Category Archives: Blog Post

All About Character

October 2018 Blog
By Edward F. DeRoche, Ph.D.

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.

Most of us know that knowledge keeps no better than fish—use it or lose it. But the one thing that we carry with us for a lifetime is our “character.”

Recent polls of public attitudes toward schools show that Americans want schools to prepare the young to be academically competent, and career ready. But they want more.

The public is urging educators and others to help children and youth develop character strengths such as kindness, gratitude, self-control, social skills, teamwork, diligence, perseverance, strong work ethic, positive attitudes, ingenuity, integrity, justice, caring, respect, and responsibility—all of which are learned.

What do we know about character? We know that:

• Character is learned—taught to the young by the entertainment industry, the media, the Internet, the environment they live in, their peers and role models, and hopefully by parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions.

• Character is about strengths and virtues that guide an individual “to act in an ethical, pro-social manner.”

• Character is about choices—the ones we make daily (good or bad, ethical or unethical). It is about decision-making—the circumstances, the risks, the chances, the consequences, and the rewards.

• Character is about relationships and social skills—skills such as sharing, participating, following directions, and listening. It is learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to appreciate others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

  • Character is about “emotional” self-discipline.
  • Character is who you are when no one is looking, or when everyone is looking.

What, then, is character education? Let’s use the U.S Department of Education’s definition:

Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.

In schools, character education must be approached comprehensively to include the emotional, intellectual and moral qualities of a person or group. It must offer multiple opportunities for students to learn about, discuss and enact positive social behaviors. Student leadership and involvement are essential for character education to become a part of a student’s beliefs and actions.

The most frequently asked question—the one I get most from educators and parents—what’s the payoff?

One, a commitment to making character education an integral part of the education process will increase students’ academic achievement. For example, among middle-school students, the character strengths of perseverance, love, gratitude, hope, and perspective, predict academic achievement.

Two, character education in schools has a broad impact on students’ pro-social and moral behaviors by developing their problem-solving skills, building positive peer relationships, enhancing their self- esteem, improving their interpersonal skills, and strengthening their ability at self-regulation (control).

A third “pay-off”—an effective character education program shows that the school will become a more caring community, that discipline referrals will drop, that quality of peer and adult relationships will improve, and that students’ will make a greater commitment to schooling and academic achievement.

Professors Tom Hierck and Kent Peterson (University of Wisconsin- Madison) found that there are 19 student and staff behaviors that contribute to a positive school climate.

Showing pride in school Collaboration
Kindness
Taking pride in one’s work Leadership
Helping others
Using time wisely
Being prepared
Love of learning
Making good choices
Active listening Cooperation
Using appropriate communication
Caring
Self-reliance Perseverance/resilience
Making an insightful comment Organization
Going above and beyond

Take note of how many of these behaviors are character-related.

Starting Your School Year with a Sense of Humor 

August 2018 Blog By Ed DeRoche

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.  The curriculum is so much necessary raw mater, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant for for the soul of the child.” — Carl Jung

To 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, and look them straight in the eye when doing this. Maybe give a hug or two (careful here, check the school policy on hugging). 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 within 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: Stop thinking of what could go wrong and start thinking of what could go right.  

Here is something you might consider. I just heard a speaker who talked about having his children sign a “contract” with him and their mother about the use of media in their home—what is expected, what they can and cannot do, how much time they can spend on their media devices. This might be a good idea for you. Develop a “contract” (or call it an “agreement”) in which you list your expectations for the students in your class. Invite parents to do the same—invite them to send you information about their expectations. It might be interesting to get the students in on this idea as well by having them list their expectations. Thus, a three-way contract to be discussed and used as a guide for the school year. 

I was once told that it is a good idea to end a blog with bullet points, so 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 mentally healthy. 

• 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 and 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. 

Did You Know that KINDNESS is the “New Classy?”
By Ed DeRoche
July 2018 Blog

In June, I wrote a blog on “kindness” noting a few highlights from a new book written by Professor Thomas Lickona, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain. The blog set the stage for his presentation at our annual “Character Matters” conference in late June.

