Author Archives: srodriguez

Code and Principles

By Ed DeRoche

One of the most frequent comments we received from teachers and others is: “I don’t know what character education is, but I don’t have time to do it. I have too much on my plate already.”

Here we are in May of 2014 and we still hear that comment but now the plate also contains “food” like the common core standards, STEM, and tests of all kinds.

My usual response is to remind them “It’s the law.“ You could see the expressions on teachers and administrators faces —“No, not really!”

CDC staff member, CJ, offers a better response: “Many teachers say: “I have no time to teach character—I have too much on my plate already.’  That’s like saying: ‘I’m cooking dinner but there is no time to make it nutritious!’”

The “law” – California Education Code Section 233.5(a) – lays the groundwork and calls upon educators to impress upon students the principles of character:

Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government. Each teacher is also encouraged to create and foster an environment that encourages pupils to realize their full potential and that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, in order to prevent acts of hate violence…

What are the “principles of character” referred to in the Code?

I have found 12 that might help form character education programs in schools and school districts. Let’s look at them as the traits/values/virtues /behaviors that our children should have learned by the time they finished 12 or 13 years with us in our schools.

Through the research efforts of the International Center for Leadership in Education, 12 guiding principles have been identified as key principles upon which to base a character education program. My summary:

  1. Adaptability -The ability and willingness to change.
  2. Compassion – Kindness. The desire to help others in distress.
  3. Contemplation – To think things through with proper care before taking action.
  4. Courage – Bravery. To face difficulty or danger, and express your beliefs even if you are afraid.
  5. Honesty – Truthfulness, sincerity. To be truthful in all that you do and never deceive, steal, or take advantage of the trust of others.
  6. Initiative – Eagerness to do something. To take responsible action on your own, without prompting from others.
  7. Loyalty – Faithfulness, dependability. To show others that you are dependable when you have a commitment to them.
  8. Optimism – The inclination to take a hopeful view or think that all will work out for the best. To strive to be positive in your beliefs about yourself, others, and the future.
  9. Perseverance – Hard work. The quality of continuously trying in spite of obstacles and difficulties.
  10. Respect – Regard, value, admire, and appreciate. To show regard for yourself, others, and the world around you.
  11. Responsibility – To demonstrate that you are accountable for your actions, and that you follow through on your commitments.
  12. Trustworthiness– Reliability. Deserving of trust and confidence.

Here is what the former CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction said:

“Is our only objective to get students ready for success in the workforce? Do we not also have a responsibility to prepare students to be active and engaged citizens? Don’t we want our next generation to be caring neighbors, effective parents, and strong role models for the generation after theirs? Aren’t we obligated to provide them with the skills they need to successfully pursue and achieve happiness and joy in their lives? I think we are, and I believe technological change and the global economy make it more important than ever that we focus on these things.”

Character and the Arts

Character and the Arts
By Ed DeRoche

Good character is not formed automatically; it is developed over time through a sustained process of teaching, modeling, learning, and experience.
– Maryland State Department of Education

In early March the public celebrated the 110th birthday of Dr. Seuss
I joined the celebration by going to see the Christian Youth Theater’s (Escondido) excellent production of “Seussical—The Musical.”

Reading the “playbill” I noticed this quote:
Research has shown that children who receive regular exposure to the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic excellence, to participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing a poem or essay.

Why a statement on research, I asked myself? I found other information that supports the “playbill quote.” For example, Dennis W. Creedon, Assistant Superintendent in the Philadelphia School District, says: “Teaching children about art is as important as teaching them math or reading. People see it as a frill, but it’s not a frill. It’s actually the center of the core. If you cut these out of schools, you are really cutting the heart out of our children and their future.”   Several experts make the case for adding the ”A” to STEM** and for promoting programs that develop children and youth’s artistic/performance skills and talents.

Lisa Phillips (The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World) writes about the ten skills children learn from the arts (summarized below.) I was struck by how these skills and traits apply directly to the development of good character, to academic achievement, to future careers and success in life.

