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The “Kindness” Book

By Ed DeRoche

“Kindness” is one of the topics to be presented at the Character Matters Conference at the end of this month.

Last month, I received a copy of Thomas Lickona’s new book, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain (Penguin, 2018).

I’ve read it—twice. The book advises parents, teachers, and caregivers on everything they need to know about “kindness,” and about ten essential virtues that function as a “supporting cast” for kindness – wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and humility.

Lickona notes that his long career has focused on character education and teacher training. A long-time proponent of character education, one of his earliest books, Character Matters–Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility (Bantam, 1991), was a major resource when Professor Mary Williams and I started writing and speaking about the topic, and when creating the Center here at USD.

I want to focus this blog on what I see as the framework that Lickona uses to develop the “important principles and practices” that can guide parents, teachers, and caregivers in helping children and youth on the road to good character; that is, character, character education, and character coaches.

He suggests that there are two types of character—moral character and performance character. Moral character “inspires us to be good and performance character enable us to do good well.” He reminds us that the good side of one’s character consists of our virtues, our good habits, and that the bad side of character involves our bad habits. He notes that “in a very real sense, we become our habits. Our responsibility as parents and teachers is to help kids develop good habits…Character, good or bad, is composed of learned habits and behavior

The way I see it is that:
• The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICES 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.• CHOICE is influenced, most times by CIRCUMSTANCES and CULTURE.

Given today’s situations, we should underline Lickona’s observation that:

“Human behavior has always been influenced by the interaction of character and culture. Think of character as what’s on the inside—the capacities and dispositions that influence how we act and react. Culture is what’s on the outside—all of the factors in our environment…and then in any given situation, the outside influences bring out either the best or the worst of our character.”

“We know,” he says, “that good character involves knowing what’s right, and doing what’s right—and that doing is the hardest part. We become good by doing good.”

In regards to character education, Lickona writes schools that have effective character education initiatives ensure that students have voice (an opportunity to shape the culture of their school) and are engaged in “high quality” cooperative learning. Character education “trains the heart as well as the mind.” It helps children “not just to know that something is wrong, but to feel that it is wrong.”

From the perspective of character education, Lickona writes, every moment of the school day is a “character moment.” “To a large degree, our children create their character by the choices they make every day.”

Not in the book, but something that educators and the parents should know: Researchers at UC-Berkeley surveyed 400 students ages 12-14 in which they found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others [I am adding “kindness” here] showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.” Positive parent relationships was also associated with gratitude (and probably with many habits of the heart including “kindness”).

Lickona urges parents, teachers, and caregivers to become what he calls character coaches.

• Being a character coach means “teaching children character skills like self-control and kindness in very deliberate ways and then helping kids practice them again and again….”

• Becoming a character coach “means giving your child/children opportunities for moral action in family life (and I would say in schools as well) and…the toughest part…is doing so in the heat of the moment….

• Character coaches know that the “family is a child’s first school of virtue and that the qualities that make up good character…grow in a family culture.”

• “Character coaches do all they can to help children and to stay on the road to good character.”

Research, Lickona tells us, finds that children’s character development is best supported by “a stable and loving family environment where they teach respect for legitimate authority, where children are held accountable for their actions and behaviors [and] where children have meaningful responsibilities in family life.”

The book is filled with advice, examples, stories, research, and resources for home (parents/caregivers) and school (teachers/administrators). Here are a few – by the numbers:

  • 3 Ways that family meetings foster character development
  • 6 Principles that can guide our efforts to raise kind children
  • 15 Character-based tools and strategies for your discipline toolbox
  • 10 Tips for holding good family meetings (and I might add for good classroom meetings)
  • 7 Guidelines for children’s TV watching
  • 4 Steps to making good decisions
  • 10 Ways to teach and practice gratitude
  • 20 Questions using the “True-Love Character Test”

“Every child deserves a home and school where children and youth are learning to be smart and good.”

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

By Ed DeRoche

“Hard skills” are often thought of as the occupational skills necessary to complete the tangible elements of a job….”Soft skills” can be seen as the behavioral ways in which people go about their occupational tasks. Leadership requires a sophisticated approach to both. Brian Evje, Inc., Nov. 8, 2012

Those of you who read my monthly blogs know that I am enthusiastic about teaching students social skills, emotional skills, thinking skills, and positive character traits.

