participate?
There are many ways to get involved in Character Day. Decide what works best for you!Read More
Topics: Character Day
by Dr. Dave Keller, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Promising Practices
The game was OK… but what a halftime!
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit the tiny rural town of Chester, Texas (about
100 miles northeast of Houston). On Friday night, I received an invitation to ride into town to watch the local Chester High School football game.
I accepted the invitation (what else was I going to do in Chester on a Friday night???) I know what you’re thinking. Texas High School football. Friday Night Lights. Your mind is likely racing to images of stadiums that cost tens of millions of dollars to support massive football factories that fuel local economies and provide fresh recruits for top collegiate programs.
Ehhh…not so much in Chester, Texas. Chester’s stadium doesn’t even have bleachers. There are some concrete steps built into the side of a small hill, but most fans just bring lawn chairs.
Yes, it is true that Texas is fertile ground for collegiate football recruiters. Not so much in towns like Chester. It’s highly unlikely any player from either team will ever see a collegiate roster. Chester’s school population is so small they don’t even play 11-on-11 football. They play “6-man football,” a scaled down (but highly entertaining) version of the game to allow smaller schools to compete.
Full disclosure: I totally, thoroughly, completely LOVED this experience. The people were astonishingly friendly and welcoming. The crowd size seemed to exceed the population of the entire town --- plus some. It was truly a glimpse into small town America.
No doubt similar scenes were playing out in small towns throughout the country. But my lasting memory of that night had nothing to do with the fun atmosphere or the fierce on-field competition.
It was what happened at halftime.Read More
Topics: Character in Sports,
by Becky Sipos
Early in my teaching career, I called a parent concerned about her daughter. I’ll never forget her response: “I don’t call you for help with my job, so why are you calling me for help with yours?” I still vividly recall my shock as I had assumed helping her daughter develop into a responsible adult was a shared commitment.
As I gained experience, I realized that for many parents a call from school always meant bad news and was to be avoided. So I shifted my approach and began sending home positive post cards for every student and calling home with something positive about each child in my classes. At Back to School night I asked both moms and dads in attendance to fill out a card telling me something about their child that I probably didn’t know and to share how I might teach them more effectively. Of course, I occasionally still called home to discuss a problem, but the positive approach worked wonders.
I am recalling these memories because Character.org is focusing this month on Principle 10: engaging families and community members as partners. The start of school is always a good time to connect with parents, but it’s not always easy.Read More
This month, our Research Roundups are focusing on Parent and Community Engagement, and this is the second part of a two-part RR. The first RR addressed some common methods and ideas to promote family and community involvement in schools. This article is for those of you who are ready to get parents involved or have already made attempts.
You have ideas, and you’re ready to put the pedal to the metal and send your school on the fast track to parent and community involvement. But if you’re like most teachers, when the gears in your brain are whirling, you come up with a few good ideas and some potential challenges too. The last RR hopefully got your brain thinking, and this one will help address some of the roadblocks. Our list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but here are a few things that might come up and ways to problem solve them.
Here is an article on parent involvement. Although, it’s somewhat dated, it does two things really well. First, it shows that getting parents involved has been a problem for a while – it isn’t specific to you and your school – you’re not alone, so don’t get discouraged!
Second, the article lists a number of “solutions,” or points of advice, for getting parents involved. At their core, these points reflect three core themes present in just about any article you’ll find on involvement: Understanding, Communication, and Outreach. Before we move on, let’s unpack what I mean:
Understanding: Schools/teachers must learn the needs of parents/community and establish themselves as a friendly part of existing dynamics.
Communication: Schools/teachers find effective ways of contacting parents and the community that are comfortable for both. This can be through home visits, utilizing the PTA/PTO, sending out newsletters, and/or contacting through phone/text/email/home visits.
Outreach: Schools/teachers work to meet a need in the community while addressing parent involvement. For example, in communities with English Language Learners, schools could start parent literacy classes.
It’s also important to know what parent-involvement looks like for you or your school, so that when you see it, you know.
Getting parents involved will undoubtedly require some problem-solving, and keeping these themes in mind will certainly help.Read More
When it comes to education, and character education in particular, there are many important key players: teachers, parents, and the community at large. Educating youth is a cooperative endeavor. And when schools, parents, and communities deliberately encourage similar values and goals, the opportunities for student success and growth become unlimited.