The weekend following the conference, I went to a bookstore and I discovered a book on the same topic titled Kind is the New Classy. It was written by Candace Cameron Bure (CCB). I bought the book.

I read the book as a teacher and parent would; that is, what could I take from this book on kindness that I might use in my home and classroom?

CCB’s book is faith-based. She reveals a strong belief in God (example: “Go to God First,” p.73). She uses quotes from Scripture to underscore her views and comments about “kindness.” She writes that the secret she has learned is that “kindness is classy, unexpected, even counter- cultural, and ultimately wins the day.”

In the book’s introduction, titled “The Real Secret of Classy Women,” she writes: “I believe our world is in need of more women who value the virtue of kindness….In this book, we will talk about character traits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self- control) I believe make women truly remarkable…it simply takes choice and lifelong practice.”

I liked the way CCB framed each of her 10 chapter titles.

1. Finding Your “Why”– Kindness knows its purpose
2. Grace under Fire – Kindness keeps its cool even in hot topics
3. Kindness, Please – Kindness recognizes the image of God in all people
4. Dream Big, Pray Harder – Kindness gets ambitious for the good of others
5. Bad Hair Days and Bad Heart Days – Kindness practices healthy self-care
6. The Gift of Self-Control – Kindness takes responsibility for its choices and actions
7. Come On In – Kindness opens its door 
and life to others
8. Graciously Bold – Kindness steps forward in confidence for what’s right
9. My Best Friendship Advice – Kindness works to cultivate meaningful relationships
10. Sending Out the Bat-Signal – Kindness starts small and trusts every action matters

Each chapter tells the why and how through stories, quotes, and examples. She concludes each chapter with an invitation called “Your Turn.”

Here are a few excerpts from the book that caught my attention.

• Manners Matter – “Good manners are about putting others’ needs first, before your own.”

• Kindness “sends out chemical shock waves. It increases our mental, emotional, and physical energy, helping us to combat negative forces like anxiety and high blood pressure.”

• “Kindness, compassion, and empathy are values we can all get behind regardless of whether we agree on every issue.”

• CCB’s chapter on “self-control” is instructive. “It is a gift,” she writes, that “God has given me, and my job is to use it.”

• She notes three areas in which to use the gift of self-control: “our bodies, our minds, and our souls.”

• She reminds us that “the only thing you can truly control is your own behavior.”

• One last gem that caught my attention has to do with her six characteristics for choosing our friends. “I want friends,” she writes, “who are kind, strong, loyal, gentle, encouraging, and principled.”

Kind is the New Classy and it should be. CCB tells us why and how. She discusses character traits such as peace, goodness, faithfulness, and empathy. She reminds us of the importance of self-control, manners, and friendships.

My “kind” advice as a parent and teacher: Buy the book! Read it! Use it! Share it!

As Forrest Gump might say it: “Kindness is, what kindness does.” It is about caring and respecting. What it does benefits givers and receivers.

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES

The Skill of Question-Asking

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question; I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”  —A. Einstein

Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Does question-asking apply to the teaching and learning of positive character strengths and ethical decision-making?
  2. What resources could help you and your students appreciate the importance of developing question-asking skills?

The answer to the first question is “yes” and here is one reason.

The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICE and the other for CONSEQUENCES. Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES.  It happens by CHOICES.  There is another very important “C” that should be considered – CONSCIENCE.

If character is necessary to inform our “choices” and “consequences,” (conscience) then children and youth need to learn and practice the skills of question asking.

In his paper “The Art and Architecture of Powerful Questions,” Eric Vogt reminds us that:

  • Questions are a prerequisite to learning.
  • Questions are a window into creativity and insight. 
  • Questions motivate fresh thinking.
  • Questions challenge outdated assumptions.
  • Questions lead us to the future.

http://www.javeriana.edu.co/decisiones/PowerfulQuestions.PDF

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.”  Robert Half

Here are four teaching suggestions that help answer the second question.

