Character-Related Acronyms

By Ed DeRoche

A friend of mine, a writer/lecturer on topics of leadership in business, sent me this “business model” asking if I thought it might be relevant and useful to P-12 educators “particularly those interested in the character development of children and youth.” 

In his research he came across this acronym: 

KASH – Knowledge, Abilities, Skills and Habits.  All four directly affect the performance of an individual as well as an organization.

Knowledge:  condition of being aware of something
Abilities:  feelings or emotions about someone or something
Skills:  physical ability to perform tasks
Habits:  repeated and consistent behavior

In previous blogs, we have discussed the nature of “character” and “character education” including knowledge (a compelling curriculum that puts character at the core), abilities (competencies and capabilities), skills (social and emotional), and habits (of the mind and heart).

This blog continues the acronym theme.  Let’s look at a few.  I will leave it to you to decide how best to use them in your school and classroom.


The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence notes that there are five skills of emotional intelligence: 

Recognition of emotions
Understanding of emotions
Labeling emotions
Expression of emotions
Regulation of emotions

YCEI is quick to point out that RULER is not a program.  It is “an approach for infusing emotions into the DNA of a school…providing training to school administrators, teachers, staff, students, and families, helping them to understand and apply key lessons from the research.                                                                          

When regulating or managing emotions we discovered the use of another acronym, PRIME.

Prevented (e.g., frustration avoided)
Reduced (e.g., rage lessened to annoyance)
Initiated (e.g., happiness generated, feelings of optimism)
Maintained (e.g., pride preserved/self esteem increased)
Enhanced (e.g., joy increased to elation)

You have heard about the SMART acronym.  

SMART refers to goals as being [edited]:   

Specific:  Explicit and precise with no wiggle room when asking who, what, when, where, or why.

easurable:  Ways you can measure progress at any point along the way.

chievable:  Working toward your goal can either lead to satisfaction or it will lead to frustration.  How realistic it is to attain your goal?

elevant:  Do your goals really matter to you?  Are they relevant, worthwhile, timely?
Time-Bound:  Set deadlines.  Stay focused and prevent distractions.   

I asked myself this question:  Why is it important for teachers, students, and others in schools to develop and use SMART goals?  The answer: “According to educational research, educators who establish goals notice a significant improvement in their classrooms and their self-perception.” 


Did you know that many schools and school districts use “VAMP” to frame their character education programs?   VAMP is an acronym for the “Virtues – A – Month Program.”

VAMP helps all school personnel, students, and parents/guardians to focus on a specific virtue.    

VAMP encourages everyone to be on the same page in the teaching, learning, and practicing of a particular monthly virtue.  It does not mean the other “habits of the heart” (respect, empathy, perseverance, etc.) are ignored.  All virtues are interconnected. 

Many teachers and schools coupled the VAMP character education framework with an “events calendar.”  That is, how can and does a monthly calendar event (special day), being observed and celebrated, support the virtue of the month and other virtues.  

The Cobb County (Georgia) Character Education program is centered on a monthly virtue program; that is, over a four-week period the intent is to infuse a specific virtue into the total school environment, and the community. 

For example, for the month of September, the virtue is RESPECT. 

Another example of VAMP is one I noted in my June Blog.  The Kent City School District (OH) has teachers focus lessons on a particular character-related virtue each month of the school year.

September – Work Ethic and Responsibility 

October – Respect for Self and Others

November – Compassion

December – Self-Control

January – Tolerance

February – Trustworthiness

March – Cooperation

April – Respect for Community/Environment

May – Commitment/Dedication

June – Fairness/Justice  

Each virtue is followed by descriptors.  Here is September as an example.   

September – Work Ethic and Responsibility   

Students should: 

  • Attend to task; demonstrate persistence; show best effort. 
  • Be able to carry out a duty and be trustworthy.    
  • Exercise sound thinking and good judgment knowing that they are personally accountable for their actions.

Another example: The Core Virtues Foundation lays out a three-year plan.  Here are the virtues for the months of September and October.

  • September:  Respect—Responsibility
  • October:  Diligence—Self-Control—Self-Discipline—Perseverance

I don’t use social media.  I don’t text.  Phone calls and emails are my major contact methods.  However, I have been told that acronyms play an important part in social media communication.  So, I looked it up. 

