What's Happening in Character?

Rebecca Bauer

Recent Posts

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

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

Character & Technology Resource Roundup

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Feb 1, 2016 @ 08:02 AM

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.

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Topics: technology, Character Educaiton, Digital Citizenship

The Journal of Character Education to Address Character & Curriculum

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 @ 09:01 AM

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.

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Topics: Academics,, Character Educaiton

9 MLK Quotes to Inspire Your Day of Service

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 @ 07:01 AM


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.




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Topics: Service learning

How Principle 1 Changed My High School Experience

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Dec 3, 2015 @ 09:12 AM

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?

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Topics: core values, 11 Principles, Shared Leadership

Resource Roundup: Getting Started with Core Values!

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 @ 08:12 AM

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!

Getting Started

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.

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Topics: integrity, core values, empathy, Kindness,, Resource Roundup, Character Resource Roundup

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

Teaching About Race: A Character Resource Roundup

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 @ 05:10 AM

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.

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Topics: Race

Everything You Need for Bullying Prevention Month: Lesson Plans & More

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 @ 05:10 AM

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!

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Growing Good Character

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 @ 06:09 AM

He came to us with many seeds planted in his life.  The seed of violence from an abusive father.  The seed of anger from a defensive single mother.  The seed of poverty; he was one of eight children.  The seed of hunger--he needed a small snack upon entering school to make it to breakfast without defiant episodes.

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.

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Topics: Academics,, Community Involvement, Outdoor Education

How Is Your Community Celebrating Character Day?

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 @ 09:09 AM

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:

Character Day - September 18, 2015 from The Moxie Institute on Vimeo.

How can I participate?

There are many ways to get involved in Character Day. Decide what works best for you!

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Topics: Character Day

Are you a Teacher Leader?

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Aug 5, 2015 @ 09:08 AM

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!

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Topics: Advocacy, Character Resource Roundup, Teacher Leadership, Shared Leadership

Character Education Goes to Camp

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 @ 12:06 PM

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.

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Topics: 11 Principles

A Model for Effective Professional Development

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Jun 8, 2015 @ 12:06 PM

Commitment to professional development means more than setting aside a couple of days for meetings after the school year ends.  As we are emphasizing the importance of Principle 8 this month, we have already shared professional development resources that will allow you to engage with your staff in meaningful ways. Now, I want to highlight a 2015 National District of Character, that has excelled at prioritizing professional development. The Eastern Christian School Association (with campuses in North Haledon, Midland Park and Wyckoff, New Jersey) has devoted much of their time and resources to ensure that staff never stop learning and their efforts have yielded an impressive model that schools everywhere should consider.

When I had the opportunity to meet with Dick Van Yperen, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, and Tom Dykhouse, Head of School, this past spring, I learned about the Eastern Christian Professional Development Academy. The academy is run by a team of teachers that first assesses the needs of the staff and then uses this information to develop courses that will address those needs. The school pays the experts in the subjects (both Eastern Christian teachers and outside instructors) to teach these courses but the courses are free for all participants to attend. Those who participate even receive equivalent graduate credit. Many of these courses, offered on a trimester basis, focus on leadership and character. Unlike traditional inservice days, these courses take place in the afternoons and evenings and run through the trimester.

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Topics: Professional Development

Resources for Meaningful Professional Development

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 @ 08:06 AM

During the month of June, the Character.org blog will be focusing on Principle 8, “the school staff is an ethical learning community.” But how do we create that ethical learning community? There are many effective ways to spark ethical discussion and growth amongst your staff.

  1. Start the conversation by doing an all staff book-study.

Recommended Books:
2015 National School of Character, Selvidge Middle School, chose Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov as their all staff book study. The book can prompt discussion of honesty and integrity in the classroom and provide practical strategies for helping struggling students.
In What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things that Matter Most , author Todd Whittaker covers a wide variety of topics, from creating a caring atmosphere to dealing with standardized testing, in an inviting and engaging way.
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Topics: Professional Development

The 2015 National Schools of Character Press Event

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, May 15, 2015 @ 09:05 AM

At Character.org we frequently reflect on our mission and our role in the greater landscape of education. In addition to working directly with schools, we strive to serve as “bridge builders” connecting teachers, students and administrators to researchers and policymakers. This aspect of our mission was abundantly clear as I looked around the room at our 2015 National Schools of Character Event the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning.


