Author Archives: cmoloney

Character Education Snapshots

It is the month of June, the month of leaves and roses, when pleasant sights salute the eyes, and pleasant scents the noses.     Nathaniel Parker Willis

With my camera in hand, I visited the character education gardens where “everything was coming up roses” and took these snapshots for my scrapbook.

Snapshot 1:  TEACHING CHARACTER AND CIVILITY

“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 2:  THE OTHER SIDE OF THE REPORT CARD

The “citizenship” side of the report card should not take second place in the “race to the top.”  Why?  The Josephsen’s Institute’s annual poll of teens reveals a rather high percentage of teens who cheat, steal, lie, and exhibit a “propensity toward violence” including bullying.  Teacher polls show that teachers find students to be less respectful, more aggressive, more impulsive and impatient, and display more inappropriate language.  One observer of the youth culture noted that the mantra of the “ME” generations appears to be: “I Know My Rights – I Want It Now – Someone Else Is To Blame – I’m A Victim.”  Let us join the many schools and communities in this county who are attending to the “citizenship” side of the report card by implementing programs designed to teach students democratic values, prosocial skills, emotional control and anger management, critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and what it means to be a good citizen.

Snapshot 3:  MORAL AND CHARACTER EDUCATION: THE CONNECTION

“Character education has reintroduced one important aspect of moral development…namely, socialization—helping the young learn how to live cooperatively, caringly, and civilly.” (Paraphrasing our colleague, Professor Kevin Ryan)

Lickona and Davidson have made the case that there are two types of character—“moral character” and “performance character.”  They write: “Moral character [values/virtues and ethics] is necessary for successful interpersonal relationships and ethical behavior.”  The characteristics of moral character encompass such virtues as integrity, caring, respect, generosity, responsibility, cooperation, and the like.  The companion to moral character is “performance character – a needed characteristic for reaching one’s potential in school, the workplace, or any area of endeavor.”  Performance virtues include diligence, perseverance, ingenuity, self -discipline, grit, optimism, and more.

Snapshot 4: CHARACTER EDUCATION: THE TRUE COMMON CORE

Attending to the character development of students in our schools supports academic achievement and social-emotional skill development.

“Character and citizenship are the critical elements of a positive school culture and climate.”      -M. Elias, (2008)

“Character education positively influences academic achievement; and has a broad impact on a wide variety of psycho-social outcomes, including sexual behavior, problem-solving skills, relationships, and attachment to school.”

Berkowitz and Bier (2005)

“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)

Snapshot 5:  CHARACTER EDUCATION: SIX STANDARDS

Standard One: Mission-Core Values-Goals

  • Exemplary character education programs have a clear set of core values/virtues, including a mission statement and specific goals.

Standard Two: School Culture

  • Exemplary character education programs address a school’s culture and its effectiveness to provide a safe environment, character development, community involvement, and student achievement. 

Standard Three: Value Formation-Moral Action

  • Exemplary character education programs nurture and foster students’ interpersonal values, intrapersonal values, and civic virtues.

Standard Four: Staff Development

  • Exemplary character education initiatives include professional development training, workshops, seminar, etc. 

Standard Five: Curriculum-Programs-Partnerships

  • Exemplary character education efforts focus on integrating character education into the full spectrum of school activities and school life.

Standard Six: Assessment/Evaluation

  • Effective character education programs are assessed on a regular basis, and school personnel and others use data-driven information to make informed changes and decisions.

Snapshot 6:  CHARACTER EDUCATION AND THE ARTS

Research has shown that children who receive regular exposure to the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic excellence, to participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing a poem or essay.

Recent research also shows that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in on other aspects of their lives.  The ability to focus requires a balance between listening and contributing, concentration and focus, thinking about one’s role, and how that role contributes to the big picture of what is being created.  Several experts make the case for adding the ”A” to STEM and for promoting programs that develop children and youth’s artistic/performance skills and talents.

