What's Happening in Character Education?

Rebecca Sipos

Recent Posts

Farewell--The Case for Character goes on

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 @ 08:12 AM

As I contemplate my retirement at the end of this month, I have been reflecting a lot about Character.org and the state of character today. As an organization, we have much to celebrate. Some notable numbers:

  • Largest group of National Schools of Character in our 2016 class
  • Significant growth in applicants for 2017 from 28 different states, 12 more than last year
  • Most participants ever in our National Forum
  • Highest ratings ever for programming--both at the conference and in recent trainings (more than 90% out rated sessions a 4 or 5 out of 5 )
  • Recent grants and donations are spurring new momentum and innovations. (Look for a redesigned and improved website in 2017.)
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Topics: character, Sipos Becky ,

I Am Grateful.

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 @ 09:11 AM


I just finished reading Brain on Fire , a powerful memoir of journalist Susannah Cahalan’s descent into madness. It is a gripping personal story as well as a fascinating look at the cutting edge of neuroscience. But one small story in the book really captured my heart--the story of Dr. Souhel Najjar, the doctor who was instrumental in diagnosing Cahalan’s disease. No one else had been able to figure it out. Dr. Najjar was impressive with his heartfelt and sympathetic bedside manner, but it was his backstory that touched me and explained why he had such an affection for the weak and the powerless.
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Topics: role models, Reflection

Every Day is Character Day

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 @ 12:09 PM

Last week we celebrated Character Day along with 90,000 organizations in 124 countries around the world. It has been exciting to watch the exponential growth of Character Day in just three years. Clearly there is interest in the idea of character and momentum is building.

In Tiffany Schlain’s Character Day movie “The Science of Character,” she inserts this quote that she attributes to Frank Outlaw. “ Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
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Topics: character, Character Day

Character and Academics--How to Integrate

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 @ 13:08 PM

I’ve been thinking a lot about our focus this month on integrating academics and character education in the classroom. We truly believe they should be intertwined, but sometimes when I go to a school for a site visit evaluation, I observe lessons that seem like were planned just for my visit, as if someone had said, “Be sure to teach a character lesson today.”

I like it best when I get to observe a challenging academic lesson that engages the students and incorporates the natural intersections with character that most content contains. Exploring the ethical issues in science, debating historical decisions, and of course, exploring character traits and ethical dilemmas in literature are obvious choices, but there are ethical considerations in every subject.
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Topics: character, teachers, intrinsic motivation

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

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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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

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

Four Ideas for Boosting Teacher Morale

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Mar 9, 2016 @ 06:03 AM

by Becky Sipos

Teachers matter. Decades of research and studies have found that, what to me, seems obvious--the quality of teachers has a bigger influence on student achievement than school facilities or curriculum. But what the studies have not clearly defined is what we mean by student achievement. Nor have they figured out what to do about ensuring teacher quality. (See the latest issue of Education Next for a range of articles and commentary on this issue as they explore 50 years since the Coleman Report.)

Those who think student achievement is best measured by test scores are among those who wanted to tie teacher evaluation to student outcomes. Taking it a step further, many wanted to use those tests to eliminate the low performing teachers. That led to hotly contested policy debates on teacher evaluations and protests on time spent on testing. Not to mention that the lowest performing teachers were often those at high poverty schools, and there was not a long line highly effective teachers waiting to take those challenging positions. Those debates may have dissipated a bit with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act that reduces the role of the federal government in requiring test score accountability in teacher evaluations. How the states will move forward remains to be seen.

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Topics: teachers, Teacher Appreciation, Caring Community

Creating Digital Citizens: Civic Duty meets the Online Era

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 @ 11:02 AM

by Becky Sipos

As the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have dominated the news, I have been thinking more and more about citizenship. Peggy Noonan’s recent column talked about how seriously New Hampshire residents take their responsibility. They even have a state law that requires they host the first primary.

After someone described the people at one event as “professional voters,” Noonan said it was not that. She described the diverse group in attendance and said. “It is more like: ‘We may be a field hospital, we may be high, we may be damaged by the collapse of the American culture, we may be the prime victims of deindustrialization, but we are: citizens. And we do our job. We will pick a president.”

Noonan said, “Choked me up as I witnessed it. No joke. Choked me up.”

That sense of responsibility, of caring about your country and the process of electing a president made me stop and think Are we instilling that feeling in our young people today? Not just the sense of responsibility, but the sense of caring, the sense of taking care of your community, planning for the future.

Thinking about community brought me to thinking about Jason Ohler’s new book that I just read, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future, a compilation of four presentations that he has given. The idea of digital citizenship figures prominently in most of Ohler’s work. What brings these four presentations together is Ohler’s vision of helping people reshape their attitudes toward learning, community, and living a technological lifestyle. Ohler writes: “At the end of the day, we all want a more humane world that honors human potential. We want a world that channels our innately innovative selves toward creating the futures we want, and which can sustain us spiritually, emotionally and physically.”

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Topics: ethical and engaged citizens, Citizenship, Digital Citizenship