  1. Creativity – Being able to think on one’s feet, thinking out of the box, examining different perspectives, and how arts program help children practice creative thinking.
  2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater build confidence, help children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsals.
  3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. Practicing problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding.
  4. Perseverance –. In an increasingly competitive world where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.
  5. Focus – Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives. The ability to focus requires a balance between listening and contributing, concentration and focus, thinking about one’s role, and how that role contributes to the big picture of what is being created.
  6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language and how those movements communicate different emotions.
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback –A regular part of any arts (visual, performance) instruction is the improvement of evaluation skills incorporated at every step of the process designed to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.
  8. Collaboration – Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal– to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group.
  9. Dedication – When children learn and practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, coupled with a feeling of accomplishment and the development of healthy work habits.
  10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it.
  • STE[+a]M integrates arts with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education sparking the interplay between left-brain convergent thinking and right-brain divergent thinking.”
  • In mid-March I read about the Balboa Park STEAM Family Day–“an event featuring family friendly activities that combine science, technology, engineering, art and math.”

Non-Fiction Reading and Character

Non-Fiction Reading and Character
By Ed DeRoche

I flunked kindergarten. Had to repeat it. Cause: motivation, attitude, interest. There were few “Hallmark Moments” in my elementary school years. I do remember third grade. I usually sat in the back of the class. I was seldom called on. There were no girls in my reading group. “No girls” is a clue that you have a reading problem. Just before morning recess, four of us boys met with our teacher for a 30-minute reading lesson. I always found it strange that our reading group (I wonder what she named us) met with her just before recess. She probably needed a break after such an ordeal.

Several years ago, teachers in one of our character education workshops gave me a children’s book that each of them signed.

This autobiographical book authored by Patricia Polacco tells the story of “Little Tricia” who was “overjoyed at the thought of starting school and learning how to read.” Tricia has trouble reading; her classmates called her “dummy.” Then, her fifth grade teacher discovered that Trisha had talents as an artist. The teacher “sets out to help her prove to herself,” that, in fact, she can and will read.  “You are going to read—I promise you that,” says Mr. Falker. Thus the book’s titled, Thank you, Mr. Falker.

I had a sixth-grade teacher like Mr. Falker (a Mrs.) who discovered that I didn’t like reading fiction books. As a start, she introduced me to reading of our local newspaper, which not only helped with my reading interests and skills, but also contributed to skills in arithmetic, language arts, writing, and my knowledge of currents events, especially sports. From there I was “hooked” on reading biographies and other non-fiction material.

Well you ask, what has this to do with character? Both the use of fiction and non-fiction literature in home and schools can contribute to developing positive character habits and interests, social and emotional skills, and ethical decision-making skills for both boys and girls.

My emphasis on boys and reading in this blog suggests that I ask you these questions:

Who floods our reading clinics? Who receives most schools suspensions? Who do teachers say are the hardest to teach? Who have the lowest reading scores on standardized tests? Who have the higher absentee and dropout rates? Who demonstrate the most anti-social behaviors? Who are least likely to graduate and go to college?

Educators and parents need to start somewhere. Maybe it would be worthwhile, at the very least, to help boys become interested in reading and become proficient at doing it.

Neil Duke’s writes, “We are in the ‘information age’ and students have shown that “the majority of the reading and writing adults do is nonfiction—that about 96% of World Wide Web sites contain nonfictional, informational text—and that academic achievement “relies heavily on informational reading and writing.” Results of the 1992 NAEP: “4th graders who report reading informational texts and magazines (include newspapers), as well as storybooks, have higher overall reading proficiency than those who read only storybooks or even two out of three of these forms….”

Numerous studies reveal that young learners reap many benefits by using nonfictional material including success in later schooling, preparation in handling real-life reading material, improvement in motivation and attitudes towards reading, expansion of
vocabulary and other kinds of literacy knowledge, and building a knowledge base of the natural and social world.

Teachers and parents should entice boys to the value and benefits of reading and its relationship to character education by accessing, at the very least, these three resources.

www.AwesomeStories.com

The Character Crock-Pot

The Character Crock-Pot
By Ed DeRoche

I recently read an article in Education Week titled “District Pressure Cookers Test Recipes for Success.” From what I have been reading and hearing from educators about implementing the common core standards, many of them are feeling the “pressure” of these mandates and some are letting off steam. A reminder:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers… in the global economy.

