When it comes to flourishing in school nowadays, scientific evidence is mounting that confirms what many of us have suspected all along—that if we want children to truly learn, and to perform better in life as both students and citizens, then we have to educate them in an environment that they see as safe, caring and nurturing. In short, school social climate matters, so social and emotional learning (SEL), combined with character education, just may be the magical combination that makes academic growth possible.
What's Happening in Character?
By Mark Hyatt, President & CEO
Before the summer slips away from us all, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment here to talk about the wonderful experience that occurred June 16-21 at CEP’s second Leaders of Character Camp (LoCC), hosted once again by my alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Many thanks to our individual sponsors and the SD Bechtel Foundation for making this camp possible.
Despite another unsettling Colorado summer clouded by the threat of continuing wildfires, 19 high school juniors and seniors from across the state were able to put their worries aside for a week and concentrate solely on improving themselves and each other. Led by five AFA cadets and four students from other colleges, the group took part in a range of classroom discussions and competitive outdoor activities designed to promote teamwork, trust, creativity,accountability and other core values.
“It’s a way to equip youth with habits of honorable character,” explained Maj. Dale Sanders, LoCC director and deputy director of the AFA Center for Character and Leadership Development. This year’s challenging group exercises included hiking, biking, rafting, geocashing and paintballing.
Thank goodness my wife opened my eyes to the importance of empathy before I became a father and a school leader. To be honest, for the first half of my life, I was so driven to achieve the task at hand that I struggled to understand why some people just couldn’t show up, get to work and do what they had to do. By definition, “empathy” is accurately understanding what another person is feeling. If we understand the content of what the other person is saying, but cannot correctly identify the emotion that person is feeling, then we are not demonstrating empathy and we are not even aware of our deficiency.
One year ago, a great American died. His name was Sandy McDonnell. He was an honorable man who left behind a remarkable legacy. It is one we can all learn from.
Sandy was brilliant. After graduating from Princeton and completing graduate school in Colorado, he worked on the Top Secret Manhattan Project during World War II. Afterwards, he went on to reach the very highest levels in the corporate sector. He rose through the ranks to become CEO of a giant aerospace company. Along the way, he traveled the world, met Presidents and heads of state, and received lots of high-level awards and honors.
Eloisa DeJesus-Woodruff, Principal of 2012 National School of Character (NSOC) Richard Stockton Elementary in Cherry Hill, New Jersey was so moved by the devastation being faced by her fellow citizens in New Jersey and New York in the wake of Sandy that she returned from the National Forum ready to act. She had a vision of mobilizing the National Schools of Character to help those in need – other NSOC communities that were impacted as well as anyone else who needed help through the Red Cross. She hoped her students could help others and would have the opportunity to share stories with other students in other communities around the country. Knowing the power of service learning in her own community, she envisioned how much impact the NSOCs could have by working together.
In Marvin Berkowitz’s Hot Topic discussion this afternoon, he didn’t hesitate to cut right to the point. “We need to make schools less like prisons,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s disconcerting how much the analogy fits. How can we create more enlightened and just schools?” Marvin’s talk focused on utilizing empowerment and democracy to accomplish this.
Topics: CEPLeaders, key lessons, character, character education, CEP2012, cheating, student voice, core values, what works in education, CEPForum10, character education in high school, Character Ed Infused in Curriculum
The world lost a great leader when CEP's co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Sanford N. McDonnell passed away in March. The overwhelming outpour of emotions from those who knew him and whose lives he had touched inspired CEP to archive the sentiments and prepare a book of memories for the McDonnell family. Our Vice President, Joe Mazzola, shared his thoughts in a blog post shortly after Sandy's passing.
In schools of character:
Bullying is rare
87% of students attending 2011 National Schools of Character reported in climate surveys that they felt safe school or that bullying was rare (with 27 of the 44 NSOC reporting data in this category).
Eldridge Park Elementary School (Lawrenceville, NJ): 100% of 3rd graders report feeling safe at school in exit polls.
Fuguitt Elementary School (Largo, FL): 98% of students report feeling safe at school
Mark Twain Elementary School (Brentwood, MO): The school reports an 85% reduction in incidents of bullying over the past 6 years.
Union Elementary School (Buckhannon, WV): 93% of students surveyed say they have never been bullied.
Last Friday I had the honor of representing CEP at a special White House screening of the movie, Bully. The movie is heart-wrenching. When it was over, I felt sad, disappointed, emotionally drained and angry. I can remember thinking to myself, “My gosh, how in the world can we as a nation allow this sort of thing to happen? Aren’t we better than that?”