During the month of September, our blog will focus on Parent and Community Engagement through Principle 10, “The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.” This Resource Roundup provides advice, strategies, and resources for strengthening the solidarity between school and community and teachers and parents. These channels of communication are essential and must be utilized for more than ensuring homework gets done on time. Educators and parents need to communicate about what matters, both in terms of the child’s academic and character growth.
The first step in any successful relationship is starting it and “A Dozen Activities to Promote Parent Involvement” is a great place to begin. The most common ice breakers that teachers use are letters and emails at the beginning of the term, which they continue throughout the year. More than merely keeping parents regularly informed concerning classroom happenings, these letters are a great way to communicate your classroom rules, values and norms to your students’ families
Need help getting started? There are plenty of templates available online, or you can easily make one that fits your own unique style.Read More
As a part of Principle 9, shared leadership, we aim to emphasize the crucial role students play in character education initiatives. One way we can value students’ contributions is by providing them the opportunity to share their own thoughts. Franchesca Ramirez, the author of this post, is a member of the Milton Hershey School Class of 2016.
We struggle to define a leader by their qualities alone because all leaders are uniquely composed of their own set of skills and traits.
I have been blessed with my own unique composition over the span of my time at Milton Hershey School. I always had leadership potential, but the ignition of that flame was a result of the time and effort of various adults in my life. Individually, the teachers and advisors in my life at MHS have contributed their own efforts in ultimately making me the leader I am becoming, I will forever be in debt to these people I call mentors for the character they’ve inspired in me. For this reason, I was inspired to serve.Read More
Advisory can be a great vehicle to implement character education.
I recently had the privilege of getting to know students, teachers, teacher-advisors, and administrators involved with revamping an advisory program at San Francisco University High School (SFUHS).
For about 20 years SFUHS had an advisory period in its schedule. When I got to know the school a few years ago, students described advisory “a chill out time,” “a time to eat really good snack,” and a place where they could “hang out with friends.” While this non-academic break during a busy Friday after a stressful week is useful, especially for high achieving, stressed-out students at a rigorous high school, administrators wanted to create the infrastructure to better support students’ character, social, and emotional development. In this post I want to take this opportunity to share some of my insights into their successes as they revised their program.Read More
As a part of Principle 9, shared leadership, we aim to emphasize the crucial role students play in character education initiatives. One way we can value students’ contributions is by providing them the opportunity to share their own thoughts. The following blog entry is written by Emily McGouldrick, a student at Pryor High School
From day one we have always been told to share: share our toys, our food, and even our advice. So why not share the gift of being a leader? Some people feel that being leader is being the leader of their own dreams. However, this ideal of leadership couldn’t be more wrong.
To me, leadership is walking side by side and accomplishing something together. Leadership is seeing someone down and lifting them up. Leadership is when something tragic affects a town, but instead of tearing the community apart it brings them together. Leadership is being yourself and encouraging everyone else to find themselves as well. Being a leader is not a quality one should keep to themselves, being a leader should be shared and used to change the world one town at a time.Read More
By Lisa Stutts, Special Education Teacher at 2015 National School of Character: Northern Parkway School
Can all students be leaders? How do we empower leadership in our school?
All students can be leaders.
We as educators may need to shift our mindset to believe it. We all can fall into the trap of having our “go to” students; it’s routine and easy for us and we do it without thinking. Some students may appear as natural leaders, while others need much more training. It is those students we need to make sure we give several opportunities to develop their leadership skills, and as a parallel develop their character. Just as we scaffold and modify classroom work, we can do the same with leadership. We need to trust and empower our students to be leaders at their individual pace.
Teachers need to find creative ways to provide leadership opportunities to all students.Read More
by Calvary Diggs
It’s a little over fifty years ago, and the United States exists in less vibrant tones and colors. No diversity. No rainbows. The atmosphere operates only on an absolute of black and white.
For one child, he first began to understand the diff
erence– one that he’d later describe as ‘inequality’ and ‘injustice’ – when he was denied access to a local library. He’s black. The library was for whites only.