Our attendees were quite a varied group including elementary school students, high school students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, legislative assistants, a representative from the Department of Education and a congresswoman. What did all of these people have in common? They are committed to character.

They came to hear about the dedicated work of the 64 National Schools of Character and 3 National Districts of Character that earned recognition in 2015. Since we didn’t have time to talk about each and every school, President & CEO, Becky Sipos highlighted specific school’s practices that were representative of the whole group’s accomplishments. Throughout the year, we will continue to highlight these practices of our National Schools of Character, but until then these examples help to depict the trends that she noticed.

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Topics: Schools of Character, Community Involvement

3 Ways to Assess School Climate & Character

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, May 12, 2015 @ 10:05 AM

At Premier Charter School, assessment is a big part of school life, because as Head of School, Julie Frugo, so wisely put it, “how do we know what we are doing is even working if we don't assess it?”

Recommended Strategies

Give students surveys about character & climate regularly

Julie said: “One of our main formal assessment strategies is a survey that is given to students each trimester, asking questions that directly correlate to the character initiatives and climate in the classroom. We also survey the teachers each trimester to get their input on what's working and what they need help with. This is all done through survey monkey so it's free ( or cheap because we have a paid account). There are great analytics with survey monkey so we are always looking at the data for trends and to set goals.

It is also beneficial to find ways to share that data with the students. In our middle school we have used the bulletin boards hanging outside classrooms to share the data. Students stopped to look at the data and ended up having conversations with teachers and peers about ideas for improvement. We have found that when you are intentional about being transparent and inclusive with the students, they will think critically about problem solving. They care about having their voices heard and they come up with ideas that we as adults wouldn't necessarily think of without their perspective.”

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Topics: school climate, assessment

Appreciating Teachers: How Can Principals Show They Care?

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, May 6, 2015 @ 09:05 AM

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, parents across the country are organizing luncheons, baking cookies and buying gifts to thank teachers. Students are making cards and writing notes. What do principals do to appreciate the teachers at their school?

Amy Johnston was the principal of Francis Howell Middle School (Missouri), which was recognized as a National School of Character in 2008. Amy always made it a priority to listen to teachers, value their ideas and collaborate with them to make lasting school change. She emphasizes that teacher appreciation is much too important to limit to a designated day or even week.

"Showing teachers that they are appreciated should be embedded in the very culture of a building.  Appreciation should be ongoing and authentic and not based solely on something a teacher does, but for who they are and what they bring to the table.  True appreciation is beyond the Bagel Breakfast in May; it is asking, listening, grappling and learning with teachers every day.  Giving teachers a voice, honoring their wisdom and experience and making them true partners in school improvement is how great leaders appreciate teachers."

Bob Freado was both a principal and the Coordinator of Character Education for Peters Township School District (Pennsylvania), a 2010 National District of Character. He indicates one important way principals can appreciate teachers is by respecting their time. He begins his reflection with a quote and shares his teacher appreciation strategies.

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Topics: Teacher Appreciation, Professional Development

Character Resource Roundup: How Do I Assess School Climate?

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, May 1, 2015 @ 09:05 AM

Principle 11 is a very important part of the 11 Principles of Effective Education, but it is often seen as a daunting aspect of the process.

Let's take a closer look at Principle 11: “the school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students assess good character.”

As I’ve been reading Schools of Character applications and making site visits, I’ve found that Principle 11 is one that schools often struggle with and I completely understand why. In an era of standardized testing, the idea of adding climate surveys on top of that can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember, they really are worth the effortl.

