What's Happening in Character?

Dave Keller

Recent Posts

Finding Our Best in the Worst of Circumstances

Posted by Dave Keller on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 @ 09:09 AM

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.

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The Power of Reading

Posted by Dave Keller on Wed, Mar 2, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

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.

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Topics: character, parent involvement, Parenting, Literacy, Reading

Infusing Character Into Everyday Teaching & Learning

Posted by Dave Keller on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 @ 08:01 AM

by Dave Keller

Outstanding educators consistently look for ways to infuse character lessons into everyday teaching and learning. When teachers do this consistently, students are far more likely to view character as an integral part of learning and life --- rather than simply another “topic” to learn alongside reading, science, math and many others.

Character.org designed the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education to be a framework and critical reference guide for educators everywhere. No single script exists for effective character education exists, but the 11 Principles serve as guideposts to use to plan and evaluate their programs. 

Within these 11 Principles, Principle 6 represents the glue that connects outstanding classroom learning and fundamental character concepts. Effective character educators model persistence, responsibility, and caring as they differentiate instruction, employ a variety of active teaching and learning strategies, and look for ways that character is potentially developed in and through everyday teaching and learning. 

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Topics: promising practices, 11 Principles, Academics,

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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View from the Sidelines: A Character-Focused Half-Time

Posted by Dave Keller on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 @ 12:09 PM

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.

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Topics: Character in Sports,

Principle 8 and the Power of Example

Posted by Dave Keller on Mon, Jun 15, 2015 @ 09:06 AM

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.

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Topics: 11 Principles, Professional Development

Deflated Reputations: An Ethicist's Take on Tom Brady's Actions

Posted by Dave Keller on Thu, May 7, 2015 @ 16:05 PM

by Dave Keller

Yesterday was not a good day for Tom Brady.

Lots of folks are weighing in today on the NFL’s report from yesterday (known as the Wells Report) regarding the infamous “Deflate-Gate” incident where the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were accused of attempting to gain an unfair advantage by intentionally altering the air pressure of the footballs in their January 18 conference championship game.

Yesterday’s Wells Report (all 243 pages) paints a relatively scathing picture of the incident, summarized in the following excerpt:

“For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that … it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.  In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that [the official Locker Room attendant for the Patriots] and [an equipment assistant for the Patriots] participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities … involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

(Wells Report, p.2;  NOTE: bold/underline/italics added for emphasis for this article)

“More probable than not.”

Hmmm.  Not exactly 100% conclusive.  

And yet, somehow, in this instance --- at least to me --- those words ARE conclusive. I read major portions of the report this morning, and it is very obvious that Tom Brady knew the balls were being manipulated to his preferences. He clearly engaged in conversations with equipment personnel regarding the topic, including getting angry when the balls were not inflated to his preference.

He knew.

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Topics: Sportsmanship

Remembering Columbine

Posted by Dave Keller on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 @ 16:04 PM

Remembering Columbine

by Dr. Dave Keller, Character.org

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the horrific Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado.  On April 20, 1999, the world watched in unspeakable horror as Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve fellow students and a teacher --- and wounded 23 others --- before both committing suicide. 

In many ways, it is hard to fathom that it has been 16 years since that awful day.  It still seems far too fresh and all-too-sadly relevant. 

In the years since then, there have been several other ghastly incidents of school violence and tragedy across America and the world. Each of these heinous events impacted local communities and national consciences.  The collective pain of these events impacts each of us in real and tangible ways, often on a daily basis.

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Topics: school climate, school safety

Four Mouse Clicks.

Posted by Dave Keller on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 @ 08:04 AM

By Dr. Dave Keller

That’s it. Using just four simple mouse clicks, I went from the Character.org homepage to viewing 100 real-world examples of character education integrated into everyday classroom curriculum learning opportunities.

Specifically, I utilized the extensive Character.org Promising Practices database to find examples of Principle 6 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. I could’ve easily asked to see examples from any of the other 11 Principles, but since April’s Essential Character emphasis is Principle 6, that’s the one I selected.

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Topics: Academics,

Final score: 161-2

Posted by Dave Keller on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 @ 12:02 PM

Sadly, 2015 has already produced its share of disappointing sports stories. In the midst of more well-covered national stories, you might have missed this story from a few weeks ago: A high school girls basketball coach in California was suspended for two games after his team beat another team 161-2.


That’s not a typo.

I’m not kidding.

The final score was 161-2.

That headline brought so many questions to my mind. How is that possible? How did two teams of such unequal talent end up playing each other in the first place? Why would the winning coach allow his players to continue scoring? Is this one of the worst examples of sportsmanship in recent memory, or is there more to the story?

I’ll come back to this story a little later.

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Topics: sports