Over the past few years, business people have been talking and writing about the skill development of employees focusing on the need for developing their “soft skills.” I read that CEOs are starting to talk about wanting employees who are trustworthy, empathetic, adaptable, who can manage their emotions (self control), and have the skills to be better decision-makers. It has been reported that 85 percent of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills, and that children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.

In early April, Phil Blair, co-founder of Manpower San Diego, wrote an advice column in the Business Section of the San Diego Union Tribune (4-9-18) titled “Turning Your Soft Skills Into Your Strongest Talents.” Blair noted that business executives reported that among the “technical” talents employees bring to their work and the workplace, there is a need for employees to learn and demonstrate “soft skills” – behavioral attributes such as “adaptability, cultural competence, empathy, intellectual curiosity and 360-degree thinking.”

The Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati compiled a list of the 10 top soft skills that employers seek (with definitions not included here).

1. Dependability/Reliability
2. Motivation/Initiative
3. Communication
4. Commitment
5. Creativity
6. Flexibility
7.Problem Solving
8. Teamwork
9. Leadership
10.Time Management

In addition, there have been numerous discussions about students and employees learning and using “21st century skills.” There are an abundance of skill lists. A couple of examples will give you the “skill picture” of the future. One group’s list includes:

  • 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)
  • Skills for Living (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility)

According to this group’s team managers, the two skills that cut across all four categories are “collaborative problem solving” and “learning in digital networks.”

The Thoughtful Learning Group notes that 21st century learning skills are captured in the 4 C’s: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating.

Critical thinking is focused, careful analysis of something to better understand it.
Creative thinking is expansive, open-ended invention and discovery of possibilities.

Communicating involves a range of skills such as analyzing, evaluating, reading, speaking, writing, etc.

Collaborative skills require one to be engaged in team building, resolving conflict, managing time, etc.

This May blog offers the what and why but says little about how. I will leave that to you and your colleagues. I think it is fair to say that “hard skills” (STEM) give one the occupational/technical skills to make a living (smart) and the “soft skills” (character education) helps one make that living worthwhile (good).

The 80/20 Rule: It was established back in 1918 by Mann’s study on engineering education that approximately 80 percent of success is due to soft skills while 20 percent is due to hard skills. – National Soft Skills Association, August 3, 2017


APRIL 2018 BLOG by Ed DeRoche

This blog was written as a direct result of reading David Brooks’s column, “Good Leaders Make Good Schools” which I will summarize below. The column topic reminded me of previous notes and publications that I wrote about school leadership.

For example, several years ago, I published an article in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development (September 2000, Vol. 39, Issue 1) titled, “Leadership for Character Education Programs.” I suggested school principals and program leaders should be visionaries, missionaries, consensus builders, knowledge sources, standard bearers, architects, role models, communicators, collaborators, resource providers, and evaluators. For each responsibility, I offered commentary about the “what and why.”

Elsewhere, I described two views about character and leadership.

One was that of Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader) who made a clear case that “Character is the center pole, the core of leadership effectiveness.”

The other was a summary of the Turknett Leadership Group’s “Leadership Character Model.” Their view is that “Leadership is about character – who you are not, what you do.” Their model includes three core qualities as the keys of leadership character:
1) Integrity [honesty, credibility, trustworthy];
2) Respect (empathy, lack of blame, motivational mastery, humility); and
3) Responsibility (self-confidence, accountability, focus on the whole, courage).


Current research about school principals is exciting and informative. The Knowledge Center at contains more than 70 publications about school leadership. In my readings of a few of the reports, I found evidence that effective principals establish leadership teams, led by the principal, assistant principals, and teacher leaders. Team members shared responsibility for student progress.

Another discovery (at least for me) was that effective principals encourage collaboration “paying special attention to how school time is allocated.” Another study reported that, coupled with collaboration, “principals who rated highly for the strength of their actions (commitment) to improve instruction were also more apt to encourage the staff to work collaboratively.” Note this important finding,

“When principals and teachers share leadership, teachers’ working relationships with one another are stronger and student achievement is higher.”