BTW, you may AMA about the importance of character education.  IMO and IRL, character matters, and, AFAIK, most people agree. 

(By The Way, you may Ask Me Anything about the importance of character education.  In My Opinion and In Real Life, character matters, and As Far As I Know, most people agree.)

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences University of San Diego
BLOG, August 2021 

We’d like to hear your thoughts, questions, and feedback: 

What Is Character?

By Ed DeRoche

Is it Traits, Strengths, Virtues, Values or All of Them?

I notice, in my research and correspondence, that I keep running into lists of character traits, strengths, virtues, and values.

I asked myself these three character-related questions:

  1. What is the difference between a “value” and “virtue?”  
  2. What do educators/researchers mean when they talked about character “traits and strengths.”
  3. What are some TSVV examples that would give us a “picture” of what I found and how it “shapes” character education in schools?     

In summary, I found that Values are principles or standards that are considered  important or desirable, while some others may not be desirable or have moral goodness.  Values are subjective and personal since an individual can decide what is important to him or her.    

Virtues are qualities that have high moral value and are considered to be good or desirable in a person. 

Traits, an expert noted, can be negative or positive and are personal qualities that define one’s personality.  Positive traits include compassion, empathy, kindness, and courage.  Negative traits include anger, jealousy, selfishness, and greed.      

Then there are Character Strengths: “the good qualities that people possess—a collection of positive traits that show people’s strengths.” 

Here are a few examples of TSVVs: 

2021 Schools of Character (edited) from Dr. Arthur Schwartz President, (5-13- 2021),

This year we recognized 38 public schools, 1 public school district, 8 charter schools, and 3 private schools, plus one school is in Brazil and one in Mexico).  Our 2021 National Schools of Character highlighted a total of 275 core values.

Here are the top 10 core values cited the most:  


Altogether, 80 unique core values were cited.              

In his book, How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough writes that children need to learn these seven character traits to help them achieve their goals. 

  1. Grit    
  2. Curiosity    
  3. Self-control 
  4. Social 
  5. Zest   
  6. Optimism  
  7. Gratitude

T. Lickona and M. Davidson, Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work, and Beyond, lists 8 character strengths with descriptors:

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

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

Seligman and Peterson’s book, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, list 24 widely-valued character strengths, organized under six broad virtues:

Wisdom and Knowledge
creativity    curiosity    open-mindedness    love of learning    perspective

honesty    bravery    persistence    zest 

kindness    love    social intelligence

fairness    leadership    teamwork 

forgiveness    modesty   prudence    self-regulation 

appreciation of beauty and excellence    gratitude    humor

In the December 2020 posting in Parenting Hub ,author Elise Schiller noted that:  Kids tend to look up to their parents for a role model and what they want to become once they grow up. 

She lists and describes these 21 Character Traits For Kids and How to Develop Them.  


But wait, there’s more!

In the Kent City School District (OH), the plan is to have teachers focus lessons on a particular character trait each month of the school year.  Each “trait” is followed by descriptors (see September for example).

September – Work Ethic and Responsibility
Students should: Attend to task; demonstrate persistence; show best effort.
Be able to carry out a duty and be trustworthy.
Exercise sound thinking and good judgment knowing that they are personally accountable for their actions.

October – Respect for Self and Others

November – Compassion

December – Self-Control

January – Tolerance

February – Trustworthiness

March – Cooperation

April – Respect for Community/Environment

May – Commitment/Dedication

June – Fairness/Justice      

The KIPP Schools focus on these character strengths:

  • Zest—Enthusiastic and energetic participation in life
  • Grit—Perseverance and passion for long-term goals
  • Curiosity—Eagerness to explore new things with openness
  • Optimism—Confidence in a future full of positive possibilities
  • Self-Control—Capacity to regulate one’s own responses so they align with short and long-term goals
  • Gratitude—Appreciation for the benefits we receive from others, and the desire to express thanks
  • Social Intelligence—Understanding the feelings of others and adapting actions accordingly
  • Curiosity—Eagerness to explore new things with openness

Mentoring shows us  “How to Build a 36-Week Character Education Curriculum.”  They offer a list of 36 traits from which teachers and school leaders may choose to meet the needs of their students and educational programs.  For space purposes, I selected 10 of their 36-trait curriculums. 