If I remember correctly, “pressure cookers” preceded “crock pots.”  I discovered the Crock-Pot several years ago.  Really like it –it fits my cooking skills– stuff in — wait 6 to 8 hours — stuff out – test it –if OK, eat it. Just like teaching subject matter.

“Pressure cookers” and “crock pots” offer an interesting metaphor for teachers and teaching– the “cooks.” Obviously, students are “eaters.”  The “character crockpot’s” ingredients include what has been labeled  “performance character and moral character”. A reminder:

Paul Tough (How Children Succeed)Briefly, “moral character” refers to traits related to values and ethics: honesty, piety, chastity, generosity. “Performance character” refers to traits related to personal effectiveness: self-control, persistence, grit, optimism…. I think both categories are valuable, but I think they’re clearly very different…. Which means that when educators who care about character are able to be more specific about which character traits they’re trying to develop in their students, that benefits everyone.

Additional “spices” flavoring the ingredients are found in an array of positive social and personal social attributes, emotional skills, positive attitudes, motivations, and relationships. As the famous Hal Urban cautions us, in another context, “garbage-in and garbage-out.” My assumption here is that the “food” will be good and if eaten will “nourish “good character.

The “character crock pot” ingredients need to be “cooked,” sometimes on high (intervention) and other times on low (nurturing).  They need to be taught and learned, practiced and performed, and, in some cases, changed and modified. A reminder:

Schools are good at transmitting what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge. This is the sort of knowledge that can be expressed in rules and put down in books — like the recipes in a cookbook.  But craftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge.  This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use.  It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience.  It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting [class], to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in. Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior (character.) —- David Brooks, “The Leadership Revival,” NYT, 1-13, 2014.

Blog Post: Assessment Biases

Assessment Biases
By Ed DeRoche

There are five biases that I have encountered after two decades of teaching , writing, and consulting in the character education field, regarding the evaluation of character education initiatives in elementary and secondary schools.

First, assessing character education efforts is a school-site responsibility. Schools are different. Even within the same school district, schools differ in leadership, students served, location, personnel, size, resources, climate, programs, curricula, facilities, and parent and community support and involvement. Any evaluation of character education will reflect the “personality” of the people, place, and programs of a school.

Second, assessing students’ behavior, character, and/or social skills requires different methods of evaluation than does assessing students’ cognitive growth. The public cannot be lead to believe that the results of character assessment can be reduced to a single score, nor that there is some magic test that will inform parents about the behaviors of their children. Character development may never have the equivalent of its own  standardized tests, nor should it. Assessing character requires a different evaluation paradigm.

Third, there is a difference between scientific research and applied action research. Both have different purposes and different methodologies. Researchers call for designs and techniques that are generally not applicable to the confines of a single school, the talents of the school’s clientele, nor the desires of the school’s constituents.

Practitioners do not have the interest, the time, the skills, nor the resources to conduct basic, scientific research. But practitioners should and do engage in action research.  In reality, what teachers, principals, students, and parents want to know is the answer to a basic question: “Are our character education initiatives meeting our goals and expectations?” Or to put it another way, “Is there a pay-off in what we are trying to do to foster the character of our students in this school?”

My fourth bias is that good things happen to school-site personnel when they come together  for any reason  but particularly to assess their school’s character education initiatives. It is captured in the banner, “collaborate to evaluate.” As one authority noted: “Not only does teamwork bring to the auditing process a range of talents and capabilities, but it also is an effective form of staff development providing both ‘social and psyychological’ satisfactions of collective effort.”  My experiences suggest that involving school personnel and stakeholders in assessing their own character education initiatives enhances relationships, creates ownership, develops a community of learners, and empowers all stakeholders.

My  fifth bias is my respect and appreciation for testimonials, both award and personal.  Award testimonials occur when schools and its clientele receive awards and recognition for their practices, programs, and accomplishments. Personal  testimonials are reports from school stakeholders (school leaders, students, parents, community members) about their school’s  character education program efforts. This data, gathered by focus groups, interviews, surveys, and observations reveal interesting and useful perceptions of  what is working, what is not, and how improvements can and should be implemented.