Now, all of this information is what I call “in-house stuff.” My point—the public knows little about these significant findings. Thus, it is left to journalists and the media to bring this important information to the public, especially parents, board members, and community leaders.

David Brooks did this in his column, “Good Leaders Make Good Schools” (NYT, 3-12, 2018).
In brief, this is what he wrote.

If you want to learn how to improve city schools, look how Washington D.C., New Orleans, and Chicago are already doing it.
Restructuring schools and increasing teacher quality don’t get you very far without a strong principal.

How do they do this he asks? His answer, “They build a culture…set by their behavior” (character).

He also notes that “it takes five to seven years for a principal to have full impact on a school….When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination, and promotes a collaborative power structure.”

In bold type he writes a key finding from researchers who studied principals in 180 schools across nine states and concluded, “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in absence of talented leadership.”

Brooks concludes, “We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.”

The question for current school principals posed by Baruti K. Kafele, an award- winning former urban principal in New Jersey: “Is my school a better school because I lead it?”

His answer:

“It’s my strong belief that to lead your school forward, you must consider this question daily. To answer this question affirmatively, you must be absolutely clear about who you are as the school leader, what your mission is, what purpose drives your work, and how you envision the future of your leadership and school. These characteristics determine who you are, what you’re about, why you’re about it, and where you are going. They serve as a mirror for why you do this work in the first place. You must lead your school with the confidence to say, ‘Yes, my school is, in fact, a better school because I lead it.’ And when you do, students win.”



In August 2015, I wrote a blog titled “Bad News (for) Boys” in which I reported on boys’ academic achievement, and particularly their difficulties in reading proficiency. I quoted columnist Michael Kimmel:

“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.”

The mass shooting at MS Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has raised an array of questions and opinions about this tragedy. While my major intent in this blog is to provide you with some instructional resources, I feel I need to offer you the context (the “why”) before addressing the “what” to do in your classroom.

Four quotes provide background for teachers, parents, and students in P-12 schools.

“MS Douglas High School was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago. The overall death toll differs by how such shootings are defined, but Everytown For Gun Safety has tallied 290 school shootings in America since 2013, and this attack makes 18 so far this year.” AP, 2/14/2018

“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?” -Peter DeWitt, the author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School

“…Men commit the vast majority of violent crimes in this country. Every mass shooting we have seen in recent years has been a man….We don’t need to arm teachers with guns. We need to arm teachers with new ways of talking about manhood.” – Patrick O’Connor, H.S. English Teacher, Education Week, February 22, 2018

“What do these shootings have in common? Guns, yes. But also, boys. Girls aren’t pulling the triggers. It’s boys. It’s almost always boys. America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us. The brokenness of the country’s boys stands in contrast to its girls, who still face an abundance of obstacles but go into the world increasingly well equipped to take them on.” – “The Boys Are Not All Right,” Michael Ian Black, NYT

Resources For You (the “What” – and How)

Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States
Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence, February 28, 2018

Student Activism and Gun Control: How school leaders can respond—by listening, helping to empower, and affirming students’ rights
Leah Shafer, Usable Knowledge, February 25, 2018

Emma Gonzalez Leads a Student Outcry on Guns: This Is the Way I Have to Grieve

Resiliency After Violence, Usable Knowledge: Connecting Research to Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education 

American Psychological Association Resources for Coping with Mass Shooting, Understanding Gun Violence—Some Tips

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers, National Association for Secondary School Principals

Let’s Have Faith and Hope

“Faith makes things possible, not easy.” – Luke, 1:37

“Faith is an expression of hope for something better. More than a wish, it is closer to a belief, but not quite. A belief is rooted in the mind. Faith is based in the heart….All that we hold precious rests upon a faith in people, their potential not yet fulfilled. The evidence of history points us in a different direction—the world is full of ugliness, brutality, and injustices. Yet there is also tenderness, kindness and concern and that takes the bigger part of our hearts.” – Psychology Today, September 28, 2012