It appears that VAMP (Value-A–Month–Program) is the most popular framework for character education programs in most school districts.  

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching
School of Leadership & Education Sciences
University of San Diego 
Help us if you can:

What’s in Your Character Education Garden

By Ed DeRoche

The idea for this blog came from one of our colleagues who lives near a botanical garden park and sent me pictures of several flower gardens.  A garden has been suggested as a good metaphor for life and that “nature” (the natural world) is a great teacher.    

Plant the seeds of good character in your classroom.  If you plant the wrong seeds you will not have a garden that you like. The foundation of a beautiful garden (life’s goals and dreams) require good soil, water, fertilizer, pruning, and weeding.

Let’s visit our character education garden and share six snapshots for our character education scrapbook. 

MAY is the month of flowers.  It may be of interest first to get a perspective.

May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.—Fennel Hudson 

Think about “positive attitudes.”

The world’s favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May.—Edwin Way Teale  

Thank about “possibilities,” they are there if one looks for them.

If you tend to a flower, it will bloom, no matter how many weeds surround it.—Matshona Dhliwayo 

Think about “Zoom and room.”

If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.—Frances Hodgson Burnett  

Think about “positive thinking.”

Flowers grow back, even after they are stepped on.  So will I.Unknown

Think about “second chances.”



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.

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.” 

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 lifeit is the source from which self-respect springs.”


We know that positive relationships can help reduce the negative effects of stress and boost one’s self-esteem.   

We know that it starts with the teacher taking time to build trust with each student.  We know that trust must 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.

James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, notes that, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

“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

Snapshot 3: REPUTATION

  • 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 gives you 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.     

William Hersey Davis, Positive Thoughts, September 25, 2016, (bolded words are mine)

Snapshot 4: CIVILITY

Civility is a character trait and habit that include behaviors, such as, showing good manners, being respectful and reasonable, and politely disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same.

“Civility goes beyond being polite and courteous; it involves listening to others with an open mind, disagreeing respectfully and seeking common ground to start a conversation about differences.  Acting with civility requires children to be respectful, reflective, and self-aware.  Learning the skills of perspective taking, empathy and problem-solving helps children understand that their actions and words affect individuals as well as their entire community, encouraging them to rise up and act with civility in tough situations….By teaching skills like empathy, problem-solving and perspective taking, we can help nurture civility in our children.” 

Melissa Benaroya, How to Teach Civility During Divisive Times, Committee for Children, February 24, 2017

 Snapshot 5:  KINDNESS   

Kindness is contagious.  Kindness makes one feel good.  Kindness brings joy.  Kindness requires and promotes good manners. 

Studies show that helping children (students) engage in acts of kindness makes them happier, reduces stress, improves self-esteem, and helps them feel calmer and more optimistic.  In addition, research shows that kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a relationship, and when children feel that they are treated with kindness, it helps them develop a feeling of gratitude. When they show kindness to others, it increases compassion, “one of the most important values parents can instill in their children.”

Snapshot 6: THE ROOT

In the 1800’s, Margarethe Meyer Schurz opened the first Kindergarten in the U.S., passionately noting that Kindergarten was a garden for the crop called children.

A compelling curriculum that puts character at the core “promotes equity, empowers students through active learning protocols, and studies character through real-world and literary examples. Such curriculum creates opportunities to connect texts to local issues, take students out into the community, and builds students’ capacity to give back to their community.” 

Ryan Maxwell, “When Character Is Center Stage, Teens Rise Up,”

ASCD Express, May 9, 2019 

“Integrated character education resulted in an improved school environment, increased student pro-social and moral behavior, and increased reading and math test scores.  In addition, schools became more caring communities, discipline referrals dropped significantly—particularly in areas related to bullying behavior—and test scores in moderately achieving schools increased nearly 50%.”        

Marshall, Caldwell, and Foster (2011)


What’s in your classroom/school’s character education garden?

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego,

Help us if you can:

Great Expectations

By Ed DeRoche

Many of you, and maybe a few of your students, have read Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

You will recall that the main character, “Pip,” as he was called in his early years, had four expectations:  education, wealth, social advancement, and the dream of becoming a gentleman.

Dickens’s story reminded me of a survey of executives from 12 of the nation’s “leading companies” asked:  

Tell us what you’ll want and expect from today’s K-12 students when you eventually hire them? 