I think the Character Education Partnership (CEP) captures most of my assessment biases when they report: “ Schools that are infusing character education into their curricula and cultures, such as CEP’s National Schools of Character, are finding improved academic achievement, behavior, school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement. They are seeing dramatic transformations; pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, respect, and compassion are replacing negative behaviors such as violence, disrespect, apathy, and underachievement. When you walk into a character education school – you know it. You find an atmosphere of mutual caring and respect, where students value learning and care about their teachers, classmates, communities, and themselves.” (www.character.org.)

Blog Post: The Skills Game…

The skills game: Who’s on first? What’s on second? How’s on third!
By Ed DeRoche

An unofficial, non-scientific poll conducted while watching a World Series game revealed that attendees were in a state of confusion about skill development in schools.

Yes, they had heard about the SCAN’s Report, about “soft skills,” and currently popular 21st-century skills. Some educators at the party recognized the names of Bloom and Goldman. The group acknowledged “heard about” was not the same as “know about.” By the seventh inning, they rebelled against continuing the discussion and expressed more interest in the drinks, snacks and the last three innings.

When the party was over and it was time to call it a day, I drove home happy that the Red Sox won and with an idea for my November blog.

Several years ago, Bloom’s Taxonomy was the “go to” for thinking skills. Then came the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) by the Secretary of Labor. The report illustrated the need for employee skills in three general areas; basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, math, listening, speaking); thinking skills (e.g., thinking creatively, making decisions, solving problems, reasoning); and personal qualities (e.g., responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, honesty).
Like the SCANS findings, recent employee surveys show that employers are looking for certain qualities in employees such as listening and communication skills, adaptability, creative thinking, problem-solving skills, goal setting, and competence in reading, writing and computation. It has been reported that 85% of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, hit a homerun with his books “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ and Working with Emotional Intelligence.” He revealed data from studies in more than 500 organizations that proved factors such as self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, commitment and integrity not only create more successful employees, but also more successful companies.
Fortune 500 companies report five top qualities they seek in employees that are directly related to Goleman’s findings: teamwork, problem solving, interpersonal skills, oral communication and listening.

In discussing emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites Peter Salovey, a Yale professor who categorized components of emotional and social skills into five areas: knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships.
Business people are talking and writing about “soft skills.” Shari Caudron in an article titled The Hard Case for Soft Skills, says: “Like it or not, emotions are an intrinsic part of our biological makeup, and every morning they march into the office (and our schools and classrooms) with us and influence our behavior … The ability to understand, monitor, manage and capitalize on our emotions can help us make better decisions, cope with setbacks and interact with others more effectively … Executives are starting to talk about the importance of such things as trust, confidence, empathy, adaptability and self-control.” In the education profession, we call this character education.

Our skills-scorecard now includes 21st-century skills. There are four: Ways of Thinking (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning); Ways of Working (communication and collaboration); Tools for Working (information and communications technology and information literacy; and Skills for Living (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility). Two skills, according to the team managers, that cut across all four categories are “collaborative problem solving” and “learning in digital networks.”

I think it is fair to say that there are enough skills in the ballgame to fill four or more scorecards. So, how are we/you going to play the skills game?

Blog Post: Character Education Standards

Six Character Education Standards in Search of an Audience
By Ed DeRoche

As you probably know, the Character Education Partnership publishes the eleven principles of effective character education and uses them for identifying schools that qualify for state and national awards (www.character.org).    Based on research and award-winning school practices, we created six standards with quality indicators to help define factors that should be present in a school with an exemplary character education program. Space does not permit a listing of all quality indicators; one example is shown for each standard.

