Why Character Education Matters



Unlike academics, character education is not tested or monitored for school accountability purposes and may fall down the list of priorities. I would argue in today’s world, it is the most important learning we need our students to connect with and take with them into the world!

One of my favorite projects to oversee is the State Schools of Character program for Texas. This is the 6th year that TEPSA has been the state sponsor and I cannot tell you how inspiring it is to read the applications and learn about all the great things going on in schools across the state. If you have ever heard someone say they don’t have time for character education – they are totally missing the mark. It should be embedded in the work we do everyday!

Because students spend so much time in school, our schools offer a critically important opportunity to ensure that all students get the support and help they need to reach their full potential. Schools that embrace character education become places people want to be because they bring out the best in everyone.                                                – from character.org

Don’t we want that for our staff, students and families? Schools to be a place that people want to be and bring out the best in others – I do!! Building this should be the number one priority of schools. If a culture exists where core values are collaboratively developed, understood, taught and lived out – learning will go far beyond expectations. We’ve all seen the stories and about that teacher or principal who brought their students to amazing success in the face of extreme challenges. This doesn’t happen with implementing the latest technology or a new academic program. It always goes back to the dedication and commitment of educators building strong relationships to bring out the best in others – that is character education.

I’ve learned so much about the quality tenets of character education and what schools should be doing from being a part of this process. It is not about a program or specific training to develop strong character in your staff and students. While there are several quality initiatives that exists, they are not a necessity to be successful. A great free resource is the framework of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. These principles were developed by experts in the field and serve as a way to assess campus efforts around character education.

The 11 Principles are:

  1. The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.
  2. The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.
  3. The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.
  4. The school creates a caring community.
  5. The school provides students with opportunities for moral action.
  6. The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.
  7. The school fosters students’ self-motivation.
  8. The school staff is an ethical learning community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the students.
  9. The school fosters shared leadership and long-range support of the character education initiative.
  10. The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
  11. The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.

How is your school doing in your character education efforts? Most campuses are doing several of these very well, but there is always room to grow. One area where I see schools often missing the mark is in developing self/intrinsic motivation. Educators tend to rely heavily on individual awards and extrinsic motivators for encouragement. Research shows that extrinsic motivation only produces short term effects (at best). As a teacher I was never good at keeping up with the sticker charts or prize patrol for my students. I knew in my heart if they were doing it for a sticker or prize, that wasn’t the right reason. I wanted my students (and my own children) to make good choices even when no one was watching because that is where true character shows.

Moving to intrinsic motivation takes time and commitment. Edutopia has some great ideas to help develop intrinsic motivation in students. Kids also learn to be their best selves by watching strong role models (you!) and learning about others exhibiting strong character in difficult situations. Scholastic put together a great list for elementary educators of 100 books that develop character with lesson guides and resources. Sometimes we need to develop more intrinsic motivation in our staff too. Daniel Pink explains the puzzle of motivation in this TED-Talk. The true keys he explains in his book Drive are autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Another area where the 11 principles takes it to a deeper level is in the opportunity for moral action through service learning. Many campuses do community service projects and that is fine. But service learning empowers students to identify a community need and lead the initiative while integrating academic content within the project.

Service learning is different than community service in several key ways. Service learning includes student leadership, reflective and academic components, and chances for celebration once the service activity has been successfully completed. Students reflect on community needs, ways to help, and once their service has been completed, they can internalize how their efforts have helped, while learning more about academics such as geography, math, or science.                – from character.org

If you are looking for more ways to develop character I hope you gained a little insight reading this. Some other great resources on character education include:

Drumroll…we will soon find out who will be named a State School of Character for 2017. A huge congratulations to the campuses that receive this recognition as it does not come easy – and congratulations to all of the other schools that are doing great things to build quality character that have not applied…yet. Check out the schools listed. Plan a visit (in person or virtual) to one to learn more. A wonderful thing about schools of character is they love to share the work they are doing to help others!

We’ll start and end with Martin Luther King’s thoughts because no one says it better. “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

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