Schools that excel at principle 11, do not simple give out these surveys, they collect the data and study its implications. The staff works as a team to discover innovative ways to address the concerns that arise. This thoughtful and intentional approach begins with choosing a survey that is a good match for your school. Below you'll find some helpful reads for getting started and tools you can use to make the assessment process more manageable.

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Topics: school climate, Character Resource Roundup

Why We Don't Have the Smartest Kids (or Best Schools) in the World

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 @ 08:04 AM

by Rebecca Bauer

When I began reading The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley, I had no idea that a book could be so inspiring and depressing at the same time.

After discovering America’s average scores on the international PISA tests, Ripley started to wonder what factors contributed to a country’s success. Why did certain countries outperform others?

She knew examining the data alone would only take her so far, so in search of answers, she followed the stories of 3 American students as they spent a year in countries known for their high quality education systems, South Korea, Finland and Poland. Ripley supplements their stories with research and weaves in connections to previous education reforms in America. What is so empowering and alarming about this book, is Ripley really offers answers to the tough questions and promising solutions.

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Topics: character education, international education, Academics,

Teaching about Genocide: Reflecting as a Community

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 @ 08:04 AM

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
- Elie Weisel

With Holocaust Remembrance day beginning on April 15 at sundown, I have been wondering how the Holocaust is discussed in the classroom and even if it is discussed at all. As Weisel’s quote suggests, studying the Holocaust, or any genocide, for that matter, provides the opportunity to engage students in meaningful discussions not only about tolerance but also about moral action.

Although delving into complex, meaningful topics like the Holocaust, is an essential part of a rigorous curriculum, it can still be an intimidating topic for teachers to address. To learn more about how schools can teach genocide studies in an impactful and approachable way, I turned to 2013 National School of Character, Hanover Park High School District, winner of a Promising Practice for their Genocide Gallery Walk.

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Topics: Holocaust Remembrance, Reflection, Genocide Studies

Teaching Character within a Rigorous Curriculum

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 @ 19:04 PM

Creating opportunities for character education within a rigorous curriculum sounds great, but teachers are overwhelmed by constantly changing requirements, high stakes testing and large class sizes. Finding time for character education in an already busy schedule can feel impossible.

“I don’t have time for character education. My focus must be on teaching academics.” Do these worries sound familiar?

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Topics: critical thinking, Academics,, student engagement

Resources for a Meaningful & Challenging Curriculum

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 @ 06:04 AM

During the month of April, the Character.org blog will focus on Principle 6, creating a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners. The 11 Principles framework provides a variety of indicators that demonstrate a school has excelled at this task. Our Character Resource Roundup focuses in on three important indicators:

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Topics: Character Resource Roundup, learning needs, critical thinking, student engagement

8 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 @ 14:03 PM

Earth day is the perfect time to get your students outside enjoying nature in springtime. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to teach your students how they can care for the environment. Here are 8 engaging earth day activities that will inspire children to be mindful of the planet’s resources.

  1. Teach your students to appreciate nature and all it has to offer by planting a garden. Did you know that kidsgardening.org has lesson plans and offers grants to help you get started?

  1. Start Environmental Action Committees at your school. Learn how Chesterfield Elementary created student-driven environmental studies projects and integrated them into their English curriculum. Read more about it here.

  1. Teach your students about the importance of conserving water. These books will help you introduce the topic and offer a few 

    practical ideas!

  1. Make a recycled art project. Take a look at this list of recycled art projects that include a plastic bottle bird feeder, an oatmeal box pencil holder, smashed soda can animals, and more!

  1. Read a book that inspires environmental action. My personal favorite is The Lorax, but you can also check out this list of “Green Reads” from PBS for more options.

  1. Make and eat some “Sun S’mores” as a special earth day snack. Your class can learn about solar power, while eating chocolatey marshmallow sandwiches. What could be better?

  1. Pick up trash and explain the importance of keeping our environment clean and healthy.  Start on your own school playground or a local park. Click here to read about Cherry Hill Alternative High School students’ clean up of a historic cemetery.

