What's Happening in Character Education?

Empowering Students Through Self-Assessment

Posted by Svetlana Nikic on Thu, Apr 28, 2016 @ 08:04 AM

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.

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Topics: testing, student voice, assessment, assessment and character education, student engagement

Considerations for Adopting a School Climate Survey

Posted by Linda Inlay on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @ 08:04 AM

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.

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Topics: school climate, assessment, assessment and character education

Cooperative Games to Prevent Bullying

Posted by Suzanne Lyons on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 @ 09:04 AM

By Suzanne Lyons MA, MA

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.

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Topics: bullying prevention, bullying, Relationship Building, bullying advice

16 Earth Day Reads Recommended by Educators

Posted by Character.org Staff on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 @ 05:04 AM

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!

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Topics: earth day, environmental action, Literacy

Book Review: The End of Average

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 @ 13:04 PM

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.  

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Topics: testing, Sipos Rebecca, Book Review

Why I'm Still Worried About Testing

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 @ 05:04 AM

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.

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Topics: testing, Education Policy, Education Reform, Equity

Students Take Action: Hunger Stops Here

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Apr 7, 2016 @ 08:04 AM

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.

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Topics: Service learning

Choosing Love

Posted by Scarlett Lewis on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 @ 06:04 AM

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.

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Topics: empathy, Caring Classrooms,, Kindness,, Caring Community

“We’re Getting Really Good At This!”: Improving School Climate by Creating Competition-Free Zones

Posted by Frankie Ghee on Mon, Mar 28, 2016 @ 09:03 AM

By Frankie Valinda Ghee, President of Around the Piano, a Character Consortium Member

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.

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Creating Caring High Schools: Spotlight on Bayless High

Posted by Patrick McEvoy on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

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.

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Topics: Service learning, Caring Classrooms,, Caring Community, Community Involvement