Or to put it another way:  What are their EXPECTATIONS (great or not)?   

I have been selective in our excerpts of their comments. 

SYSCO – Michael Fischer, VP:  Schools should provide quality, universal pre-K education that is consistent for all children…. Ensure that every child can read before the third grade.

MCKINSEY – Dirk Schmautzer, Education Practice Partner:  To prepare students for the effective teamwork they will need in the workforce, schools can focus on teaching coaching, collaboration, motivating different personalities, fostering inclusiveness, and resolving conflict.

MICRSOFT – Mark Sparvell, Director:  It would appear that the skills that will have the greatest impact in the modern workplace are the same skill set and mindsets required by students right now to navigate remote learning (critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility and self-regulation).

DELTA – Ed Bastain, CEO:  [We are] proud to be partnering with Atlanta Public Schools and 3DE which are helping to re-engineer public education to empower students to unlock greater economic opportunity in today’s global society….


BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP – Nithya Vaduganathan and Renne Laverdiere, Directors: …Students need help developing a growth mindset, becoming more self-directed and disciplined, learning to prioritize, and overall more digital fluency.

BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION – Kelly Williams, VP:  How well we know ourselves, combined with how well we take care of ourselves—at work and in life—influences everything.  Which is why I ‘d love to see equanimity as a core competence in schools. 

CAREFIRST BLUECROSS BLUESHIELD – Angela Celestin, Executive VP:  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the skills of empathy, openness to continued growth, and self-motivation, as well as the ability to express oneself, have become increasingly more important and need to be continually developed.

CHRYSLER – Lottie Holland, Director:  Students today need to develop and refine skills to communicate clearly, concisely, (through a host of mobile and digital platforms), and with intention in their work, client, and personal relationships, through courses focusing on presentation skills, effective writing, and more.

GENERAL MOTORS – Telva McGruder, Chief DEI:  Our schools excel at teaching students how to learn with special attention paid to cycles of behavior….If we could expand this to accommodate more styles of learning and introduce to students the concept of learning agility as a core skill….We can and should uplift resilience and adaptability as skills for achievement in any work environment….

CIGNA – Dr. Stuart Lustig,  Director:  It’s critical that today’s students have the support they need….Teachers, coaches, and parents play a critical role by encouraging  resilience-building factors: practicing good physical and mental health, staying active and practicing stress-reduction activities, building connections….

APPLE – Susan Prescott, VP:  We’ve been inspired by their [teachers] dedication to help students engage and build community, to have conversations about race and social justice, to build new skills in coding, and embrace their innate creativity and curiosity.

HYATT – Malaika Myers, Chief HRO:  Alongside fostering development of soft skills (including a strong level of empathy), schools should seek opportunities to connect students with real-life work experiences.

I made a summary list of skills and dispositions from their EXPECTATIONS statements: 

  • develop new technological skills 
  • develop effective social and emotional skills 
  • be able to work in environments that will call for collaboration and teamwork
  • be cooperative and able to resolve workplace conflicts
  • learn how to learn and how to motivate others,
  • learn how to deal with different personalities and foster inclusiveness
  • be resilient enough to bounce back from adversity and hardship
  • practice (a strong level of) empathy
  • be critical, creative, flexible, and innovative thinkers
  • be self-aware and self-regulatory
  • know “coding” tools and technologies
  • attend to your personal well-being
  • be able to communicate effectively through a host of mobile devices and digital platforms
  • understand disparities that disproportionately impact underserved communities.

I also checked the results of the popular SCANS report of 1991 published by the U.S. Department of Labor.  The report illustrated the need for employee skills in three general areas:   

  1. basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, math, listening, speaking)
  2. thinking skills (e.g., thinking creatively, making decisions, solving problems, reasoning)
  3. personal qualities (e.g., responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, honesty. 

Several questions come to mind.

  • How do the CEO’s “expectations” and the SCANS findings match those of educators in P-12 schools?
  • How realistic are the “expectations” given the nature of schooling in this pandemic environment?
  • Are teachers trained/prepared to implement some or all of the “expectations”?
  • What are or should be the “expectations” for professional development?
  • How would educators prioritize these “expectations”?
  • What are the “expectations” educators have for CEOs of companies that employ their graduates?