Standard One:
 Mission-Core Values- Goals
Exemplary character education programs have a clear set of core values/virtues, including a mission statement and specific goals that are shared, used, and assessed. 
  • Describe the process that the school’s stakeholders experienced in creating the character education programs core values mission, goals, and expectations.
Standard Two: School Culture   
Exemplary character education programs address a school’s culture and its effectiveness to provide a safe environment, character development, community involvement, and student achievement.
“The National School Climate Council concludes that a positive school climate fosters youth development and learning…(that) includes norms, values, and expectations that support people’s feelings socially, emotionally and physically….”
– R.Sojourner, Character Education Partnership, p.5
  • Describe how school personnel promote and model the mission and core values and ensure a psychologically safe and caring school environment which contributes to a positive school culture.
Standard Three:  Value Formation-Moral Action
Exemplary character education programs nurture and foster students’ interpersonal values (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes in a wide range of situations and activities); intrapersonal values (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes toward others, especially as expressed in relation to family, peers, teachers, and persons in the student’s immediate social environment: and civic virtues (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes toward the community and society).
  • Describe how character development foster students’ self-motivation, self-awareness,social and emotional skills, and ethical problem-solving and decision-making.
Standard Four: Staff Development
Exemplary character education initiatives include professional development training, workshops, seminar, etc. for developing, implementing, and assessing character-building factors such as:  interactive teaching strategies, direct teaching strategies, modeling/mentoring, classroom or behavior management methods, school-wide activities, community service/service learning, and curriculum and programs.
  • Describe the time, resources, and plans that help stakeholders engage in consistent self- and team- development opportunities.  
Standard Five: Curriculum-Programs-Partnerships 
Exemplary character education efforts focus on “integrating character education into the full spectrum of school activities and school life through such means as (a) involvement across curricular topics, discipline practices, after-school activities, and other such school functions; (b) participation by teachers, principals, school staff, parents, and especially students in program design and implementation; and (c) multiple approaches to teaching character (e.g., instruction, modeling, special events, community service, experiential learning).” Institute of Education SciencesWhat Works ClearinghouseU.S. Department of Education
  • Describe how character education is integrated throughout the curriculum and at all grade levels. Specifically, describe how character education is infused in the general curriculum, includes separate units of study and programs; how they are infused throughout the curriculum? How are they addressed in other content areas? 
Standard Six: Assessment/Evaluation
Effective character education programs and initiatives are assessed on a regular basis and school personnel and others use data-driven information to make informed changes and decisions.
  • Describe specific findings and results from assessment efforts that inform stakeholders and others about “what’s working” with regard to such factors as school culture, classroom climate, students’ pro-social and at-risk behaviors, discipline referrals, absentee rates, etc.
For a copy of the Center’s standards listing all “quality indictors,” email us at character@sandiego.edu.

Blog Post: Sense of Humor

Starting the School Year with A Sense of Humor
By Ed DeRoche

Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. — 
George Bernard Shaw, 
playwright and Nobel Prize winnerTo get ideas for a blog on how new and veteran teachers can successfully prepare for a new school year, I spent an hour on the Internet and discovered a rich source of advice and suggestions for teachers. The range of information includes ideas on how to arrange your classroom, 50 ways of getting through the first week and 101 ways for handling stress throughout the school year.So, what is left for me to say? Very little, except some personal observations for what they are worth and maybe a smile or two because I’ve touched on experiences that you have had or heard about. I begin with a reminder. Your students have had three months off. That means they have lost three months of learning, and some people may blame you for this loss.

By now you may have spent some of your own money on school supplies and your own non-paid time getting your classroom ready — arranging the desks, adding decorations, finding out if the equipment works, hanging posters, counting textbooks, and enjoying the quietness of preparation. You probably have the photocopying machine humming because you know — or have heard — that the best way to quiet a classroom of unfocused, talkative students is to give them a packet of worksheets.

You also know that during that first week of school you have to over plan because when kids have nothing to do, things happen. Some educational specialist will tell you to greet each student  — shake hands, maybe give a hug or two (Careful here. Check the school policy on hugging), and look them straight in the eye when doing this.

The experts also suggest that you to get to know your students names as soon as possible — no nicknames until the second semester. All agree that you must review your classroom rules as soon as possible, generally the first hour. It’s best to post them. Kids have a tendency to forget “rules” at school and at home. The experts also suggest that you  “get to it,” start teaching content, impress the students with your knowledge and make it look like they might learn something.

