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.

THAT:  PERSEVERANCE has landed!

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. 

THIS: CHARACTER: 

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, et.al.) 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.” (https://www.developgoodhabits.com/smart-goals-students/)

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.” 

THAT: ONE MORE TIME! 

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

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