You have read about 21st century skills from a study of more than 250 researchers across 60 institutions worldwide.  They categorized “expected” skills needed into four broad categories:  

  1. Ways of thinking:  creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and learning; 
  2. Ways of working:  communication and collaboration; 
  3. Tools for working  information and communications technology and information literacy; and,
  4. Skills for living in the world:  citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility.

I want to underscore a very important reminder about the skills and dispositions noted above.  They cannot be learned in insolation.  That is, if we are going to teach students “critical thinking skills,” for example, we have to offer them something worth thinking about.  That means, that we need teachers to offer students academic content (reading, math science, the arts, etc.) that is rich, rewarding, and relevant.

Think about what are your (great) EXPECTATIONS for your students when they arrive in your classroom? 

My great expectation is that all P-12 students will learn and practice the 3 E’s:

Always be ethical, enthusiastic, and empathetic.

Reference: U.S Companies: Key Job Skills Students Need Post-Pandemic, by Mark Lieberman, Education Week, March 2021, (

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, 

BLOG, April 2021.

Help us if you can:

This, That and Character

THIS:  The headlines:

  • COVID-19 and learning loss—disparities grow and students need help
  • School closures have failed America’s children 
  • School closures having “calamitous” impact on kids and parents
  • Families of children with special needs are suing in several states
  • Why children suffer more violence amid COVID-19

Bellwether Education Partners note because of the pandemic ”that for approximately 3 million of the most educationally marginalized students in the country, March [2020] might have been the last time they experienced any formal education—virtual or in-person….Schools, districts, and communities must develop and implement attendance intervention strategies that start with an informed understanding of students’ unmet needs—and avoid punitive approaches that exacerbate those needs.


As students come back into your classroom, be the teacher aka the pilot that:

Flies (them) to the Moon,
Let’s (them) play among the stars,
Let’s (them) see (what being back) is like on Jupiter and Mars. 


Let’s give students a “character hand” with each of the five fingers being interrelated character “tools” that students need when they go back to school (and those who are in school). 

(1) It starts with PURPOSE. 

It is a surprise to many students to hear the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.     

Purpose is a character strength that is vital to individual well-being and healthy communities.  Purposeful people, have some well-developed other-oriented values, such as compassion, justice, equality, and a sense of social responsibility.” 

Help your students develop a sense of social responsibility in and out of class.  Help them focus on the WHY of things in their lives and express/communicate their “purpose in life.”

The MPOWER program (Klein, is a school program designed to engage students in “grappling” with three essential questions: “What do they want to achieve? Who do they want to become? How do they lead purposeful lives?”  The 4-Ps of MPOWER are: “people, passion, propensity, and pro-social benefits.”

(2) Then we add PERSEVERANCE. 

Michele Borba’s exciting new book, Thrivers, has an excellent chapter on this topic.  She writes: “Perseverance is the trait that pushes the envelope to help kids thrive and often makes the critical difference in whether they succeed or fail.”  

Dr. Borba describes perseverance lessons that “focus on effort, not the end product.”  To name a few: “read and discuss,” “model,” “practice one thing at a time,” “use bounce back examples,” and “encourage students to do the hardest things first.”  

Professor of psychology, Angela L. Duckworth, calls it grit.  She notes that it is among the most important predictors of success.  She and other researchers have found that grit and self-control can predict students’ likelihood of performing well academically, graduating from high school, and going on to college.

(3) Let’s have the third finger be about GOALS. 

This one works for me.  It is called SMART (obviously an acronym).  The most successful goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals:   

  • Specific—the goal is targeted rather than broad and/or vague.
  • Measurable—the goal can be quantified (measured with numbers).
  • Action Oriented—the goal is something that you can actively work towards and control.
  • Realistic—the goal is something you can actually achieve with the resources available to you.
  • Time Bound—the goal has a beginning and ending or a deadline that you will yourself to hold.

It takes practice.  The success in “goal setting” both for you (try it) and your students (teach it) is holding yourself and students accountable for them.  There are a variety of resources out there to help you teach your students HOW to set meaningful goals for themselves.  One of my favorites is “10 SMART Goals Examples for Students of All Ages.” (

Set a “teaching goal” that you will teach your students how to write “SMART goals” that focus on character-related habits and skills.

(4) Now the all-important RELATIONSHIPS. 