“I am overwhelmed again. But not by sadness. By hope. By the power of student voice. By the bright light that is the future generation….There is something incredibly inspiring about students standing up for what they believe in and finding their voice. Their courage deserves our respect.” – Michelle C. Lipkin, Executive Director, National Association for Media Literacy Education

“It should be possible both to believe deeply in the rightness of one’s own cause and to hear out the other side. Civility is not a sign of weakness, but of civilization.”  – Nick Kristof, NYT, conservative columnist

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.
Character Education Resource Center, Director
University of San Diego
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-2250 Office

For past issues of News You Can Use and Blogs:

Middle Schools Girls: Character, Leadership, Service

February Blog 2018

I want to tell you a story about an “experimental project” that we implemented this month. The idea was “sparked” by two articles that I read several months ago noting that the suicide rate for girls has doubled since 2007 and that a national survey revealed that respondents believed that schools should be offering “leadership development” opportunities for all youth focusing on competencies such as self-motivation/discipline, adaptability/versatility, effective communication, and learning agility, multi-cultural awareness, and collaboration.

Following up on the idea of “leadership development” for all young students, I sought out efforts to develop leadership skills and talents of young women. There are two programs I want to briefly describe to you.

1. The Leader in Me is a program designed to teach students life skills such as leadership, responsibility, accountability, problem solving, adaptability, effective communication, and more. It is described as a whole-school transformation model and process…based on secular principles and practices of personal, interpersonal, and organizational effectiveness.

2. Then I came across a book titled, The O Factor, written by Alan Nelson, a graduate of USD-SOLES doctoral program in leadership. The book has a unique sub-title: “Identifying and Developing 5 to 25-Year-Olds Who Are Gifted In Organizational Leadership.”

He writes that the “O Factor” refers “to the unique ability possessed by a small minority to instinctively accomplish things by organizing others to work together for a common goal….By identifying people possessing the O Factor very young (between 5 and 18 years of age), we can intentionally develop them into superior social influences that are effective and ethical.” (pp. 12-13)

I was particularly interested in his chapter on the question: “Why are female ‘O Factors’ so important in this and the next century?” In the appendix, Nelson describes his “LEADER Incubator” program.

My experimental project plan started to “jell” when CJ Moloney (CERC staff member and instructor for our course “Character and Athletics”) returned from the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference and described it to me.

At the conference, Billie Jean King, Maria Sharapova, Aly Raisman, and other female athletes shared their stories, challenges, and goals for empowering women in sports. Julie Foudy, former soccer player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, ESPN analyst, and founder of a leadership academy for girls, was the emcee of the conference. After the conference, CJ told Julie about her role teaching the Center’s “Character and Athletics” course, and her volunteer work coaching Splash, a team of women basketball players who are 80 plus years of age. Julie arranged to have ESPN do a story on the team.

When CJ returned from the conference, she gave me a copy of Julie Foudy’s book, Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU. The book describes the “Five Rings of Empowerment”–Self, Team, School, Community, and Life.

Each of the book’s 12 chapters includes stories, experiences, and advice to young women (girls) from Julie and 11 prominent women from a variety of professions whom she interviewed. Julie addresses topics such as leadership, communication, responsibility, team-building, attitude and gratitude, with lessons and student activities.

I read the book twice–once for an overview, the second time to layout the experimental project idea using the content of the book. My plan was to have interested teachers/administrators select a group of about ten (10) female students from each of five middle schools, as well as one or two teachers who were willing to serve as project teachers. The project would run for about five months using Julie Foudy’s book and “character and leadership” resources from the Center.

My next step was to raise about $8,000 to implement this experimental project in each of five local middle schools. That didn’t happen. I did, however, raise enough money to try out the project in one middle school. The school: Monroe Clark Middle School, a 6-8 grade public middle school located in City Heights. The teachers: Janel Meehan, 7th grade ELA teacher, and Kelly Gelsomino, 6th grade Humanities teacher.

The program began on February 1st – “National Girls & Women in Sports Day.” Students, parents, and project teachers attended the USD vs. Gonzaga women’s basketball game. They met Julie Foudy and receive a signed copy of her book. They also met the players on the San Diego Splash senior women’s basketball team.

This month two meetings are planned with the “Girls Matter” group (the name the students picked for themselves) where they will be discussing and executing activities from the first two chapters of the book.