  1. Looking for something a little more advanced? These resources from the Environmental Protection Agency can help high school students implement a school-wide waste reduction plan.

What is your school doing to celebrate Earth Day? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Topics: earth day, environmental action

Teacher Leadership: Opportunities for your own Moral Action

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 @ 15:03 PM

As teachers think about the 11 Principles, it can be easy to focus solely on the students. Helping students to become smart and good citizens is the ultimate goal of character education, but helping teachers become smart and good citizens is an essential part of the process.

What you do as a teacher matters even more than what you say. Serving as a good role model for moral action and citizenship will inspire your students to do the same. In February, Becky wrote a piece on teachers voicing their opinions on ESEA Reform and the importance of contacting your local representatives, but there are many other ways that you can get involved.

From leading a service learning initiative to coaching a sports team, there are daily opportunities to participate in cultivating moral action in our youth. Sometimes, standing up for a cause or initiative you believe in can be the most meaningful way to take action. I had a teacher who taught an entire lesson silently, in honor of our Gay-Straight Alliance’s participation in the Day of Silence. A number of my high school teachers and college professors were actively engaged in Ferguson protests. Students remember the instances where teachers take a stand. Now Character.org has a cause that we think you might be passionate enough about to take a stand.

Dr. Edwin Powell, a professor at Howard University has created a petition to establish a Character Development and Citizenship Education Council in Washington, D.C. and he needs your help. I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Powell to learn more about this important initiative.

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Topics: character education, Advocacy

Taking Service Learning to the Next Level: Cultivating Leaders

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 @ 10:03 AM

During March, as we have been focusing on principle 5, creating opportunities for moral action, we have been talking a lot about service learning. We showcased Cherry Hill Alternative High School’s service learning program . We shared our thoughts on the difference betw een service learning and community service. But perhaps your school already feels like it understands service learning and has a high quality program in place. Does that mean your journey is over? Nope, that means it is now your time to lead.

If your students are already leading your school in engaging and meaningful service learning projects then the next step is helping them take their own service projects to the next level by implementing them on a larger, community wide scale.

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Topics: Service learning

Coaching for Character: Tips from Dale Murphy's Writing

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 @ 17:03 PM

For most American sports fans, this is an incredibly exciting week. It marks the beginning of the men's and women's NCAA College Basketball tournaments (a.k.a. "March Madness"). Each year, these tournaments bring a unique blend of drama, heartwarming human-interest stories, intriguing match-ups, and --- each year without fail --- upsets by underdog teams. For some, these tournaments are more exciting than the World Series or the Super Bowl.

One of the more compelling aspects of the NCAA tournaments is the profound impact of coaching. Whether the team is a household name, or an underdog squad known by very few, coaches roam the sidelines barking out encouragement (or stern correction) to their players. Players respond with maximum effort. It is truly a magical thing to observe. In reality, the tournament games are merely the culmination of months and months of hard work and coaching throughout a grueling season.

This coaching phenomenon is not unique to college basketball. ALL coaches, in ALL sports, at ALL developmental levels, have profound influence on their players.

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Topics: character, Sportsmanship

Beyond Recycling: Spotlight on Environmental Action at Chesterfield

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 @ 13:03 PM

Looking through our National Schools of Character over the last few years, I was in search of a story that would inspire teachers to plan meaningful projects for Earth Day on April 22. When I heard about the composting program at Chesterfield Elementary (Chesterfield, Missouri), it sounded like exactly what I was looking for, but when I began talking to Mitzy Cruzen, 5th grade teacher, I realized I’d stumbled upon so much more.

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How to Empower Students through Service Learning: Spotlight on Cherry Hill Alternative High

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 @ 09:03 AM

Flipping through our most recent, National Schools of Character Magazine, I was intrigued by a photo of students from Cherry Hill Alternative High School (Cherry Hill). Instead of sitting at desks in a classroom, they were out in their community, learning from local business leaders.