Snapshot 7:  CHARACTER EDUCATION AND SCHOOL PRINCIPALS

Jacob Francom researched the roles high school principals assume when developing, implementing, and sustaining character education efforts in their schools.  He found six main roles, three of which deal directly with leader skills and abilities: reflective leaders, collaborative leaders, and moral leaders.  These principals were also plate peddlers (get buy-in from constituents), cultural engineers (character education becomes the foundation of the school‘s environment), and champions (obstacles overcome, successes celebrated.)

“Roles High School Principals Play in Establishing A Successful Character Education Initiative,” Journal of Character Education, Vol 12(1), 2016,

pp. 17-34)

A 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that three out of four K-12 public school principals believe the job has become “too complex,” with the majority contending that school leadership responsibilities have changed significantly over the last five years.  Nearly half of the principals surveyed indicated that they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

In a teacher survey, 21% of teachers polled completely agree that their school’s principal possesses the subject-matter/content knowledge necessary to help them improve their instruction.  Forty-one percent of the principals believe that they did.

(Education Week Research Center, 2019)

Snapshot 8:  CHARACTER EDUCATION AND TEACHING SKILLS

You may have seen the Business World’s Scorecard where people are talking and writing about “soft skills.”

“Like it or not, emotions are an intrinsic part of our biological makeup, and every morning they march into the office [and our schools and classrooms] with us and influence our behavior.  Executives are starting to talk about the importance of such things as trust, confidence, empathy, adaptability and self-control.”

Shari Caudron, “The Hard Case for Soft Skills”

Currently we have the 21st Century Skills Scorecard that includes:

  • Ways of Thinking (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning);
  • Ways of Working (communication and collaboration);
  • Tools for Working (communications technology and information literacy); and,
  • Skills for Living (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility).

Two skills that cut across all four categories are “collaborative problem solving” and “learning in digital networks.”

The Fortune 500 Companies Scorecard identifies five top qualities these companies seek in employees: 

  1. Teamwork
  2. Problem solving
  3. Interpersonal skills
  4. Oral communication
  5. Listening

And so, what is in your character education garden?

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center
University of San Diego
BLOG, June 2020

The Essence of Character

“Habits we train are habits we gain!”  (author unknown)

In March, the Center sponsored a full day character education program offered by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.  It was terrific—all you have to do is ask the 79 teachers who attended.

During the day, a group of teachers asked me:  “Which character traits would you recommend for a character education program?”   

A simple, straightforward question but not easy to answer.  Educators, like you, want to know exactly what strengths, skills, traits, virtues, habits, should make up the “core” of a school’s character education efforts.  

Take your pick as we start with the “character strengths” story.

Seligman and Peterson published a book titled, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, in which they describe 24 widely-valued character strengths, organized under six broad virtues: 

1. Wisdom and Knowledge 

  • creativity:  thinking of novel and productive ways to do things 
  • curiosity:  taking an interest in all of ongoing experience
  • open-mindedness:  thinking things through and examining them from all sides 
  • love of learning:  mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
  • perspective:  being able to provide wise counsel to others

2. Courage

  • honesty:  speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way 
  • bravery:  not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain 
  • persistence:  finishing what one starts 
  • zest:  approaching life with excitement and energy

3. Humanity

  • kindness: doing favors and good deeds for others 
  • love: valuing close relations with others 
  • social intelligence: being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others

4. Justice

  • fairness: treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice 
  • leadership: organizing group activities and seeing that they happen 
  • teamwork: working well as member of a group or team

5. Temperance 

  • forgiveness: forgiving those who have done wrong 
  • modesty: letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves 
  • prudence: being careful about one’s choices; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted 
  • self-regulation: regulating what one feels and does

6. Transcendence 

  • appreciation of beauty and excellence: noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life 
  • gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen 
  • hope: expecting the best and working to achieve it 
  • humor: liking to laugh and joke; bringing smiles to other people
  • religiousness: having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life

The KIPP Schools, another example, focus on these seven “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  

As you know, business leaders are talking and writing about “soft skills.”  Some call them “skills to pay the bills.”  Shari Caudron, in an article titled, “The Hard Case for Soft Skills,” says: 

“Like it or not, emotions are an intrinsic part of our biological makeup, and every morning they march into the office (and our schools and classrooms) with us and influence our behavior…. The ability to understand, monitor, manage and capitalize on our emotions can help us make better decisions, cope with setbacks and interact with others more effectively…. Executives are starting to talk about the importance of such things as trust, confidence, empathy, adaptability and self-control.”

