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, 


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