As I sit and stare at this super-bright screen and this starkly-blank sheet, I’m feeling unsure that my words can do my feelings justice as I count down the days to this year’s annual Forum.
I first attended the National Forum as a vendor with my friends at Character Counts! in 2004 because it was held in Houston near my home. I won’t ever forget the incredible networking opportunity to listen and understand how character educators were weaving core values into the very fabric of their character building. I left that Forum fired up to lead the charge that would reignite the embers our community stakeholders had set aglow back in 1987. That was when a group of 120 concerned citizens decided on fourteen virtues that would serve as the foundation while we strived to educate the whole child.
Three years later, our school, Westwood Elementary, was chosen to receive the inaugural Texas State School of Character distinction. In 2009, we were one of the ten National Schools of Character honored. The National Forum that year was extra special because I was no longer attending the Forum by myself, but with my colleagues who had worked relentlessly to bring the 11 Principles to life in our school community.
Now that it has been ten years since our State School of Character distinction and even longer when I first started attending the Forum; why do I keep coming back?
I still remember the first counselor I met at that Forum thirteen years ago. She was from Bessey Creek Elementary, and her school in Florida was being recognized as a National School of Character. I was so grateful that she would talk with me about what made their school shine. Then there was Kathy from Ohio, Tina from Missouri and Sheila and Bonnie from New York, all of these character education giants were willing to mentor me. The more character educators I met and connected with, the smaller the world seemed to get. Soon enough, I wasn’t networking anymore; I was net-living! It had become a way of life, to watch what these model schools were planting, to cultivate their inspiration and to harvest their seeds of character so that we could better nurture and grow our own grassroots movement.
And then, in the spring of 2010, our own National School of Character Open House gave us the opportunity to pay it forward as we opened up our school and classroom doors to welcome 33 passionate educators from neighboring districts to celebrate and grow with us. Fun fact: Two of them are being recognized as a 2017 National Schools of Character this weekend. We had become the mentors now, a net-giving opportunity that we don’t take lightly. Shortly afterward, I was invited to become a School of Character site visitor; what a joyful experience that is.
As I continue my personal and professional journey down Character Road, a story of stretching and nurturing, of outreach and growth, the Forum has become an annual booster shot of inspiration and joy. I’m grateful to spend time growing with exemplars in the field, role models like Michele Borba, Hal Urban, Amy Johnston, Clifton Talbert and Maurice Elias. I can’t wait to refuel and recharge in and out of the breakouts; I especially thrive on all of the time spent informally gathering in between the scheduled events at the Forum.
I am eager to watch this year’s Schools of Character recipients beam from ear to ear as they bask in a moment of recognition and honor before getting ready to embark on the next chapter in their story. I’m excited to learn more about this year’s Promising Practices. And I’m especially interested in how student leaders are sharpening their skills as they lead their peers into the future.
I’m looking forward to attending the sessions on empowering empathy and instilling intrinsic motivation, to learning more about restoring practices and practicing mindfulness, to find better ways for collecting data and making that data count.
And I can’t wait to become better equipped with tools and resources for facing the daily challenges of diversity, cultivating healthy self-care routines, beefing up community outreach, creating a culture of respect online and off and fostering resilience through tough times.
How will we even be able to take it all in?
It’s such an exhilarating time for the Character.org family as its vision and mission extends its reach beyond schools into communities. I hope that you’ll be there to experience the synergy of the launch and enjoy the adventure at this year’s landmark Forum.
Barbara Gruener is a counselor at Bales Intermediate in Friendswood, TX. She will be the MC at this year’s National Forum on Character Education. Join us and get reenergized right alongside her.