  1. Give Me Five: 5-W’s & the H
    • This strategy is applicable for deconstructing subject matter content, current events, and relationships.  A relationship example:
      • There is a fight on the playground.  Five students are involved and are sent to the office (which means the principal or her delegate has to deal with the problem.)  They are given a GMF sheet with a diagram of an open hand, each finger has question on it, and so does the palm.  The five students are separated, given the sheet, and told to write about the incident:
        • Who was involved? (thumb question)
        • Where? (finger question)
        • When? (finger question)
        • What happened? (finger question)
        • Why? (finger question)
        • How? (Resolution) (palm question)

The students have 10-15 minutes to complete the GMF sheet.  They return to the office for a “debriefing” to discuss the first five questions.  Then the How question:  “How are the five of you going to solve this problem?”  “What’s the solution and the consequences?”

Palm Question Thumbnail

  1. KAACCE – Bloom’s Taxonomy : Have your students memorize this acronym KAACSE (pronounce is as Kay-Sea) and what each letter means:
    • Knowledge – questions that have students list, define, tell, label, show, name, relate, recall
    • Comprehension – questions that compare, contrast, explain, rephrase, classify, interpret, outline, infer
    • Application – questions that solve, select, plan, choose, construct, experiment, organize, build
    • Analysis – questions that separate, compare, contrast, dissect, examine, infer, simplify, test for
    • Synthesis – questions create, construct, combine, design, adapt, modify, predict, and improve
    • Evaluation –questions that judge, criticize, conclude, assess, appraise, estimate, deduct, prove/disprove
  1. Teach your students Arthur Costa’s Levels of Questioning.  http://mrkash.com/costa.html
Level One
Defining Describing
Identifying Listing
Naming Observing
Reciting Scanning
Level Two
Analyzing Comparing
Contrasting Grouping
Inferring Sequencing
Synthesizing
Level Three
Applying a principle Evaluating
Hypothesizing Imagining
Judging Predicting
Speculating

 

  1. The staff at the “Right Question Institute” recommends that teachers use a 6-step process called the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), summarized as follows:
    1. Teachers design a question focus
    2. Students produce questions
    3. Students improve their questions
    4. Students prioritize their questions
    5. Students and teachers decide on next steps
    6. Students reflect on what they have learned

“Teaching this skill in every classroom can help successful students to go deeper in their thinking and encourage struggling students to develop a new thirst for learning.”  http://rightquestion.org/education/

You will discover that question–asking is teachable, easily modeled, relevant to the Common Core Standards, applicable to 21st Century skills, and a life-long skill effective in gathering and processing information, solving problems, and making decisions (hopefully ethical ones) both professionally and personally.

To conclude – a few questions for you:

  • Why did you read this blog?
  • What did you learn?
  • How does this help you with the Cs in question one?
  • How can you use the information in your classroom with your students?

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.”  — Richard Saul Wurman

Peace Education

“If we are to reach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the children.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Happy New Year!

Let’s talk about peace education, another program that is found under the “Character Education Umbrella.”

Peace education programs encompass the virtues that underscore good character and citizenship.  The objectives are to help:

  • students learn alternatives to violence, and adults and students to create a school and home environment that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors;
  • students learn skills including identifying bias, problem solving, sharing and co-operation, shared decision-making, analysis and critical thinking;
  • enhance students self esteem enabling them to imagine life beyond the present;
  • the young recognize and express their feelings in ways that are not aggressive or destructive; using conflict resolution strategies, being empathic and engaging in nonviolent action in relation to problems both personal and societal; and
  • students understand the nature of violence, examine the causes of conflict, stress the benefits of non-violence, and how to handle conflict.

Rhonda Jeffries and Ian Harris note that peace education efforts improves school climate, address the acts of violence in a student’s school and community, and helps create a school and home atmosphere that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors. The authors report that peace education efforts help students learn alternatives to violence, nurture in students the seeds of compassion rather than hatred, competition, and revenge.

(“Cooling the Climate Using Peace Education in an Urban Middle School,” Middle School Journal, November 1998.)

Here is useful framework for program implementation:

Seven Phases of Planning a Peaceable School

Phase        Activity                                    Question

  1.             Develop a focus                     What is a peaceable school?
  2.             Specify needs                         What are the concerns?
  3.             Reaffirm commitment          Why should we take action?
  4.             Identify principles                  What do we want to do?
  5.             Design a model                      How do we get there?
  6.             Select an approach                What strategies do we use?
  7.             Implement plan                      Are we ready to get started?

