What's Happening in Character?

Parenting with the 11 Principles 

Posted by Sora Wondra on Thu, Jan 18, 2018 @ 09:01 AM


Sora-1.jpgI have been with Character.org for more than 5 years now and have seen many awesome examples of Communities of Character built around the 11 Principles. While I’ve admired the courage and hard work of each of those journeys, I now find myself about to begin my own journey as I become a parent.

As I’m expecting my family size to double in the next few weeks when my husband and I welcome twins to the Wondra clan, I find myself reflecting on what kind of parent I want to be and how I hope to nurture my children to become ethical and compassionate citizens.

I’ve learned a lot from Character.org and the amazing community of educators, researchers, parents and other character leaders. Now, I hope to put all of that wisdom to practice. The challenge is in being intentional but realistic.

Carpenter or a Gardener?

Alison Gopnik recently spoke on the show Hidden Brain about her theory of two models of modern parenting: the carpenter and the gardener. The Carpenter parents expect specific, careful inputs to lead to predictable outputs (“hiring a tutor will improve my kid’s SAT scores”). The Gardener parents are intentional in the way they nurture children but recognize that they are just one of many players contributing to the development. Gopnik argues that the latter style of parent is likely to be less stressed and have a healthier approach to going with the flow through all of life’s challenges.

I think the Gardener approach is very compatible with the flexible nature of the 11 Principles framework. Character is developed in an ecosystem and while many people can influence the result, it has to be understood in partnership with and appreciation for the other influences. Here are a few principles I have already connected with as I begin to think about how I will develop my approach to parenting.

Core Values

By selecting and being intentional about modeling our family’s core values, I hope to impart their importance through our discussions and how I model living them out. Principle 1 reminds me that we should all come together around the values which are important to our lives and develop a common language. I also hope to take a page from Dara Feldman’s book by using “virtues language” to be specific in recognizing when I see my kids doing the right thing.

Engaging Partners

Part of gardening is recognizing all of the possible elements that could help your garden grow! Rain, sun and soil are important partners that should be nurtured. For a family, we look at not only those who live at home but neighbors, grandparents, extended family, teachers and others who have an impact on the character development of our children.

Principle 10 rightly emphasizes the importance of all these players working in partnership for the good of young people--to ensure they aren’t working at cross purposes. I need to make sure I keep in mind all the diverse perspectives involved in those partnerships while finding creative ways for us to work together.

Opportunities for Moral Action

It’s not enough to talk about good character--we need to give young people opportunities to live it out and gain perspective from learning from others. Again, Principle 5 is a great example of how character is not developed in a vacuum. I’ll want to make sure that as a family, we’re connecting service with reflection and learning so that my kids develop habits of serving and valuing others in our community.

Intrinsic Motivation

Here is where things get tricky in the garden. I feel very strongly about fostering deeper and more personally meaningful reasons for children to learn and do the right thing--unfortunately, in today’s “gamified” world, kids are exposed to a lot of extrinsic motivators that might prime them to think everything should get a point or gold star. The growing appreciation for the Growth Mindset concept is also related--if kids are praised for having “talent” they may become paralyzed when things become difficult because they don’t believe they can further develop that fixed talent.

Principle 7 is so important because I think it’s easy to get caught in the trap of token rewards or bland praise. I know I can’t eliminate all of these from the world my kids will encounter, so I can only be intentional about doing my part to reinforce a more intrinsic approach and explain to my community of partners why I feel that authenticity is so important.

Time to Get Started

I’m sure that as I begin my journey into gardener parenting, I’ll encounter so many other connections to the 11 Principles. As we begin a new year, a time for reflection and planning, I hope that any of you who are parents, or who work with parents, will take some time to consider other connections to the 11 Principles. Feel free to share them below in comments or give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.


Sora Wondra has been with Character.org since 2013 and assists with development and advancement efforts. Prior to joining Character.org, Sora taught  in the U.S. and also in the Republic of Georgia, where she conducted research on education reform. She has an M.Phil. in Education from the University of Cambridge and a B.A. in Psychology from Coe College.