Relationship traits and skillsrespect, trust, kindness, caring, love, and gratitudeare learned behaviors that must be taught rather than just caught.  Enter—parents, teachers, peer groups, and social media. 

We know this: “Positive teacher-student relationships are associated with fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. AND a teacher’s relationship with students is the best predictor of how much the teacher experienced joy versus anxiety in class.”

Neville Billimoria, Vice President, Mission Federal Credit Union, writes a weekly column called “Soul Food Friday.”  In a recent posting, he offered this quote: 

“Author Andy Stanley once said, ‘Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.’  Far too many principals share rules with their teachers, but they don’t have a relationship with them.  And far too many teachers don’t have positive relationships with their students.  So what happens?  Teachers and students disengage from the mission of the school….To develop positive relationships you need to enhance communication, build trust, listen to them, make time for them, recognize them, show them you care through your actions and mentor them.  Take the time to give them your best and they will give you their best.”

(5) We close our hand and make it a fist because we want to be RESPONSIBLE.

In my “Court of Virtues,” responsibility is the King, respect is the Queen.  Thus each of the four “character tools” (five fingers) are dependent on a person being responsible for his/her actions and behaviors.  This means that the character skills imbedded in both self-awareness and self-discipline should be taught and practiced by our students with emphasis on accountability, trust-building, and dealing with consequences.

It means doing what must be done when you don’t want to do it.  It means following through on commitments, not making excuses, or blaming others.  It also means “doing the right thing, at the right time.”  For you, their teacher, it means using “lessons, readings, discussions, case-studies, and current events.” 


Character is about strengths and virtues (respect, responsibility, empathy, etc.) that guide an individual to act in an ethical, pro-social manner which includes how to be a friend, how to care and appreciate others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.  

Character is about choicesthe ones we make daily (good or bad, ethical or unethical).  Character is about decision-makingthe circumstances, the risks, the chances, the consequences, and the rewards.

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego

Help us if you can:

A “KEG” for Home, School and Classroom

Watching the Super Bowl commercials, I noticed lots of kegs of beer images.  So, I looked up the definition.  A keg is a small barrel.  Traditionally, a wooden keg is made by a cooper and used to transport items such as nails, gunpowder, and a variety of liquids.”  (Wikipedia)

I noticed that “keg” had three letters that I could use for this blog on characterKINDNESS, EMPATHY, and GRATITUDE.

I want to remind you once again that:

  • Character (including KEG) is learned.  
  • Character is about relationships, social skills, and emotional self-discipline. 
  • Character is about choices (decision-makingthe ones we make dailyto be good or bad, to be ethical or unethical, to be kind or unkind, to be empathic or not, and to be grateful or not.) 
  • Character is taught to the young by the entertainment and advertising industries, by the media and Internet, by politicians (i.e., Congress), by the environment they live in, by their peers and role models, and by their parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions. 

KINDNESS is the motivation to be kind to others; the recognition of kindness in others; and engaging in kind behavior daily.”

You have heard and used the popular sayings such as “random acts of kindness,” and “the domino effect,” or “pay it forward.”  To do either one or all three, we need to know what these three pro-social behavior words mean. 

I recently read a blog by Dr .David Hamilton who, citing the research, noted that there are “five beneficial side effects of kindness—it makes us happier, it gives us healthier hearts, it slows aging, it makes for better relationships, and is contagious.”

Jill Suttie writing in Greater Good Magazine reports that a “new study finds that when we witness kindness, we’re inspired to be kind ourselves.  When we see someone being kind or generous, it gives us a warm glow feeling inside.  Researchers call this ‘moral elevation,’ and it not only feels good but inspires us to want to do good ourselves.”

In his book, “How to Raise Kind Kids and Get Respect, Gratitude, and A Happier Family in the Bargain,” Thomas Lickona writes, “Kindness obviously matters a great deal in schools, where children can experience either acceptance and friendship or ejection and abuse, depending on whether a culture of kindness prevails in classrooms and the school as a whole.”

EMPATHY is the “ability to put aside your ego, step into someone else’s shoes and experience their emotions, and to perceive the world through that person’s eyes.”

Sam Chaltain, a partner at 180 Studio, a global design collaboration, wrote a blog titled “The Empathy Formula,” which is E = EC2, a formula that shows three different ways a person can convey empathy.  

