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)

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