Some specialists recommend that you send a letter or email to parents during the first week of school There are all kinds of sample letters on the Internet so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Be sure to tell the parents how much you look forward to teaching their son/daughter this year. The rule is that you have to tell parents this tale even though you don’t know their child, yet, or you have had less than positive reports about their child from another teacher.

Another big thing, from what I read, is your statement of “expectations.” If my kids were in your class, I would warn you not to expect too much. I wouldn’t want to contribute to your frustrations without a warning. In your communication with parents it would be best to also talk about behavior, homework and how you grade. Now, this is really important. Your letter or email to parents should require them to sign a “contract.” I checked with a lawyer; it doesn’t mean much, but it is symbolic. My question: What happens to parents who refuse to sign the contract?

I was once told that it is a good idea to end a blog with bullet points. Here are a few:

  • Do not go into the teachers’ room during the first month. You may hear things that will destroy your enthusiasm for teaching the rest of the year.
  • Develop a sense of humor –quickly. Your students’ behaviors will contribute to this. Humor is going to help you stay healthy mentally.
  • In many cases, teaching can be and often is stressful. There are days when you will be angry, frustrated, anxious, and emotional. Do something about it. Take a break, write about your feelings in a journal, go to the movies, the theater, etc. Most importantly, do something physical, try yoga, take a long walk, jog, or work in your yard. Also, be flexible, set your own comfortable pace/schedule, and work on developing a positive attitude about things.
  • Teaching can be a lonely experience. Don’t let it be. Collaborate! Cooperate! Be a leader and team player! Get involved in school and community activities. Take a professional development course. Also, go online, there are a number of teacher blogs and forums that offer advice for dealing with stress, for invigorating your teaching, and for inspiring you to keep going. A positive relationship is to your mental health as location is to real estate.

Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.

Blog Post: Common Core

Character: The True Common Core
By Ed DeRoche

Politicians, the press, the public, and most educators are excited about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), and, of course, the ever present thrust for more testing. Many believe the new common core state standards and education incentive programs such as “Race to the Top” are the panacea for saving our young from the embarrassment of not being among the top scorers in the international testing race to the top in reading, math, and science.We may need to enter a “moral-ethical” race, as well. Consider a few character-related questions: Do we really believe that children are born “morally literate?” (No)  Do we believe that the young need to be taught to be moral (knowing the difference between right and wrong) and ethical (doing what is right) at home, in school, and in the community? (Yes) Do we want our children to be good, caring, empathetic human beings? (Yes) Do we want to help them develop positive social and emotional skills? (Yes) Do we let this happen by chance? (No) If you agree with the answers, what do we do? We help the young learn how to be successful in school, society, and in life—the “new century skills.”

In California, we should be promoting a “balance” between helping our young to be both smart and good. The California Education Code Section 233.5(a) lays the groundwork for this:

Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government. Each teacher is also encouraged to create and foster an environment that encourages pupils to realize their full potential and that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, in order to prevent acts of hate violence….

Since 1995, the Character Development Center (CDC) has been making a difference by helping educators, parents, youth agencies personnel, and students learn, teach, and practice the positive habits of good character, citizenship, and social-emotional skills.  We promote 10 BADGES OF CHARACTER: RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, COMPASSION, COURAGE, PERSEVERANCE, TRUST, HONESTY, GRATITUDE, SELF-DISCIPLINE, and AND CITIZENSHIP.

From the CDC site one may download 8 x 11 posters of each of the 10 badges of character.  Each poster has a definition of the character trait along with a quote.  The CDC site is full of recommendations for educators, administrators, and parents describing how to integrate the “ true core standards” at home, in school, and in the community http://charactermatters.sandiego.edu and http://usdcharacter.blogspot.com/

One important point here is that attending to the character development of students in our schools supports academic achievement and social-emotional skill development. A few examples:

Character and citizenship are the critical elements of a positive school culture and climate.” Elias, 2008, p.31

Character education positively influences academic achievement; and has a broad impact on a wide variety of psycho-social outcomes, including sexual behavior, problem-solving skills, relationships and attachment to school.Berkowitz and Bier (2005)