Eager to learn more about the school’s service learning initiatives, I called up Dawn Lacy, a counselor at the school. Through talking with Dawn and her colleagues, Diane O’Brien and Susan Gibbs, I learned how Cherry Hill’s service learning program has come to be so successful.

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Topics: Service learning

Character Resource Roundup: Tools to Help Teach Service Learning

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Sun, Mar 1, 2015 @ 09:03 AM

In March, our blog will be focusing on opportunities for moral action, Principle 5 of our 11 Principles. Want your students to make that leap from moral thinking and feeling to moral action? Engage them in service learning projects.

Need Inspiration?

Service learning projects are most valuable and most fun when they are student-led initiatives. Help your students discover an issue that they’re passionate about and see what creative solutions they can dream up.

If you need a powerful story to show your students how much they can do when they put their minds to it, introduce them to Zachary Bonner. An accomplished philanthropist, Zach created the Little Red Wagon Foundation, an organization founded to provide aid to those affected by Hurricane Charley, when he was only 8 years old. Now the organization runs many successful community service projects including regularly distributing “zach packs” of food and supplies to homeless youth.

Are your students ready to follow Zach Bonner’s lead? Here are some of our favorite service learning resources.

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Topics: Service learning, Character Resource Roundup

Start Early: Teaching Character in Early Childhood Education

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 @ 16:02 PM

“The early years of life provide the foundation for what is to come in terms of social, intellectual and moral development. A child’s capacity to think out problems, built from “lived experience” is indicative of social skills, moral reasoning and intelligence” according to Darcia Narvaez’s research.

Considering this, why isn’t there more of an emphasis on character development in the current discussions and debates on early childhood education? Perhaps because academics are easier to quantify. But there is much more to preschool than learning the alphabet and recognizing numbers. It is essential that children feel cared for and that they are learning to care for others as well.

How do we develop a caring environment for our youngest children? How do we encourage the development of good character and empathy before they can even talk in full sentences? To answer these questions, I turned to one of our early childhood education experts, Gina Siebe, Director of the Clayton Early Childhood Center and former principal of NSOC Bayless Elementary.

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Topics: Bauer Rebecca, empathy, Early Childhood Education

Placemats for Kindness

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 @ 15:02 PM

After seeing so many schools enthusiastically participating in Random Acts of Kindness week, I continue to think about the important role that kindness plays in any school environment. National School of Character, John Poole Middle School (Poolesville, Maryland) is dedicated to encouraging kindness and the community has found creative and engaging ways to integrate this value into their daily lives. From shout-outs to appreciate their teachers to their active participation in the Great Kindness Challenge, students at John Poole are not simply learning about kindness for a special week in the year, they are practicing it on an ongoing basis. Even more impressive than these acts of kindness, is the school’s dedication to making kindness a part of everything that they do.

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Topics: character, Kindness,

Get Ready for Random Acts of Kindness Week!

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 @ 11:02 AM

RAK Logo



Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness week is less than two weeks away? In order to provide you with the best resources, I turned to an expert. Marilyn Decalo, the Education Director at the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation explains how Random Acts of Kindness can transform your classroom, improve school climate and make the world a better place. She offers a variety of resources, including lesson plans, project ideas, videos,posters and graphics for you to use in your school.

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Topics: Kindness,

Character Resource Roundup: Creating Caring & Kind Classrooms

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 @ 15:02 PM

We want every classroom to be a caring and kind one. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on literacy and math, encouraging good character isn’t always seen as a priority. We want to re-energize you in your pursuit to help every child develop empathy and consideration for others. We’ve listed some of the best resources for creating a caring classroom environment. If you have more ideas, please share them with us in the comments.

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Topics: Caring Classrooms,, Kindness,

Building Strong Relationships: What Successful Schools Do Differently

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 @ 12:02 PM

by Rebecca Bauer

Between Random Acts of Kindness Week and Valentine’s Day, February is the perfect month to work on Principle 4 (see our 11 Principles of Effective Character Education), “The school creates a caring community”. When I think of creating a caring community, my mind doesn’t immediately jump to Dewey or Montessori, but rather, a favorite professor of mine, Maria Hantzopoulos.