That’s my story. If you are interested, let me know, and I will keep you posted.

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.
Character Education Resource Center, Director
University of San Diego
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-2250 Office

Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES. It happens by CHOICES.

There’s No School Like Home

By Ed DeRoche

I was home-schooled, not in math or science, but in character and behavior. I had co-instructors both of whom graduated from the 8th grade – my Mother and Father. My Father was French but didn’t speak it. My Mother was Irish but spoke fluent French (long story). My Father was a shoe salesman, and my Mother sold dresses in a women’s clothing store.

They were on the same page in all things related to the character and behavior for each of their four kids. Here are a few things they taught us (with tongue-in-cheek).

Entitlement: Don’t get the idea that you are entitled anything. The world was here first; it doesn’t owe you a living.

Religion: You better pray that when your Mother and I come home from work you have all your chores done and haven’t fought with your sister or brothers.

Logic: You want to know why? Because I said so. If you two are going to kill each other, do it outside.

Irony: Keep crying and we’ll give you something to cry about.

Perseverance: You are not leaving this table until you eat all of the spinach.

Wisdom: When you get to be our age only then will you understand what we are saying.

Justice: One day you will have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you.

Heritage: You’re just like your Father!

Patience: Just wait until we get home from work, then you will know!

Humility: Don’t ever think you are better than anyone else, because you are not.

Trust: If your Mother comes home from the conference with your teacher and it is not a good report, trust me, you’ll hear about it and won’t like what you hear.

To add to the “advice” from my parents, I have selected four of many “pieces of advice” offered by author Rodolfo Costa, Advice My Parents Gave Me: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mistakes.

1. Learn to love someone when they least deserve it, because that is when they need your love most.

2. Many people are so poor that the only thing they have is money. Cultivate your spiritual growth.

3. Learn to adapt. Things change, circumstances change. Adjust yourself and your efforts to what is presented to you so you can respond accordingly. Never see change as a threat, because it can be an opportunity to learn, to grow, evolve and become a better person.

4. When you experience a negative circumstance or event, do not dwell on it. Be proactive — put your attention on what you need to do to bring the situation to a positive result.
Feel free to add your home-schooled “character” learnings here.

A New Year Reminder
“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, American political journalist, author, professor

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., Director Character Education Resource Center
University of San Diego
5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-2250





May I Quote You?

May I Quote You?

I’ve been reading the U.S. Department of Education’s newsletter, The Teachers Edition. One of the items appearing in each issue is called “What Teachers Are Talking About This Week.”
Here are the teacher quotes from the October 25, 2017 edition.

“No dream is to impossible to reach. That’s what drives my teaching every day with my students!” — Teacher, Tennessee

“Strive to be the type of teacher that brings passion and positive energy to the classroom every day!” — Teacher, New Jersey

“A teacher should always teach like a principal is watching; a principal should always lead like their teachers are watching.” — Principal, Indiana.

“Be bold. Say what needs to be said. Others may be thinking the same, and if no one speaks up, the opportunity is lost.” — Principal, Wisconsin

”Three of the best words to tell kids: Proud of You! Repeat often.” — Teacher, Missouri

That sparks an idea. How about a blog of quotes about what character is and why we teach it? I thought it was a good idea but you can be the judge.

What Is Character?

“Character Development is a relational process. Character is a construct that links the person positively to his or her social world. Relationships are the foundation of character.” – Tuft’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. What we make of our selves, what we make of our lives, is a matter of choice—our choice, and our responsibility.”  Paraphrased — Harry Potter’s being counseled by the wise old headmaster, Dumbledore

“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.”  – Ed DeRoche

“Excellence is never an accident. It is the result of high intention, sincere effort and intelligent execution. It represents the wisest option among many alternatives. Choice, not chance, determines your destiny, dreams and values.” – Aristotle

“Character is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – it is the source from which self respect springs.” – Joan Didion

“Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided…. Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  -Abraham Lincoln

Why Teach Character?