Integrated character education resulted in an improved school environment, increased student pro-social and moral behavior, and increased reading and math test scores.  In addition, schools became more caring communities, discipline referrals dropped significantly—particularly in areas related to bullying behavior—and test scores in moderately achieving schools increased nearly 50%. Marshall, Caldwell, and Foster (2011)

Compared with their peers (in strictly academic programs), participating students also significantly improved on five key nonacademic measures: They demonstrated greater social skills, less emotional distress and better attitudes, fewer conduct problems such as bullying and suspensions, and more-frequent positive behaviors, such as cooperation and help for other students. Also, the effects continued at least six months…. Education Week1-25-12

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell asks:  Is our only objective to get students ready for success in the workforce? Do we not also have a responsibility to prepare students to be active and engaged citizens? Don’t we want our next generation to be caring neighbors, effective parents, and strong role models for the generation after theirs? Aren’t we obligated to provide them with the skills they need to successfully pursue and achieve happiness and joy in their lives? I think we are, and I believe technological change and the global economy make it more important than ever that we focus on these things” (the true common core).

News: Medal of Honor Presentation

Medal of Honor Presentation

Ed DeRoche addresses seminar attendees

Ed DeRoche addresses seminar attendees

We had our own July 4th celebration when the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s staff and two experienced California teachers provided pre-conference seminar attendees with a one-day training program. They focused on “lessons of personal bravery and self-sacrifice” as “a teaching resource designed by teachers to provide students with opportunities to explore” virtues such as courage, patriotism, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, and citizenship.

Forty attendees were thrilled to meet, in person, Jay Vargas, a Medal of Honor recipient, and receive the Foundation’s excellent and comprehensive instructional kit of resources, lessons, DVDs and black-line masters. http://www.cmohedu.org/about_us.aspx

I want to share some representative observations from attendees, which I have edited.

I really felt a connection to the importance of service to others and how character truly counts; it was powerful and meaningful.

Learning about the value of character education has made me determined to add

Jay Vargas, Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient

Jay Vargas, Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient

character education into my classroom’s curriculum. Our nation was founded on the values that exist in service and this should not be forgotten. I feel very humbled to know about several Medal of Honor recipients and their stories, and that they were willing to open up, and at moments be vulnerable in order to share the love, selflessness, respect, and determination that have for their country and friends.

I found the vignettes to be informative and thought provoking: perfect material for my future world history classroom. Beyond the reminders of the costs of war, the seminar encouraged me to reflect on the importance of service to others. I believe that this is truly an important life perspective to cultivate in our students and ourselves.

One of the important things I took from this program, which I think is a good lesson for students also, is that you don’t necessarily need to be special to do something great. The message that I kept getting from the different men in the videos was that they did not think they did anything great or deserved all this attention and honor, they were just doing what they thought was the right thing to do. This is a powerful message because I think it can encourage students to choose to create values and beliefs of what is right.

From this seminar, one thing that I learned and found special was that I went home with a new meaning and awareness of what it means to be selfless and to sacrifice.As an elementary school teacher, I feel that this program would be extremely beneficial especially to the upper grades (i.e. grades 4-6) because it teaches students about the greater good and serving others before oneself. Learning about these qualities that the Medal of Honor recipients possess allows for thought provoking discussions and sharing of experiences.

Character education is something that I am extremely passionate about and will be intertwined throughout all aspects of my future classroom community. In certain classroom environments (potentially upper-elementary through high school), the Medal of Honor Curriculum would be a fabulous way to integrate character education with the study of wartime history.

The seminar provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the character traits of commitment, courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, and integrity as a person and educator.

As I see it, teachers should use the MOH resources and virtues/traits as a framework to introduce students to the characteristics and stories of heroes and heroines in many fields and professions. Teachers might retain the “medal” theme offering students units and lessons about the “Presidential Medal of Freedom,” the “Presidential Citizens Medal,” the “Liberty Medal” and the “Nobel Peace Prize,” to name a few.

What we are really talking about here is offering young people positive role models that may influence them in their studies, their relations, their behaviors, and their careers.