What's Happening in Character Education?

What Do Kids Really Need to Be Happy and Successful? Empathy.

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Sat, Jul 16, 2016 @ 20:07 PM


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.

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Topics: empathy

ESSA: Why your voice matters

Posted by Maggie Taylor on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 @ 10:07 AM

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.

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Topics: Education News, no child left behind, Advocacy, ESSA

Build Positive Character This Summer through Books

Posted by Kris Yankee on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 11:06 AM


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!

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Topics: family, Parenting, Literacy, Reading

Making Summer Learning Fun: A Lesson from Public Libraries

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 @ 08:06 AM

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.

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Topics: Reading, Summer Reading

Three New Books for your Summer Reading

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 @ 09:06 AM


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.” 

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Professional Development at The National Forum on Character Education

Posted by Jess Gawrych on Thu, May 26, 2016 @ 09:05 AM

How do we build caring and productive communities?

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Topics: character education, Professional Development, community

What Makes Professional Development Effective?

Posted by Character.org Staff on Thu, May 19, 2016 @ 04:05 AM

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."  O

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Topics: Caring Community, Professional Development

Teachers are Learners Too!

Posted by Jennifer Pilarski on Thu, May 12, 2016 @ 08:05 AM

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.

Teacher-centered Learning

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.

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Topics: teachers, Professional Development

President's Column: Teacher Appreciation

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, May 4, 2016 @ 08:05 AM

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.

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Topics: teachers, Teacher Appreciation

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