Years later, the child – not so young and naïve anymore – finds a comic about a man named, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The child sees the similarities. Empathizes. Wants to help make the world a better place.
Many years later, he’s in college and a young man.
He decides to take part in the freedom rides. At twenty-three, he marches and speaks alongside Dr. King – his hero. The young man learns to understand generations of pain and hate while enduring a growing list of arrests and hate crimes. He has to exercise grit and determination at Selma as he’s violently attacked by police. And he shows courage and integrity to this day as a congressman working with the rights of others in mind.
This man is Congressman John Lewis, and we are honored to have him deliver a keynote address at the National Forum on Character Education.
As education professionals involved in character education, we frequently ask, “What does good character like in action?” To answer this question, we actively seek real-life role models and genuine examples. They provide us with the inspiration, ideas, and stamina necessary to lead our youth to becoming productive citizens with strong ethical principles. No one embodies these qualities better than John Lewis.Read More
By Becky Sipos
At Liberty Corner Elementary School (NJ), students know the focus is not only on academics, but also on how they are going to leave the school as a person. That focus apparently is working. Comments from the middle school say that “the Liberty Corner School kids are the most well-rounded, best kids in the building.” Eric Rauschenberger, Liberty Corner guidance counselor, said, “The greatest compliment we get year after year is about the kind of kids we are sending. It makes us feel validated that what we’re doing is sticking.” Kindergarten teacher, Trisha Bubnowski, said, “We’ve gelled as a school community so that when you go out in public and see Liberty Corner School kids, you hear people say character education is what sets us apart.”
How does Liberty Corner achieve these results? A big part of their success is due to principle 3 (of Character.org’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education): “The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.” They really work to include character development in everything they do.Read More
Teacher leadership has become a buzzword recently. All teachers lead activities and lessons in their classrooms. Many teachers also lead after school activities and clubs. Some teachers even serve as administrators, too. These days it’s more normal for teachers to have multiple roles in a school than just one.
So what exactly does teacher leadership mean, and more importantly, why should you care?
The NEA defines teacher leadership using 7 domains. This Character Resource Roundup focuses on three of those domains:
“Fostering a collaborative culture to support educator development and student learning”
“Promoting professional learning for continuous improvement”
“Advocating for student learning and the profession”
Fostering a Collaborative Culture
Often the topic of fostering a collaborative culture, especially when it comes to staff culture, is a discussion that is left for the principals and administrative teams. Teacher leaders can and should play an essential role in these efforts. Ask yourself what you are doing to foster a collaborative culture.
How do you welcome new staff?
How do you support your coworkers?
How do you collaborate amongst your grade level team and professional learning communities?
Read The Power of Teacher Networks, a book in which author, Ellen Meyers, “describes teacher networks as a force that breaks teachers out of isolation, improves their practice, advocates for students and schools, and keeps our best teachers teaching.”
Looking for something a little shorter? For a quick introduction read “Fostering Leadership Through Teacher Networks” by Sarah Burns. By strengthening your “Teacher Network” you will improve your teaching practice and hopefully make some new friends too!Read More
During the month of August, the Character.org blog will focus on Principle 9, “The school fosters shared leadership and long-range support of the character education initiative.” One aspect of this principle is the encouragement and inspiration of students to become leaders in their schools and communities.
There are a variety of resources for students and staff to improve leadership and inspire those around them. Many of the resources shown here are versatile resources that can be used by students to learn and practice student leadership or used by faculty to encourage it.
Videos, Articles & Other Helpful ResourcesRead More
Topics: Character Resource Roundup
Andrés Cordero - Research Intern
Andrés is a Swarthmore College international student majoring in anthropology and education. Originally from Costa Rica but growing up in five different countries, he gained an interest in comparative education.
Andrés took active interest in character pedagogy after taking a political theory course in college that highlighted the relevance of ethics in all human endeavors. He believes that character development is the key to personal growth and what transforms educational settings across the globe into thriving communities. After college, he plans to become a teacher and later intends to get a graduate degree in public policy to eventually partake in Costa Rican politics.
Fun Facts about Andres: he is passionate about Latin America, interested in traveling and enjoys soccer.Read More
by Rebecca Bauer
As an educational non-profit, we spend most of our time talking about schools, but as summer begins, I want to acknowledge that crucial character development often happens not only outside of the classroom but also outside of the school year.