“How can we expect our children to know and experience the joy of living unless we teach them that the greater pleasure in life lies in the art of giving rather than receiving.”  – James Cash Penny—founder of J.C. Penney Corporation

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: It is character.”  – Albert Einstein,

“If we expect children to behave in school, we must teach them to take responsibility for their behavior; but we must also teach them how to make better choices, how to develop personal ethics, and how to solve problems.” – LouAnne Johnson, Principal

“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!” – CJ Moloney

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.'”  – Dan Rather

“If we don’t teach kids moral reasoning skills, including how to challenge appropriately (non-moral) conventional issues, we may be engaging in immoral education.”  –Larry Nucci, Psychology Professor

“Academic test scores do not correlate with any of the
virtues to which our democracy aspires. None!
Good education provides a sense of community,
personal identity, inner strength, purpose, meaning, and
belonging. ” – Dr. John Goodlad

“Parents (and teachers) can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands. —Anne Frank
The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.”  – Noah Webster, American lexicographer

As noted above, character is about relationships.
Relationships are about choices.
Included in one’s choice should be ”respect.”

“Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of the one for the other.”  – Benjamin E. Mays, American civil rights icon

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” – Laurence Sterne, Irish novelist and an Anglican clergyman.

Send us your quote about teaching and/or your favorite character-related quote.

It’s About Skill Development!

It’s About Skill Development!

by Ed DeRoche, Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

A “skills” quote:

“Expressing care for another is not an innate ability present more naturally in some people than others, but rather a skill that can be taught and nurtured through a supportive educational environment.”

-Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University

A “skills” memory:

”I loved playing baseball. Our city had open try-outs for minor league teams. On day four, one of the coaches said to me, ‘Son, we can’t have players on this team without skills in every area.’ I had ‘grit’ but couldn’t hit. I also had ‘perseverance’ so I became a teacher, a principal, a dean.”

(The question of how skillfully is open to debate.)

At our Character Matters Conference (June 2017), sitting with a few teachers over our delicious box lunches, we started talking about “21st Century Skills” and the “new” character education movement – the focus on the social-emotional needs of students. I expressed the opinion that I thought the programmatic/instructional emphasis was on the emotional side of the SEL (follow the money) with some, but not too much, attention helping students develop their “social skills.”

As I noted in my 2013 blog , “The Skills Game” recent employee surveys showed that employers are looking for certain qualities in employees such as listening and communication skills, adaptability, creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills, goal setting skills, and competence in reading, writing, and computation skills. It has been reported that 85% of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills.

It seems to me that social skill development should be an essential part of schools’ character education initiatives (with character strengths and emotional skills as the other two).

A survey conducted through Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, asked the question: What are the best skills for kids to have these days?

The responses:

90% – Communication

86% – Reading

79% – Math

77% – Teamwork

75% -Writing

74% – Logic

58% -Science

25% – Athletics

24% – Music

23% -Art

Social skills include habits and attributes that some call “Habits of the Heart.” This includes providing instruction and practice in helping students to be respectful, be responsible, be honest, be trustworthy, be caring, be courageous, be courtesy, be compassionate, and be fair.

These learned skills are coupled with “Habits of the Mind” – being a critical thinker, appreciating the importance of knowledge and learning, learning how to learn, practicing self-discipline, making ethical decisions, learning to problem solve, controlling anger and emotions, resisting peer pressure, and thinking before acting.

The third skill set is often labeled, “Habits of the Hands,” which includes knowing and practicing the Golden Rule, being of service to others, and becoming an active, participating citizen.

In my research for this blog, I found a program developed by Stephen Elliott (Vanderbilt Peabody education and psychology researcher) and co-authored with Frank Gresham, of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP).

They identified the top 10 skills that students need to succeed based on surveys of over 8,000 teachers and over 20 years of research in classrooms across the country. The skills are:

  • Listen to others.
  • Follow the steps.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Ignore distractions.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take turns when you talk.
  • Get along with others.
  • Stay calm with others.
  • Be responsible for your behavior.
  • Do nice things for others.

They report: “In our research, we found that elementary kids and teachers value cooperation and self-control. When we teach and increase those behaviors, we reduce problem behaviors and maximize learning time…. “

“If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn’t mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning.”

