January 2019 Blog
By Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center
“I know. I’m lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have ’til December, right?” – Catherine O’Hara
It happens daily—the references to “character.” We read about it, we hear about it, we even practice it (at least most of us do).
The most frequently asked question: “What is character?” A quick answer: Character is who you are when no one is looking—or, these days, when everyone is looking (see tweeting).
I decided to frame my answer to the question around specific character strengths as I did in my November blog (gratitude) and December blog (emotions, empathy, and engagement).
My purpose is to encourage you and others (students, colleagues, parents) to think about, to talk about, to ask the “why and how” questions about learning, teaching, and practicing the “strengths” that support good, positive character behaviors.
For this blog I have selected three character strengths—Reputation, Relationships, and Responsibility.
One cannot answer the character question better than William Hersey Davis has. (Positive Thoughts, 25 Sep 2016) Bolded words are mine.
- Reputation is what you are supposed to be; character is what you are.
- The circumstances amid which you live determine your reputation; the truth you believe determines your character.
- Reputation is the photograph; character is the face.
- Reputation comes over one from without; character grows up from within.
- Reputation is what you have when you come to a new community; character is what you have when you go away.
- Your reputation is learned in an hour; your character does not come to light for a year.
- Reputation is made in a moment; character is built in a lifetime.
- Reputation grows like a mushroom; character grows like the oak.
- A single newspaper report gives you your reputation; a life of toil givesyou your character.
- Reputation makes you rich or makes you poor; character makes you happy or makes you miserable.
- Reputation is what people say about you on your tombstone;character is what angels say about you before the throne of God.
“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
Research clearly reveals that few factors in K-12 education have a greater impact on students’ educational experiences than a caring relationship with teachers. James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, notes that, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”
We know that positive relationships can help reduce the negative effects of stress and boost one’s self-esteem. In classrooms, we know that it starts with the teacher taking time to build trust with each student. We know that trust has to be a joint responsibility between a teacher and his/her students. Teachers tell us that we need to pay more attention to the “relationship factor” because strong relationships help reduce behavior issues, improve classroom climate, enhance student attitudes and attention, and contribute to student achievement.
John Maxwell invites us to “Relationships 101” and the six most important “relationship” words. He notes that the least important word is “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.
Post this on your bulletin board and your refrigerator.
Responsibility is knowing and doing what is expected of a person; that is, doing what is right, being dependable, and fulfilling what one agrees to do even is if it means “unexpected sacrifice.”
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 circumstance. It happens by the choices one makes.
Our job as teachers and parents is to help young people learn to make good, positive, ethical choices and learn to take responsibility (a virtue) for their actions; to be willing to accept the negative consequences of their actions/behaviors and to do something about them—being responsible.
Sir Josiah Stamp writes: “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”
Joan Didion, American journalist, notes that: “Character is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – it is the source from which self-respect springs.”
And Denis Waitley, speaker/writer: “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”