In my household, camp was always spoken about as a Matt Smith spoke to in his recent blog post, a magical place. My parents met at camp. They returned there to be counselors a few years after. They sent my older brother to that same camp, where he later became a counselor too. When I turned 10, it was my turn.
While some parents might be horrified at the thought of sending their child away for 7 weeks, my parents trusted in the camp and knew it was a safe and caring community. Thinking about this, I realized that the 11 Principles of Character Education seamlessly apply to camp settings. Any principle can be adapted for the camp setting, but for me Principles 2, 4, and 7 stick out when it comes to character growth in my own camp experiences.Read More
Topics: 11 Principles
by Matthew Smith
“Notes on Camp” is one of my favorites episodes of the NPR show This American Life. That’s probably not surprising since I run a leadership camp for teens. Host Ira Glass explains the purpose of the program:
Today on our program, we try to bridge the gap between camp people and non-camp people. We try to understand: What is the cult-like, mystical connection some people feel with their summer camps?
He asks David, a popular camp counselor, a sophomore in college, and a former camper to explain:
“Camp … it’s just … it’s #1 with everything I do I guess. That’s like … camp is just … it’s … it’s kind of ridiculous but it’s, like, everything. It … it changes people’s lives. Like … people base their life around camp. Like … I would not be who I am if it wasn’t for camp.”
Apparently, camp can be tough to explain. Sometimes, people compare it to magic. But Scott Brody, veteran camp owner thinks “It is time to retire ‘the magic of camp.’”
Scott has been traveling the country for the past few years, driving home this message. “Calling it ‘magic’ devalues the importance of creating an intentional experience for children, and alienates parents who have never experienced camp.”
Ok; but then what is it? While there are all sorts of camps focusing on various fun activities and skills, what makes them special are the relationships and skills that campers acquire. They learn social emotional skills and character development.
Camp is social and emotional learning (SEL) and character development.
Put simply, SEL means developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Character adds performance and ethical values to the mix. Things like perseverance and integrity.
This. Is. Camp.Read More
by Barbara Gruener
I can remember that afternoon as if it happened yesterday: the song We Are Family started playing over the intercom, our signature all-call to come to the cafeteria for a school staff community circle. It could have meant a number of things; a schedule change we needed to know about, a community concern we could help with, or an important announcement.
Seeing our Superintendent in there told us it’d be the latter.Read More
Topics: Professional Development
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with my all-time favorite character quote:
“Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”
I’m astonished at the powerful simplicity of these words. As I recall the most influential people in my past, each of them demonstrated behavioral integrity — their actions matched their words. Conversely, some of my most painful memories involve observing hypocrisy in people I had previously trusted.
Maybe that’s why Principle 8 of Character.org’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education resonates so powerfully — and personally — with me. It speaks to the very heart of Emerson’s quote:
Principle 8: The school staff is an ethical learning community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the students.
At first glance, it may seem as though Principle 8 has two distinct parts: (a) be an ethical learning community, and (b) adhere to the same core values that guide the students. In a sense, I guess that’s accurate. But I really perceive these two elements as being so interconnected that they are, at least in my mind, one and the same. We’re talking about of the power of EXAMPLE.Read More
By Becky Sipos
Count me among the millions who have watched Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity,” (the most viewed in the organization’s history), so when it was time to select books for my summer reading column, I knew one book I would choose was Robinson’s new book
The book is full of inspiring schools and creative educators. Robinson makes a key distinction between teaching and learning and many stories focus on that. I found particularly touching his example about a teacher in Mexico, who taught at a primary school in Matamoros, described as “a destitute town not far from the U.S. border that regularly serves as a backdrop for drug wars.” After several years of traditional teaching with limited success, Sergio Juarez Correa decided to focus on empowering students to learn for themselves. He built his lessons around open-ended questions and encouraged collaboration and conversations.
The transformation was amazing. One girl who lived by a dump and had never done well turned out to be a math prodigy and scored the highest math score ever and was featured on national television. But 10 other students scored in the 99th percentile in math. Not that Correa was impressed by their standardized test scores as he was focused on empowering them to think and do so much more, but the scores showed others the potential that had been ignored among his students.Read More