I would add a Phase 8:  Evaluate progress / What happened after you implemented the plan?

A typical peace education curriculum and its instructional strategies focus on conflict resolution and problem solving that are personal, community, national, and global.  The intent is to offer students alternatives to violence, and assist both adults and students to create school and home environments that are peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors.

Some strategies used by teachers and other school personnel include:

  • peer mediation programs,
  • posters,
  • encouraging students to assume leadership roles, using special teachable moments,
  • keeping the peace message before all school personnel,
  • creating ways of teaching peace in subject matter areas with units and,
  • lessons that incorporate peace themes.

“Peace is woven into the day-to-day fabric of school life primarily through instructional methods such as cooperative learning and constructive controversy and conflict resolution programs such as ‘Teaching Students to Be Peacemakers.’ Through developing and maintaining peaceful relations with diverse schoolmates, students actually experience what they need to establish in society as a whole once they become adults.” (Johnson and Johnson, 2006).

“The pedagogy used in peace education is cooperative, participatory and active, including case-studies, storytelling, role-plays, empathy activities, negotiation and mediation practice, journaling, reflection circles, and alternative futures exercises. The learning objective of peace education aims to transform conflict through dialogue and nonviolence, and particularly where peace education affects youth conflict is transformed across generations.” (Kevin Kester, 2008)

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…..”  Martin Luther King, Jr. (Remembrance: 1-19-2015) 

Readers interested in a list of web sites about peace education are invited to send an email to character @sandiego.edu.

The Court of Virtues

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” 

– Melody Beattie, Author

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology and author of the book THANKS! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, states that gratitude is the “queen of the virtues.”  That being the case, the “king” of virtues has to be empathy (see February 2013 blog).

The “king” and “queen” oversee a “court of virtues,” such as respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, perseverance, citizenship, self-discipline, gratitude, honesty, trust, and empathy.

We should include in the “courtyard” Martin Seligman’s “character strengths” list:

  1. Wisdom and knowledge (creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective)
  2. Courage (bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality)
  3. Humanity (love, kindness, social-emotional intelligence)
  4. Justice (social responsibility, citizenship)
  5. Temperance (forgiveness and mercy, humility/modesty, self regulation)
  6. Transcendence (gratitude, hope, humor)

Our homes, schools, communities, and society, should be fostering and promoting these character strengths and virtues among the young; one might make a case for adults as well.

Let’s focus on the “queen and king” –gratitude and empathy.

Emmons defines gratitude “as affirming a benefit and giving credit to others for that benefit.  In other words, gratitude, when properly understood, leads to an active appreciation of others.”

An article appeared in our local newspaper last month authored by Erinn Hutkin and titled “Gratitude has Positive Effects on Health.”  The article’s sub-head highlights the point: “Counting one’s blessings leads to greater well-being and optimism.”  Several studies demonstrate relationships between gratitude and physical health.  Why?  Say the researchers, because of the “positive emotions that it fosters, the influence it has on relationships, and at the ‘heart of joy’.”

What can be said about empathy?  I like the way a Teacher of the Year from South Carolina described it:

Who am I? What have I done to become Teacher of the Year?  I am an empathetic teacher who tries to stand in my students’ shoes.  I teach my students to stand in each other’s shoes.  I practice the teaching of empathy.  This is my greatest achievement, my greatest contribution to public education and to my world.

Another educator says:

Empathy starts with putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – a key step in understanding perspectives that differ from your own. This isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s an essential, active skill.  It’s foundational to embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective, conducting richer and deeper analysis, and communicating more effectively. This skill is about as 21st Century as we can get.

“Empathy helps us improve the lives of others, as well as our own”, say a leadership expert.

Two questions:

How do we teach our young (and ourselves for that matter) to learn, practice, and demonstrate what it means to be grateful, to be empathic, to be trustworthy?

How do we get our kids into the “courtyard of virtues” and out of the mire offered by the media, the Internet, video games, and other sources that degrade, destroy, denigrate, defeat and entice the young to leave the “courtyard of virtues?”