The book Hantzopoulos edited, Critical Small Schools: Beyond Privatization in New York City Urban Education, highlights successful New York City public schools. These schools stand out because they emphasize relationship building as a means to student achievement, both academic and otherwise. As I reread the text, I pulled out some key ideas that might help you create a “culture of care” in your school.

Creating a Culture of Care through Relationship Building

Developing a Strong Advisory Program

Advisory is a transformative force for improving school climate but in order for it to be effective, it must be done intentionally and used to build relationships between teachers and their students. In order for teachers to provide this space, they must receive proper guidance and support.

Professional Development

When administrators implement advisory programs without providing proper training, teachers often fail to see the program as an opportunity to connect with students. In chapter 1 of Critical Small Schools, J.T. Schiller reports that teachers at schools with advisory programs but no training often feel overwhelmed because they don’t know how to effectively lead an advisory period.

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Resource Roundup: Creating Caring & Kind Classrooms

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 @ 15:02 PM

We want every classroom to be a caring and kind one. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on literacy and math, encouraging good character isn’t always seen as a priority. We want to re-energize you in your pursuit to help every child develop empathy and consideration for others. We’ve listed some of the best resources for creating a caring classroom environment. If you have more ideas, please share them with us in the comments.

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Topics: character education, Caring Community, Character Resource Roundup

5 Random Acts of Kindness for Teachers and Why You Should Do One Now

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 @ 09:02 AM

by Rebecca Bauer

Last week, a friend sent me the article, “Why So Many Teachers Feel Bad So Much of the Time”, and asked me what I thought. I was about halfway through reading it when I received a text from a different friend, a first-year high school English teacher, asking me what exactly my job was, because she wanted to do something else next year.

So what did I think about this article? I think its bleak outlook is concerningly accurate. 

In my work in education, I often hear administrators and politicians ask, “How can we better support our students?”  It’s a great question deserving a thoughtful answer, but there’s another important question that I hear asked less often.

How can we better support our teachers?

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Topics: Bauer Rebecca, Teacher Appreciation, Random Acts of Kindness

Get Ready for Random Acts of Kindness Week!

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 @ 12:01 PM

Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness week is less than two weeks away? In order to provide you with the best resources, I turned to an expert. Marilyn Decalo, the Education Director at the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation explains how Random Acts of Kindness can transform your classroom, improve school climate and make the world a better place. She offers a variety of resources, including lesson plans, project ideas, videos, posters and graphics for you to use in your school.

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Topics: core values, Random Acts of Kindness, character, Decalo Marilyn

Proactive Approaches to Bullying Prevention: Two Schools Share Their Success

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 @ 11:01 AM

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bullying Prevention  goes hand in hand with honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who stood up for what he believed in, even when that was a very difficult thing to do. Martin Luther King Jr. serves as an exemplar for students who are striving to become allies to their bullied peers, rather than mere bystanders. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, here are two examples  of schools who have done an amazing job empowering their students to stand up for and care for one another.

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Topics: character education, cyberbullying, bullying, compassion

What is your school doing for others? Reflecting on Service Learning

Posted by Rebecca Bauer on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 @ 16:01 PM

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Though a simple question, it is one we can never ask our students enough. The Corporation for National and Community Service urges us to consider the Martin Luther King Day, “a day on not a day off” and encourages us to use the free time that we have to give back to others. The Day of Service website provides a number of toolkits to help you plan projects for you and your class. You may also find this list of resources from EducationDive helpful as well.

Even with these resources, getting your students excited about service learning can still be challenging. To provide some inspiration, I’d like to share the story of Lafayette Township School’s award winning community service day, Branching Out with the Bulls.

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Topics: character, promising practices, compassion, Service learning