Bully, in the end, is really a graphic depiction of a breakdown of good character in many ways—on the part of the bullies, the bystanders, and even some school administrators and teachers. It’s also a sad reflection on our culture—we as human beings. After the film, several parents and students who were in the film spoke, along with the director, the Secretary of Education, the Sr. Advisor to the President and the Superintendent of Schools for Sioux City, Iowa, who showed great courage in opening up his school system for taping.
I have a very heavy heart right now because Sandy McDonnell passed away. You see, he was my hero. Like many others who knew and loved this great man, I now feel a huge emptiness in my life that I know will never be filled. I loved Sandy like a father.
It was a great blessing to have him in my corner for the five years I served as CEP’s executive director. Anyone who knows me would surely tell you that I needed all the help I could get, too. And that was especially true since I had no experience in the nonprofit sector until Sandy and others hired me.
Fortunately, on the work front, Sandy was always there for me. He coached and guided me through all of the really important and tough areas of running any organization—like financial management, strategic planning, human resources and more.
And, Sandy did all of this mentoring quietly and behind-the-scenes. Board members, staff and others never knew all he did for me from the shadows. That’s because Sandy was one of those very rare but genuine servant leaders that many of us read about but never meet. He couldn’t care less about being in the spotlight. Instead, he worked to make everyone else around him shine.
by Marvin Berkowitz, of the University of Missouri's Center for Character & Citizenship
I was recently asked how to convince people that character education actually works. The cynicism, skepticism, and conservativism out there often astounds me. Amy Johnston, the award-winning principal of 2008 National School of Character Francis Howell Middle School (St. Charles, MO), expresses the same frustration.
As the character education pioneer in her district, she often presents a comparison of her school’s academic and character data as compared with the other four middle schools in her district. Even early in her character education journey, she started to see her school pull away from the other four in both areas.
When other educators noticed the results she was getting, they began to ask for her secrets. She answered “character education.” To which they typically replied “No. Really. What did it?” So she would explain how she used character education to rethink and reform her school and would describe the specific initiatives she enacted, like looped, multi-aged “homerooms” and a collaboratively-generated set of four core values with a corresponding rubric crafted in part by students. And they would shake their heads and walk away seemingly disappointed. So she laments “they see the data, I tell them what we did, and they don’t believe it. What more can I do?”
Amy’s frustration mirrors the frustration of many educators who believe in character education and base their beliefs on hard data. I hear all too often that “there is no research on character education.” Well that is patently inaccurate.
This post was written by Jessica Skinner, School Counselor at Lake Carolina Elementary School in Blythewood, South Carolina
Building a caring learning community goes beyond the four walls of a classroom. At Lake Carolina Elementary, the faculty and staff have been deliberate in their approach to developing a caring community since the school opened in 2002. We have worked to foster authentic relationships among students, faculty, families, and other members of our surrounding neighborhoods. We acknowledge that each of these stakeholders is an essential part.
As a team of educators, we realize that in order to build a strong school community, it is imperative to invest in each other as colleagues. Teachers participate in professional workshops and outside-of-school activities to cultivate genuine relationships with each other and develop the faculty into a cohesive team. What we learn as professionals is then transferred into individual classroom communities by incorporating strategies such as daily morning meetings and end of day closure gatherings that give students the opportunity to connect with one another.
The following post was written by Barbara Gruener, Westwood Elementary Counselor and Lynn Hobratschk, Westwood Elementary Principal. Gruener will be presenting at the 17th National Forum on Character Education.
In a town settled by Quakers, otherwise known as Friends, Principle 10 wasn’t too difficult to sell. A small bedroom community outside of Houston, Friendswood was founded with core values in mind. But knowing about character and putting character into action are two different things, so in 1987 a group of 120 concerned citizens gathered to decide which values would be important to focus on for the students and families in the Friendswood Independent School District. And so our character education initiative began.
The following is a post from one of our Forum presenters, Sue Lee, the creator of “I Believe in Me!” a 2009 Parents’ Choice Award Winner.
If you’re reading this blog, I hope you will be in attendance at the National Forum on Character Education in San Francisco Oct 28th – 30th. Like me, you are probably very excited that character education is gaining in the educational priority lineup!