We start by teaching them, at a very early age and continue during their formative years, the behaviors that are encompassed in each virtue by having moral conversations at home and at school.  We can serve as role models; engage them in reading and writing about characters in literature and in today’s media.  We react/redirect when they leave the “courtyard.”  We give them a voice, we encourage them to be of service to one another and others, and we hold them accountable.

Michele Borba, internationally known speaker and authority on parenting, would answer the “how” question by suggesting five steps to teach youth specific character strengths/virtues.

  1. Accentuate a character trait.
  2. Tell the value and meaning of the trait.
  3. Teach what the trait looks like and sounds like.
  4. Provide opportunities to practice the trait.
  5. Provide effective feedback.

 

Two resources for teachers and others

 

On gratitude:

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude) offers several video presentation on the this topic including “making gratitude viral,” “cultivating gratitude in the workplace,“ “how can we cultivate gratitude in schools,” and “how parents can foster gratitude in kids.”

On empathy:

Suggest a reading of Lee Child’s book, 61 HOURS, which notes that teachers and parents need to learn that “empathy is the key.”  It helps adults think like their children do, see what they see, feel what they feel, understand their motives, circumstances, goals, aims, fears, and their needs.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Empathy_vs_Sympathy

http://rootsofempathy.org

http://www.reference.com/motif/education/empathy-building-activities-for-teens

Past blogs: http://sites.sandiego.edu/character/

Email: character@sandiego.edu

The Character Umbrella

Remember the dance scene in “Signing in the Rain?”  Gene Kelly dancing and while holding an umbrella?

Fast forward to last October.  The “taking it to the streets” protests in Hong Kong called by the media “The Umbrella Revolution.“

In 2008, NPR (www.NPRinc.com) published a six-page laminated character card that explained among other things the “character umbrella metaphor.”

Here’s how Wikipedia explains the metaphor:

Character education is an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, good, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, traditional, compliant or socially acceptable beings.  Concepts that now and in the past have fallen under this term include social and emotional learning, moral reasoning and cognitive development, life skills education, health education, violence prevention, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and conflict resolution and mediation…. Today, there are dozens of character education programs in, and vying for adoption by, schools and businesses.  Some are commercial, some non-profit and many are uniquely devised by states, districts and schools, themselves.

Over the years more and more character-related programs have been embraced under the “character umbrella” by schools and communities. Here are a few:

Character strengths (values, virtues, traits)

Performance character

Moral character

Social skills

Emotional intelligence

Service learning

Extra-curricular programs

After-school programs

Intervention programs, such as

Bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs

Anti-social behavior programs

Behavior management programs

Conflict resolution programs

Discipline programs

Commercial and non-profit character education programs can also be found under the “umbrella.”  Programs like:

Project Wisdom

Character Counts

Peace Education

The Virtues Project

Wise Skills

Project ACHIEVE

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

The Leader in Me

Schools have many opportunities to address the character development of students as noted on the programmatic sketch above.  Many schools have combination of programs sometimes captured under the “values-a-month” framework.

The evidence is clear; school personnel can contribute to the character strengths and positive behaviors of students.

There are a few additional things under the “umbrella” that schools and school districts should be doing to promote character education.  These include professional development opportunities, ensuring programs have the needed resources, and attending to the need for ongoing assessment.

What’s under your school’s character education umbrella?

  • Does it contribute to students’ character strengths, positive behaviors, and academic achievement?
  • In other words, is it working?
  • How do you know?

The U.S. Department of Education describes the “umbrella” metaphor as follows.

Character education is an inclusive term embracing all aspects of    how schools, related social institutions and parents can support the positive character development of children and adults…. Relevant virtues include honesty, justice and fairness, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, altruism, patience, perseverance, appreciation of diversity, and courage…. For a school to foster character development, it must provide a positive social environment characterized by leadership; collegiality; a learning orientation among faculty; and ties among school, home, and   community.  Finally, practicing the virtues of civic engagement,   civility, and citizenship and embracing the values of democracy are necessary for developing character in both the child and the        community.” (Mobilizing for Evidence-Based Character Education, U.S. Department of Education, 2007)

My PTA Talk

HK called. He’s a middle school principal.