More information about the SSIS Program can be found at:

Another discovery – a web site, called SKILLSYOUNEED (, which provides information and resources for each of the following category of skills: Personal, Interpersonal, Leadership, Learning, Presentation, Writing, Numeracy, and Parenting skills.

As a reminder, I published two blogs on this topic that may be worth your review:

  1. “The Skills Game: Who’s on First? What’s on Second? How’s on Third!” [Published by SmartBrief-Education, 11/12/2013]
  1. “The Skills of Question-Asking,” [February 2015 Blog]

And finally, think about this each month during the new school year:

Children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.”

Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grade and Lives, David Bornstein,



October Blog


Edward DeRoche, Director

“You’ve got to Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative…!”
-Song and lyrics by H. Arlen/J. Mercer

Last July, I read Neville Billimoria’s issue of “Soul Food Friday” in which he suggested that we read a book by Jon Gordon titled The Positive Dog: A Story About the Power of Positivity. (

I bought the book and read it. The book is about positive thinking. It reminded me of a very popular book that I read years ago, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.

What is positive thinking? In short, it means “approaching life’s challenges with a positive attitude, making the most out of bad situations, seeing the best in other people, and viewing oneself in a positive light.”

Gordon’s book is a story about two dogs both of which, he writes, are within us. The “positive dog,” Bubba is his name, is loving, kind, and optimistic. Matt, the “negative dog,” is fearful, angry, and pessimistic. Gordon urges us to feed the “positive dog” and starve the “negative dog.”

This “positive-negative” story is similar to the Cherokee Indian’s parable in which a grandfather is talking with his grandson and says that there are two wolves inside us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it. Then turns to his grandfather and asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”

As a teacher you are probably asking yourself two questions: Why do I want to create a classroom of students who are positive thinkers? And, How will I do it?

There are two reasons (and probably more) to the Why question. One relates to the culture of your classroom. Students will do better when they are aware of the two “dogs” in themselves. Like any skill, positive thinking techniques need to be practiced to be effective. They need to be modeled (by you and others). They need to be imitated. They need to be acknowledged.

Being an effective classroom manager is the second reason. If students are taught to communicate in positive ways, to reflect on what they say and do, to value positive relationships, and demonstrate behaviors (words, actions) that empower them, research shows that these students will have fewer emotional problems, get better grades, and be more positive about their behaviors and relationships.

With regard to the How question, Gordon offers several suggestions that you can modify for your efforts to promote positivity in your classroom. He writes about the “positive boomerang”—“feed the positive dog” and you benefit yourself and others. Being positive not only changes you (the teacher), it changes everyone around you (students, colleagues).

I would remind you that classroom relationships are developed and tested daily, that challenges create opportunities, complaints may be the basis for solutions, and wrong choices should lead to second chances.

Gordon notes that both positive and negative energy are “contagious” and that “negative energy serves a purpose.”

“If you didn’t have negative experiences, you would never be able to appreciate the positive ones.” He adds, “Negativity builds character and strength when we use it to build positive and emotional muscle.”

In a chapter called “Feed the Positive Dog: Action Plan,” Gordon suggests that we feed the “positive dog” by “practicing gratitude—take 10 minutes each day and make a list of what you are thankful for.”

He also talks about “reaching out to others” and “deciding to make a difference.” Gordon recommends ‘”focusing on the get to vs. the have to, smiling more, writing thank-you notes, associating with positive and uplifting people, starting a “success journal” in which you (and your students) write down the one great thing about the day.

You may remember “The Positive Teacher Pledge” that appeared in my September Blog (

I repeat the first four bullet points that underscore “positivity.”

  • I pledge to be a positive teacher and positive influence on my fellow educators, students, and school.
  • I promise to be positively contagious and share more smiles, laughter, encouragement and joy with those around me.
  • I vow to stay positive in the face of negativity.
  • When I am surrounded by pessimism, I will choose optimism.At the very least, put this on your bulletin board:

    In this classroom: “Positive attitudes fuel; Negative attitudes drain! “

Character Education Resource Center




September 2017 Blog


Edward DeRoche, Director

Character Education Resource Center


                                                           Photo Credit: Huffington Post

The Promises

As you start this new school year, here are 10 “promises” that you should internalize into your teaching, the management of your classroom, and most importantly, in your relationships with students. What is modeled is imitated!


