As we all continue to struggle with the impact of the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, we find ourselves as a nation at a crossroads about what we can do to better protect our children, especially at school. We are suddenly more willing than we have been in recent times to tackle complex and controversial issues such as gun control, mental health services, and violence in video games and the media. But those of us who are parents and teachers and school leaders can’t wait for these issues to be addressed through the political process – although I, for one, commend any American with the passion and expertise required to work on these issues for doing so. At CEP our mission is to create engaged and ethical citizens so we certainly applaud and support civic engagement and civil public discourse. However, those we serve need support and concrete strategies NOW, TODAY. Thankfully, our National Schools of Character can serve as models for what a safe school can be and our 11 Principles can serve as a roadmap for any school that would like to get there.
Building safe and caring school communities is something we can all agree on. In the search for solutions we will undoubtedly hear debates over gun control, mental health, and school security. But we are also starting to hear more and more calls for a renewed emphasis on core values in our society. This is where CEP and our network of model schools and character education experts can help. We know how to create safe, caring schools and reduce the risk of violence. Here are some proven strategies found in National Schools of Character that any parent or teacher can use.
- Conflict resolution strategies
- Anti-bullying lessons and strategies
- Class meetings
- Service learning projects
- Student leadership opportunities
- Reflection on poor choices
- Mentoring and “buddies
How do such strategies help prevent violence? They build empathy, personal responsibility, and relationships. They give children concrete strategies to use and practice using them. They make it less likely that a child will become so troubled and so isolated that he will decide to take the lives of others or himself. They make it more likely that young people will report to adults when their peers are so troubled and isolated that a violent outcome is possible, as they did at Laurel High School in Maryland just days after Newtown.
It is time in our nation for a new kind of No Child Left Behind. Every child deserves to learn to care for others and the joy that comes from solving problems with and for others. Every child deserves to learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Every child deserves to learn perseverance and that others are not to blame for his or her failures. Every child deserves to feel loved and connected to others and to have friends – both peers and adults who care.
As educators and parents and leaders our plates are always so full. We may not feel we can afford the time or resources to teach these “non-cognitive” skills. But, really, how can we afford not to?
Lara Maupin has a master's degree in education and is the director of the National Schools of Character program for Character Education Partnership.