“Ed, I need a favor. The speaker for our parent-teacher meeting had to cancel. Can you come over next Tuesday and speak to them for about twenty minutes?”

“On what?” I asked.

“Oh, why don’t you say a few words about raising children to be people of good character?”

(Obviously, HK benefited from taking one of my character education courses—keep it short, get to the point.)

“Okay,” I responded, “twenty minutes should do it.”

He gave me all the particulars.

Tuesday, early evening. My talked followed their business meeting.

After the introductions, I began by telling the parents that I was the father of six kids. I noted that while my wife and I were raising them we had no training for parenthood, so we “winged” it.

I offered a few suggestions, acknowledging that none are fool-proof, most are common sense, and all will give them something to think about. (Note: I provided examples where I could, but these are not included in this blog.)

My first suggestion:

Tell your kids upfront that you are loving parents who want to offer them five family gifts: respect, responsibility, care, support, and safety.

My second suggestion:

Look at the character development of your children in this way: character, good or bad, are learned behaviors. The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICE and the other for CONSEQUENCES. Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES. It happens by CHOICE. If exercising builds strong muscles, then practicing the virtues of good character should build strong positive personal and social behaviors.

Third suggestion:

Use the language of character around the house everyday in all relationship matters. A few examples may help you:
⎯ Why are you teasing your sister?
⎯ How did you show respect in that situation?
⎯ Why is it his responsibility and not yours?
⎯ When am I going to be able to trust you?
⎯ Where are your manners?
⎯ Did you do your homework (responsibility)?

Notice the value of question-asking and the result—critically thinking about behavior. Ask questions. Question their answers to your questions. This technique highlights the fact that the answers to your questions offers them choices, and those choices offer opportunity for changing, and changes lead to possibilities. You get the idea!

Fourth suggestion:

As every parent knows our kids (and ourselves, at times) need skills to handle their emotions—sad, mad, bad, glad. So, my suggestion is to remind you that it is okay to get angry. Everybody does it. It is what your children and you do after being angry that counts.

Fifth suggestion:

Put this poster on your refrigerator, on a bulletin board, or in your child’s backpack:
The least important word: I
The most important word: WE
The two most important words: THANK YOU!
The three most important words: ALL IS FORGIVEN.
The four most important words: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?
The five most important words: YOU DID A GOOD JOB!
The six most important words: I WANT TO UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.
(From Relationships 101 by John Maxwell, 2009-values.com)

There are no magic formulas in raising children of good character. But there are people out there who have really solid ideas on how you can help your children be people of good character. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.

Google “how to raise children of good character”—lots of good information and resources!

Check out these books on Amazon.com:

Michelle Borba, Parents Do make A Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts

Robert Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child

Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Tom Lickona, Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues

Marvin Marshall, Discipline & Parenting Without Stress

Hal Urban, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter

deroche@sandiego.edu
CDC webpage: http://www.sandiego.edu/soles/centers-and-research/character-development-center/
Recent Posts: http://sites.sandiego.edu/character/

Back To school: It is what’s up front that counts!

School started this week.  Excitement reigns (or maybe not).

Schools and classrooms are a beehive of activity.  Books are distributed.  Bulletin boards decorated.  Rules posted.  Phones are ringing.  Texting and tweeting are rampant.  Tears and laughter shared.  Teachers worry about the kids they have been assigned.  Parents and kids have the same worry but in reverse.

Last year at this time I posted a blog noting that teachers needed a “sense of humor” to make it through the year.  Having a “sense of humor,” as you might guess, is not enough.  You can’t laugh your way towards being a successful teacher.

Social-emotional authorities offer additional suggestions about how to begin your new school year.

First, save the “get down to business” façade for another time.  Meet your new students, greet them, and welcome them in a festive and positive way.

Second, those who care share!  Let your students share their summer stories, something about themselves, and what they are looking forward to in this new school year.

Third, have students participate in establishing class rules – the do’s and don’ts, their choices and consequences, and the routines and responsibilities.

Fourth, encourage your students to use a personal journal to record three things they are taking away with them at the end of each school day.

