Character & SEL: A Roadmap

I just read the 32-page report on “Model Standards” for the teaching and learning of character and social-emotional development.  These standards “provide a roadmap for school leaders and teachers to help children and teens understand, care about, and consistently practice the SEL skills and character strengths that will enable them to flourish in school, in the workplace, and as citizens.”

My intent is to provide an overview of a few major points in the report.  I encourage you to read this report, reflect on it, discuss it with your colleagues and others, and then use the ideas to develop your own school and district’s character and social-emotional programs and initiatives.

The Model Standards address four dimensions of character-strengths – moral character, performance character, intellectual character, and civic character – and five skills of social-emotional learning – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal/relationship skills, and responsible/ethical decision-making.

These “character strengths” and “social-emotional skills “are based on Six Core Beliefs.  In summary, they are:

  1. The family is a child’s first character educator.
  2. These strengths and skills are not add-ons, but rather add significant value to student success.
  3. A positive school climate is critical to fostering the whole child. 
  4. Character and social-emotional development requires thinking, feeling, and doing.
  5. The character strengths should be taught, caught, and sought.
  6. The “model standards” align with the fill-range of classroom and school-based initiatives.

The report includes a section describing “a conceptual framework” that includes:

  • The Developing Child and Teen – There are essential building blocks of development.
  • Caring and Supportive Environments – Our role as adults is to offer and provide a “constructive web” for every child and teen to learn and practice the SEL skills and character strengths.  
  • Opportunities to Learn and Practice – Research confirms that well-scaffolded, engaging and evidence-based instructional and curricular design can impact the development of self-regulation and executive functions.   
  • A Thriving/Striving Person of Character – Raising or graduating smart teenagers – to be kind and honest, and individuals who other people trust – a good person.

Section 4–Part 1 of the model defines and describes the four character dimensions – moral, performance, intellectual, and civic.  Each dimension is defined with outcomes by grade and age level, examples and resources. 

Let me share one example from Part 1.  

I selected “performance character” defined with grades 9-12, ages 14-18+.  There is an “outcome” statement, and then there is a list of six activities about what should be learned and practiced.  I listed three so that you’d get the idea.

  • Give an example of a habit you have developed because you wanted to become a better person.   
  • Explain the relationship between being responsible and a person’s reputation.   
  • Explain a time when you had a ‘setback’ but your grit kept you motivated.

Section 4-Part 2 defines and describes the five skills of social-emotional learning – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal /relationship skill and responsible and ethical decision-making.  Each defined.  Each with outcome statements.  Each with age and grade levels.  Each with a list of resources.

I selected the skill of “self-awareness” with Grades 6-8, ages 11-13.  There are seven activities that should be learned and practiced.  I have selected three to share.  

  • Describe how different thoughts, situations, and behaviors affect your feelings and emotions.
  • Recognize the times when you exaggerate the severity or consequences of mistakes, embarrassing moments, failures, rejections and other negative events (e.g., “I can never face them again.” “Everyone thinks I’m stupid.”)   
  • List and explain the different external supports you have used when feeling stressed or anxious (e.g., family, friends, teachers, neighbors).

In Section 5, the authors wrote in summary:

“We believe the SEL skills enable and support a young person’s determination and commitment to be a person of character.  The SEL skills help students consistently be honest and trustworthy, caring and compassionate, self-disciplined, intellectually curious, fair, and respectful.  The CSED Model Standards provide school leaders with a unifying vehicle that will bring the staff together toward a shared goal and purpose: supporting students as they strive to become young people of character who will flourish in school, in relationships, in the workplace, and as citizens.”

As a postscript to this report and to satisfy my curiosity, I wondered how others identify “character strengths.”  Here are three examples.

From T. Lickona and M. Davidson, Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work, and Beyond (July, 2005) (


  1. Lifelong learner and critical thinker.
  2. Diligent and capable performer.
  3. Socially and emotionally skilled person.
  4. Ethical thinker.
  5. Respectful and responsible moral agent, committed to consistent moral action.
  6. Self-disciplined person who pursues a healthy lifestyle.
  7. Contributing community member and democratic citizen.
  8. Spiritual person crafting a life of noble purpose.