  1. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated—good and bad!
  2. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
  3. What we allow, we teach; what we accept, they will do. (M. Borba)
  4. The classroom is as much a social setting as it is an academic one.
  5. Character is about second chances but only if you learn from your mistakes.
  6. If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it. (M. Aurelius)
  7. Take the Pottery Barn oath: You break it , you own it.
  8. Negative attitudes drain, positive attitudes fuel. (M. Marshall)
  9. Relationships are to learning as location is to real estate. (J .Comer)
  10. The world is run by “C” students! (A. Maguire)

Make it 15 by adding your won 5 promises!

The Practices

The question: What can we learn from the practices of effective, competent, and experienced teachers? Let’s take a look at a couple of reports.

Eric Jensen interviewed over 100 principals and asked them to list skills they look for when hiring a new teacher.

In no particular order, the following were listed:


  1. Good attitude – optimistic
  2. Resourceful – able to take care of their own problems
  3. Love of learning – projecting this to students
  4. Handle stress – being a resilient learner
  5. Ability to read emotions – detecting when students are apathetic
  6. Responsible – showing up every day, not blaming others
  7. A willingness to try something new or different
  8. Likes kids
  9. Willing to be a role model
  10. Loves learning and making a difference

Other considerations included: being a team member, enthusiasm, good sense of humor, flexibility, creativity, self-confidence, and a passion about teaching.

From Marvin Marshall’s Monthly Newsletter- Volume 10 Number 12,
December 2010 —

In an article in Principal, (May/June 2013, p. 56.) titled, “Four Steps to Close the Gap,” Gail Connelly, the NAESP Executive Director writes:

“Effective teachers do all three of the following. They are extremely good classroom managers. They know how to teach lessons that engage students, spark their eagerness to continue learning, and then lead them to the mastery of the subject matter. They have positive expectations for student success.”   

Annette Breaux is an internationally renowned author and speaker. She authored the national best seller 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors. Several years ago she wrote an article addressing the questions: Can anyone be a great teacher? What are the qualities great teachers have?


  • In summary, she says that they truly love children; are masters at classroom management; possess a thorough understanding of their subject matter; understand that they are actors on a stage …capable of entertaining, capturing and enrapturing their audiences every day; are positive, kind, compassionate, patient people; don’t impose their moods on their students; have a sense of humor and share it daily with their students.


  • She adds that great teachers recognize the importance of establishing positive relationships with their students, have high expectations of all students, and that they are not perfect teachers and when they make mistakes, they act as good role models do, admitting their mistakes, learning from these mistakes and offering apologies if necessary.

SmartBlogs on EducationCan anyone be a great teacher?

Annette Breaux, February 15, 2013

The Pledge

Now, as each of you begin a new school year take The Positive Teacher Pledge! Repeat after me!


  • I pledge to be a positive teacher and positive influence on my fellow educators, students and school.


  • I promise to be positively contagious and share more smiles, laughter, encouragement and joy with those around me.


  • I vow to stay positive in the face of negativity.


  • When I am surrounded by pessimism, I will choose optimism.


  • When I feel fear, I will choose faith.


  • When I want to hate, I will choose love.


  • When I want to be bitter, I will choose to get better.


  • When I experience a challenge, I will look for opportunity to learn and grow, and help others grow.


  • When faced with adversity, I will find strength.


  • When I experience a setback, I will be resilient.


  • When I meet failure, I will move forward and create a future success.


  • With vision, hope, and faith, I will never give up and will always find ways to make a difference.


  • I believe my best days are ahead of me, not behind me.


  • I believe I’m here for a reason and my purpose is greater than my challenges.


  • I believe that being positive not only makes me better, it makes my students better.


  • So today and every day I will be positive and strive to make a positive impact on my students, school and the world!

One of my Friday pleasures is to read Neville Billimoria’s email column call Soul Food Friday. Neville is Senior Vice President for Membership/Marketing and Chief Advocacy Officer at Mission Federal Credit Union. This “Pledge” is taken from the July 26, 2013 post of Soul Food Friday.