What's Happening in Character Education?

Nurturing An Attitude of Gratitude in Kids

Posted by Michele Borba on Thu, Nov 26, 2015 @ 06:11 AM

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.

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Topics: core values, Parenting

My Son is Not My Dog

Posted by Marvin Berkowitz on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 @ 08:11 AM

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?

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Topics: intrinsic motivation, PBIS

Improving Motivation through Student Voice & Choice

Posted by Tamra Nast on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 @ 05:11 AM

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.

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Topics: Service learning, intrinsic motivation

The Pitfalls of Extrinsic Motivation

Posted by Terry Gill on Tue, Nov 17, 2015 @ 06:11 AM

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)

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Topics: intrinsic motivation

An Attitude of Gratitude: 4 Ways to Make Veterans Day Meaningful

Posted by Dave Keller on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 @ 08:11 AM

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:

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Examining Poverty & Cultivating Empathy: Three Books that will expand your perspective

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

By Becky Sipos

I’ve been preparing for Thanksgiving, anticipating a visit to see my grandchildren in South Dakota and looking forward to all the family socializing in the kitchen as we prepare our traditional feast. This banquet will be quite a contrast to the three books I’ve been reading.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.”

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Topics: empathy, Book Review, Poverty

Introducing our Champions of Character

Posted by Character.org Staff on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 @ 11:11 AM


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!

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Topics: character

Resource Roundup: Tools for Motivating Your Students

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Nov 2, 2015 @ 08:11 AM

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.

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Topics: intrinsic motivation, Resource Roundup, Character Resource Roundup, student engagement

Promising Practices in Service Learning

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 @ 09:10 AM

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.”

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Topics: Service learning, promising practices

Intentional Strategies for Making Bullying Prevention Effective and Fun

Posted by Susan Bakus on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 @ 05:10 AM

Bullying prevention needs to be embedded in a school’s culture, a seamless aspect of everyday life, but having a special day devoted to raising awareness around the consequences of bullying can be a great kickstart! Read on to learn more about Fort Settlement Middle School’s efforts to prevent bullying.

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.

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Topics: bullying prevention, bullying