  • “The first is ‘cognitive empathy,’ or the act of knowing how another person feels.  
  • The second is ‘emotional empathy,’ or the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another.  
  • The third is ‘compassionate empathy,’ which is what occurs when we combine the previous two in the name of acting upon what we think and feel.”

In her book, “UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” Michele Borba says that her goal was “to create a conversation that makes us rethink our view of success as exclusively grades, rank and score, and includes traits of humanity!  It’s time to include empathy in our parenting and teaching if we hope to prepare children to succeed and thrive in our global new world.”

Neuroscience researchers have found, among other things, that “stress and negative classroom associations impair learning; that motion surpasses cognition; that supportive relationships enhance learning; and that a caring teacher who minimizes classroom conflict positively impacts student achievement.”

One of the key lessons we can teach and model in our classrooms is that “the most important achievements and the greatest happiness are to be found in helping others.” 

Carol Ann Tomlinson and Michael Murphy (The Empathetic School, Educational Leadership, March 2018) write:  Findings from all these disciplines call on a teacher to understand students’ classroom experiences and to orchestrate positive classroom experiences—to see school through the students’ eyes and to respond in ways that minimize negative experiences and maximize positive ones.  Therefore, an empathetic school would place the highest value on not only caring about those who spend much of their lives in schools, but also caring for them.” 

GRATITUDE is “being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen in your life and taking the time to express appreciation and return kindness.”

UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough have written about an “upward spiral” that gratitude creates in various dimensions of life.  As they wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2003), “gratitude is effective in increasing well-being as it builds psychological, social, and spiritual resources….Gratitude appears to build friendships and other social bonds….Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens the scope of cognition and enables flexible and creative thinking, it also facilitates coping with stress and adversity.…Gratitude not only makes people feel good in the present, but it also increases the likelihood that people will function optimally and feel good in the future.” 

Psychotherapist Amy Morin, writing in Forbes (November 23, 2014) has elaborated on several scientifically backed benefits of practicing gratitude.  It opens the door to more meaningful relationships, improves physical and psychological health, enhances empathy, reduces aggression, improves sleep, increases self-esteem, and increases mental strength.”

Other studies have noted “people who experience ‘gratitude’ have more positive emotions (joy, love, happiness), exhibit fewer negative emotions (bitterness, envy, resentment), and have greater feelings of connectedness (relationships), more hope, and better physical health.”

I am grateful that you have taken the time to read this blog and would be pleased to read your thoughts and questions.  


Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, BLOG, February 2021.

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In Defense of Nonacademic Skills

Experts, teachers and students have said that including non-academic factors into grades and not giving students second chances to learn or make progress can contribute to unfair disparities in grades.  SDUSD


The pressure was on.  If things worked out, I would be the first child in our family’s history headed on the road to a college degree.  The trip did not begin well. 

I hit a speed bump in my first year in school—kindergarten, no less.  I flunked it.  But the school district had a “second chance” policy so they let me repeat it.  Two years in kindergarten—can you imagine what that did to me, psychologically speaking?

In grades 2 and 3, I was in, what my teacher called, a “pull-out” program.   It had something to do with my reading skills.  Three times a week I left my class for an hour, walked down the hallway to another classroom greeted by another smiling teacher.  I knew I was in trouble because there were no girls in the class, just five guys.

Next, junior high school (grades 6-7-8).  My teachers didn’t appreciate students who didn’t pay attention, looked bored, never said much in class, had an attitude of “why are we studying this stuff,” and claimed no “responsibility” for these attitudes.  They “gave” me grades between C- and D-.  A quote from my 8th grade English teacher: “This is the third paper I have corrected.  I am running out of red ink.  You still have trouble with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.”

My teachers, following school policy, failed to include in my grades the nonacademic side of my life, where I know I was getting A’s and B’s (okay, at least C+s).

I worked.  To help out at home, my father got me a paper route.  I delivered the local newspaper to 110 customers, six days a week, two-hours a day, and extra-time on Saturdays collecting weekly payments in rain, sleet, snow, and the summer heat.  I also played basketball and softball in two city leagues.  I was learning non-academic stuff—how to budget, how to manage my time, how to communicate, how to be responsible (except for schoolwork), how to be patient, and how to accept the consequences for the choices I was making. 