In addition to the “character strengths” and “soft skills“ listed above, we could add social skills, communication skills, higher-order thinking skills (problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making) and the skills associated with self-control, self-confidence and relationships.

Let’s look at “social skills.”

The Social Skills Improvement System—Classwide Intervention Program (Elliott and Gresham) identified 10 top skills that students need to succeed, surveying over 8,000 teachers and examining 20 years of research. 

  1. Listen to others
  2. Follow the steps
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Ignore distractions
  5. Ask for help
  6. Take turns when you talk
  7. Get along with others
  8. Stay calm with others
  9. Be responsible for your behavior
  10. Do nice things for others. 

www.PearsonAssessments.com)• Include the weekly character trait concerts, and pep-rallies.  

“How to Build a 36-Week Character Education Curriculum” suggest 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 the 36-trait curriculum. 

(Mentoring minds.com)

  • Accountability
  • Bravery
  • Determination
  • Friendliness
  • Gratitude
  • Love
  • Perseverance
  • Politeness
  • Serving others
  • Trustworthiness

Whew!  Enough already. I think I answered their question.

Whoever our students may be, whatever subject we teach, ultimately we teach who we are.         – Parker Palmer, Author, Educator and Activist 

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES. USD

Teach, Inspire, Motivate

As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.     – Katharine Hepburn

As you read in my February blog, Kendall C. Bronk, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California, noted that “most young people and even most adults don’t have a purpose in their life” and “finding one’s purpose (and be motivated to carry out those purposes) requires four key components: dedicated commitment, personal meaningfulness, goal directedness, and a vision larger than one’s self.” 

The editors of The Journal of Character Education put it this way:

“We are aware that motivation is central to the foundation of character, and particularly moral character.  Purpose lies at the heart of such motivation (and) is central to the heart by being a core of the motivational impetus to be good.”

This blog offers you ideas suggested by experts on how to motivate your students to learn subject matter, to learn about character-building behaviors, and to learn the importance of relationships and responsibilities.

Here are 21 ideas by TeachThought staff who note that “the best lessons, books, and materials in the world won’t get students excited about learning and willing to work hard if they’re not motivated.”

  1. Give students a sense of control.
  2. Define the objectives.
  3. Create a threat-free environment.
  4. Change your scenery.
  5. Offer varied experiences.
  6. Use positive competition.
  7. Offer rewards.
  8. Give students responsibility.
  9. Allow all students to work together.
  10. Give praise when earned.
  11. Encourage self-reflection.
  12. Be excited.
  13. Know your students.
  14. Harness students’ interests.
  15. Help students find intrinsic motivation.
  16. Manage student anxiety.
  17. Make goals high but attainable.
  18. Give feedback and offer chances to improve.
  19. Track progress.
  20. Make things fun.
  21. Provide opportunities for success.

(www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/21-simple-ideas-to…)

Here are 10 more motivating strategies that you might use:

  1. Believe in them.
  2. Be extremely encouraging.
  3. Make sure your students are the ones who are working.
  4. Use memory work and recitation.
  5. Make learning fun.
  6. Be wise with your homework.
  7. Have one-on-one conversations.
  8. Get the parents involved.
  9. Help your students be more organize.
  10. Consider whole brain teaching.

(https://teach4theheart.com/10-ways-to-motivate-your-students-to-learn)

And another 10 (edited) “Unconventional Ways to Motivate Students.”