I happen to be a forum breakout speaker, my name is Sue Lee and I’m presenting Friday the 29th 2:30-3:45pm. My topic is: Thriving – The Power of Positive Emotional Development. The National Scientific Council On The Developing Child out of Harvard, states, “That emotional intelligence is hardwired into the very architecture of the brain.” As a nation and as educators we must become aware of the significance of that in regards to character education. I will be addressing that a child’s character development is not only hardwired in their brain, but the fact that character development/EQ is actually linked to the physical formation of the brain. That phenomena leads to a developing belief that our nurture becomes our nature.
How do we prepare our students for a future in which the jobs they will be doing do not yet exist and the technologies that they will be working with have not yet been invented? The answer to this question is varied and controversial. However, one thing we know for sure is we have to teach our students to lead, act responsibly and respect each other.
By Claudia St. Amour, counselor
Submitted by Donna Dunar, principal, Alta Leary Elementary School
What’s that old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention”? In 2009, we earned National Schools of Character (NSOC) winner status; in 2008, we earned standing as “finalist.” As a finalist in the NSOC process, our site visitors rightly recommended that we work on the integration of character education so as to make it more systematic. We took this feedback to heart as we grappled with what this actually meant.
This post was written by Ron Tucker, principal, Bayless Junior High School, St. Louis, MO
In this era of high-stakes testing and ever-increasing accountability, educators across the country have become familiar with the term “as evidenced by” when it comes to defending their school improvement plans. While testing is important, we know that developing healthy, responsible students is a mandate upon which we cannot compromise. As a native of the “Show-Me State,” I look for “evidence” that we are continually attempting to build a safe, caring school community that promotes tolerance for all of our citizens.
By Joe Mazzola, CEP Executive Director
I’ve been following the trial of former Congressman William Jefferson in the Washington Post. (You probably remember the case. He was found with $90,000 stashed in his freezer. The money, marked by the FBI, was allegedly to be used to bribe the VP of another country. Jefferson was charged with 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering. ) Two recent articles really got me riled up. They summarize closing arguments by the defense counsel.
Basically, the attorney said his client was “stupid” and “exercised awful judgment,” but he was not a criminal. The lawyer made a distinction between ethics and the law, saying “prosecutors tried to turn what amounted to ethics violations into crimes. They’re trying to bend the law, stretch the facts to turn what is not a crime into a crime.”
Pam Bylsma, assistant principal at Hinsdale Central High School (IL) offers her insight into developing intrinsic motivation in teens.
Over the course of eight years, Hinsdale Central High School has evolved into a culture where students exhibit ethical and performance values, earning us recognition as a National School of Character. How did we develop our students’ intrinsic motivation to do the right thing? How can you work with your teenagers so that they genuinely strive to be their ethical best?
Lara Maupin, Associate Director of the National Schools of Character, reflects on her son's feelings about end-of year awards. We welcome your comments on the value of awards and how best to foster intrinsic motivation. Click on the comment button below to responds.
Dr. Peter R. Greer, former headmaster of Montclair Kimberly Academy (NJ) and member of CEP's Blue Ribbon Panel, adds to the dialogue on integrating character education into the curriculum. He is the author of "Character Education on the Cheap" [http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/11/14/12greer.h27.html.]
“Crisis doesn’t necessarily make character, but it certainly reveals it.”
--John Maxwell, leadership and management author
Recently, we have witnessed and celebrated the heroics of two captains. The first was Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed his jet on the Hudson River and then made sure that every passenger was safely out of the cabin before stepping to safety himself. The other was Captain Richard Phillips. He surrendered himself to pirates off the coast of Africa to protect his crew. These incidents could have been tragic, but they turned out okay.
Both captains were in positions of leadership. They were responsible for the lives of others. And, when tested under the most stressful of circumstances, they demonstrated great character. They both put others ahead of themselves, risking their own lives in the process. The two men further demonstrated good character after the fact. Many of us were struck by their genuine humility and thought it was so nice to see them recognize others involved in their two miracles—the “true heroes,” as they called them.
In an editorial following the rescue, three different leadership scholars commented on the actions of Captain Phillips. One of them said, “Wow. What remarkable courage. Not many people would have done that.” The other two basically said that he merely did what was expected of any captain.
I disagree. If Captain Phillips’ behavior was merely the expected, then why don’t we see such behavior more often?
Here you will find articles from CEP Members, Leaders, Speakers, and select authors from around the country and the world. As a CEP Member please feel free to make comments about the articles you see here. We welcome feedback and suggestions!