In high school, I didn’t do much better.  I gave up the paper route in my sophomore year and took a job in a shoe-store as a “stock-boy” and, when it was really busy, I sold shoes.  (Stop here and reflect on the numerous “nonacademic skills” I was learning there.)  I learned four things—patience, perseverance, the value of discounts, and that I had no future in the retail business. 

My teachers “gave” me low grades because they were under a mandate not to consider “nonacademic factors” (my strength) when assigning grades.   Learning the subject matter was all that counted.

My grades didn’t change much, but I did get into a local college on probationary status.  (It is not what you know, it is who you know.)  To no one’s surprise, I flunk out of my freshman year.  I had eight professors—four each in my first two semesters, who gave me failing grades and no “second chances.”  (I have their names.)

On my way home to give my parents the bad news, I visited the military recruiting depot.  Then things changed—nonacademic skills paid-off. 

I want to share with you what the experts say about the relationship between learning academic content and learning nonacademic skills (character traits and social-emotional learning, for example.) 

The Aspen Institute in this report presents these “Fast Facts”:

  • Nine out of ten teachers believe social and emotional skills can be taught and that it benefits students.
  • Four in five teachers want more support to address students’ social and emotional development.
  • Seventy five percent of the words students use to describe how they feel at school are negative.  Students most commonly report they are bored, stressed, and tired.
  • Integrating social and emotional development improves students’ attitudes and engagement.
  • Supporting students’ social and emotional development produces an 11%-point gain in grades and test scores.
  • Social and emotional; skills help to build cognitive skills.
  • SEL instruction helps students learn academic content and apply their knowledge.

In Education Week, K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard, writes:

“A growing body of research, drawn from the science of child development, demonstrates the extent of the impact that nonacademic and social-emotional skills—such as self-regulation, problem-solving, social awareness, and growth mindset—have on academic outcomes and success in the workforce and in life.  If academic standards are what students must learn, certain social-emotional skills support how they learn.  Recognize that a focus on foundational nonacademic skills, such as self-regulation and relationship-building, will help to support the development of other skills, such as resiliency and agency.” 

Regarding the long-term success of SEL programs, an article in Education Next, reports that “…some schools are better at supporting students’ social-emotional development than others.  But these effects are not all the same.  Schools effects cluster in two domains, social well-being and work habits, and some schools are better at one than at the other.  Schools that promote social well-being have larger effects on students’ attendance and behavioral infractions, while those that improve work habits have larger effects on academic performance….

We find that some high schools are better than others at helping students develop healthy social lives, community connections, and the skills and habits that promote hard work and grit.  We also find that students who attend such a school are more likely to experience positive outcomes in school and after graduation, from being more likely to attend a four-year college to having less interaction with the criminal-justice system.

In a Kappan Online article, three authors report two major SEL findings:

  1. Compared to control students, students participating in SEL programs showed significantly more positive outcomes with respect to enhanced SEL skills, attitudes, positive social behavior, and academic performance, and significantly lower levels of conduct problems and emotional distress.   
  1. The higher academic performance of SEL program participants translated into an 11 percentile-point gain in achievement, suggesting that SEL programs tend to bolster, rather than detract from, students’ academic success….SEL programs managed by teachers and other school staff consistently yielded positive results, and it highlighted the role of careful program implementation in ensuring positive student outcomes.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having knowledge about history, math, or science.  Please remember: “Knowledge keeps no better than fish.  You have to use it or lose it.”  What “keeps better than fish” are the non-academic skills that are taught, learned, and practiced in and out of school (mostly out).

I end this blog with a list of skills and dispositions that experts say people will need to function successful in personal life and in their careers.  All of items on this list should be taught in P-16 schools.

  1. Critical and analytical thinking.
  2. Inquiry Skills and design thinking methods.
  3. Problem solving skills and responsible decision making.
  4. Communication, relationship skills, and collaboration skills.
  5. Personal management, self-direction and self- awareness.
  6. Technology skills, entrepreneurship and organizational skills.
  7. Civic literacy and citizenship with a global and cultural awareness.
  8. Leadership skills with empathy, perspective, persistence and courage.

The defense rests!

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego


Also see The Other Side of the Report Card, Blog Post on January 22, 2013

And News You Can Use, December Issue, It’s About Relationships (six articles on student–teacher relationships)

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