From the perspective of positive psychology:  The Values in Action (VIA) Projecta starting point for the systematic scientific study of good character.  The VIA Classification consists of 24 widely-valued character strengths, organized under six broad virtues: 

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge 
  2. Courage  
  3. Humanity 
  4. Justice 
  5. Temperance 
  6. Transcendence

(Park & Peterson, 2006b; Peterson & Seligman, 2004)

From the North Carolina State Board of Education’s Character and Civic Education Handbook and Guide:  

Respect – Trustworthiness – Responsibility – Fairness – Caring – Citizenship – Accountability – Integrity.

“Character education is the component of social and emotional learning that promotes core virtues, moral sensitivity, moral commitment, ethical reasoning, and personal growth aspirations.”
 – Yael Kidron, Director of Character Education, Santa Clara University

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center 

University of San Diego, BLOG, September 2020


Theme: How My Character Developed During the Pandemic

The Character Education Resource Center, in the Department of Learning and Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences at the University of San Diego, is pleased to announce a new essay and poetry contest for all public, private, and home school students in grades 6 through 8 and grades 9 through 12 in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

This essay and poetry contest enables students and teachers to meet the California Department of Education’s mandate 235.5 (a) for character and civic education in grades 6-12 as well as Common Core Standards.

The purpose of this contest is to encourage middle and high school students to explore and address the issues, thoughts, and feelings that are most important and significant to them as they cope with living through the COVID-19 Pandemic.


How is the pandemic affecting you and the people around you?

How is pandemic related to other significant experiences in your life?

How are you dealing with feelings such as anxiety or isolation during the pandemic?

Each essay or poem should address some of these character traits:
Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, Perseverance, Gratitude.


Essays must be the sole, original work of the student.

Students in grades 6-8 should submit an essay of no more than 600 words. 

Students in grade 9-12 should submit an essay of no more than 1000 words.

The title of the essay and added footnotes do not contribute to the word count.

The text of the essays should be in English, in Microsoft Word or PDF format.  Once students have completed the final version of their essay, they should give them to their teacher.


Poems must be the sole, original work of the student.

One poem per student.

Poems must be single-spaced and not be over 21 lines of text, (blank lines between stanzas are not counted).

The text of the poem should be in English, in Microsoft Word or PDF format.

Once students have completed the final version of their poem, they should give them to their teacher.


To Teachers:  In this contest we require teachers to be the first reviewers.  The teacher’s role is to select up to two of the best essays and two of the best poems for each class that he/she teaches, and to submit only those essays and poems for consideration.

Teachers who teach multiple classes are able to submit two essays and two poems per class.  For example, if a teacher teaches five classes he/she may submit 10 essays and 10 poems in total.

The teacher electronically submits the selected essays/poems (as an attachment) in a WORD or PDF format to the Character Education Resource Center via email,

Include the following in the body of the email for each essay and poem submitted.

    1. Student’s name
    2. Grade level
    3. School name and address
    4. Teacher contact information (email/ phone)
    5. Permission to use the essay/poem, if selected


Essays/poems will be judged by teams of graduate students in a teacher education program in San Diego County, using the rubric identified below.

  • 50% – Knowledge of the theme 
    The student showed a thorough knowledge of the theme in the essay and/or poem.
  • 25% – Creativity and originality of the essay/poem
    The student related the theme to her/his own experiences.
  • 25% – Clarity of writing
    The student’s essay/poem was written in an easy-to-understand format leaving the reader/judge with a clear understanding of her/his explanation of the theme.


September 9 to 18
Contest announcement

October 23
Student submission to their teacher

November 16
Teacher selections submitted to CERC

Week of November 23 (Thanksgiving Week)
Awards Announced


Middle School and High School Student Awards for Essays & Poems

First Place: $150 VISA Gift Card

Second Place: $100 VISA Gift Card

Third Place: $50 VISA Gift Card

Two (2) Honorable Mentions:  $25 VISA Gift Card

Winners will be announced on Character Education Resource Center website and social media.

Email us at with any questions regarding the contest.

Make a gift to the Character Education Resource Center in support of the contest.