And, fifth, involve the parents—they are your best hope for continuity and reinforcement of school and classroom messages.

(See the reference below for the full text and a video)

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions that you might want to share with your students and their parents.

  • “What is modeled is imitated.” – M. Borba
  • Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated (good and bad).
  • There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
  • “What we allow we teach; what we accept, they will do.” – M.Borba
  • The classroom is as much a social setting as it is an academic one.
  • Character is about second chances but only if you learn from your mistakes.
  • “If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.” – Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • Take the Pottery Barn Oath:  You break it, you own it.
  • “Negative attitudes drain, positive attitudes fuel.” – M. Marshall
  • “Relationships are to learning as location is to real estate.” – J. Comer
  • Tell them and they will forget; teach them and they may remember; involve them and they will learn.”  (Paraphrase of a Benjamin Franklin saying

Ronald Ferguson, a professor at Harvard University, has been studying effective teaching factors that make a difference in the classroom’s learning environment.  Let’s add his “Seven C’s” to our “What’s Up Front” suggestions.

  1. Caring – nurturing positive/productive relationships
  2. Controlling – creating behaviors that are cooperative and supported by peers
  3. Clarifying – make success seem feasible, help with confusion, promote understanding
  4. Challenging – press for effort, rigor, hard work, use of thinking skills
  5. Captivating – make learning interesting, relevant, capturing student  attention, eliminating boredom, don’t waste student time
  6. Conferring – take time for student feedback, respect their ideas, listen
  7. Consolidating – summarize, connect, integrate ideas and learning.

You are the one “up-front.”  Use these suggestions!  Keep your “sense of humor!”  Tape these on your desk, read them everyday, have a successful teaching year, and remember:

The best teacher is not necessarily the one who possesses the most knowledge, but the one who most effectively enables the students to believe in their ability to learn. – Norman Cousins

References

View:  90-second video on three key facts about emotions: http://www.6seconds.org/2013/04/10/three-essential-facts-about-feelings/

Read:  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-emotional-learning-tips-school-starts

deroche@sandiego.edu

Bad News (for) Boys

Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.– Bruce Lee

In March I wrote a blog titled “Non-fiction Reading and Character.” Seeking a topic for this month’s blog, I was struck by the reports about the San Diego Comic-Con International (showcasing comic books and science fiction/fantasy books among other pop culture genres), amused by attendees’ customs and behaviors, and informed by PBS’s program on “Superheroes” in comic books.

To use a summer-time metaphor, I started “surfing” the Internet in search of more information about boys and their reading interests, habits, and skills or lack thereof.

What we know:

“Girls are reading better than boys… and the pattern is giving girls a life-long advantage…. Boys are lagging behind girls on standardized reading tests in all 50 states…In Virginia and New Hampshire, middle school girls did better than boys in reading proficiency by 15 percentage points. In New York, girls were 13 percentage points ahead…The difference now is that boys are not catching up.”

What has been observed:

Columnist Michael Kimmel writes, “I think the social scientific evidence leads in a different direction. Boys’ underachievement is driven by masculinity – that is, what boys think it means to be a man is often at odds with succeeding in school. Stated most simply, many boys regard academic disengagement as a sign of their masculinity.”

What is happening:

Did you know that the Common Cores Standards might be slanting what one reads to more non-fiction than fictional materials? Might this help boys?

The new standards envision elementary students …reading equally from literature and informational text. By high school, literature should represent only 30 percent of their readings; 70 percent should be informational. The tilt reflects employers’ and college professors’ complaints that too many young people can’t analyze or synthesize information, or document arguments.

What we should admit:

“Houston, we have a problem.” I have no idea what teachers should do about it. But I suppose that the first step is to recognize that a problem does exist for some boys in your school. You have one month before school starts. It might be of interest to you, your colleagues at school, and parents to respond to a plea by Peter DeWitt (Education Week, January 7, 2013) and author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School:

“I challenge you: Put on a ‘boy perspective’ and take a hard look at your school – from the curriculum, to the décor, to the policies and procedures. What is turning boys off and tuning them out?”

My question:

If gender matters in school and it clearly does, does character matter and if so, why and how?
deroche@sandiego.edu, August 2014