  1. Get involved:  Spending time outside of the classroom gives teachers additional opportunities to act as role models and mentors. 
  1. The VIP is an ally: All kiddos have one, their Very Important Person.  Don’t underestimate the worth of the VIP.
  1. Positive reinforcement:  Don’t give up!  Praise him when you can, take note of his effort, and help him understand how his actions are going to help him not only in the classroom but in life.
  1. Be seen, not heard:  If what teachers want is enthusiastic, hardworking students, we need to emulate that.
  1. Build a rapport:  There are ways to show kindness and interest, and in doing so, teachers are building a solid foundation that usually extends far beyond the classroom.
  1. Get in on the action:  When our students see us as people and not just teachers, they connect with us on a more personal level.
  1. Ownership:  Give students options in the classroom.  If students have a hand in making decisions about their education, they are more likely to commit to them.
  1. Goal setting:  The success in goal setting is not simply establishing them but holding students accountable for them.  Take time to revisit those goals, discuss their progress, and redirect students’ efforts when necessary.
  1. Incentivize:  A homework pass or a school-wide acknowledgment of their successes are great ways to give students a pat on the back and continue supporting and motivating them.
  1. Use their strengths:  Use their strengths, and not just in class.  Motivating them enough to enjoy some aspects of school and work for that diploma is a great starting point.

(We Are Teachers, Stephanie Jankowski, June 29, 2015 https://www.weareteachers.com/)

There are four specific ways to nurture a sense of intrinsic motivation in students:

  1. Why Autonomy Matters – Giving students a role in deciding what their educational experience looks like can help motivate them; having a say in their classroom environment, being able to choose their homework assignment, allowing them to develop ideas for their own assignments.
  1. Praising Competence Instead of Natural Ability – Students are more likely to do something if they feel like they have the ability to be successful doing it; praising effort instead of natural ability, showing students their growth over a semester, having students become teachers to their classmates.
  1. Helping Students Relate to Others – Building relationships with peers and teachers helps students feel cared about by people they respect.  Create learning situations in which students come to like and respect their classmates; provide opportunities to work with such classmates; create positive relationships between teachers and students. 
  1. Making Students’ Work Relevant – For students to feel motivated, they must see the work they are doing in the classroom as interesting, valuable, and useful to their present lives.  Have lesson plans and discussions about topics prevalent in students’ lives; have students set academic and non-academic goals; challenge students to write about why and what they are learning is relevant. 

(“What Teachers Can Do to Boost Student Motivation,” Education Week, Digital Edition, December 9, 2019)

I was motivated to find at least 40 strategies that you might use in your classroom.  I hope that you will be motivated to try some of these ideas with your students.

Success is no accident.  It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.   – Pele

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES. USD
March Blog 2020

On Purpose

I received several emails in response to my last month’s blog about “school principals.”  My plan for this month was to write a follow-up blog focusing on the question that concluded the January blog: “Is my school a better school because I lead it?”

My plan changed after seeing three movies: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “1917,” and “Little Women.”  Based on the experience of each of the main characters, I was reminded of an important character strength and virtue—purpose. 

The importance of and need for developing a sense purpose in children and youth is new to me, as it may be for you.  I used The Journal of Character Education (V15-N2, 2019) to help me get a sense of what it is about, and what to share with you in this blog.

Let’s start with the question, what does purpose mean?

The Journal editors write: “We are aware that motivation is central to the foundation of character, and particularly moral character.  Purpose lies at the heart of such motivation [and] is central to the heart by being a core of the motivational impetus to be good.”

Several articles in the Journal addressed the meaning of purpose.  A few examples:

  • Purpose has been associated with increased hope and life satisfaction, positive affect, academic achievement, and with life transitions from early adolescence through emerging adulthood.” 
  • Purpose is a character strength, or virtue, that is vital to individual well-being and healthy communities.”
  • “Defining purpose as a beyond the self-life goal suggests that purposeful people are aware of the perspective of others, have some well-developed other-oriented values, such as compassion, justice, equality, and have a sense of social responsibility.” 
  • “The potential for purpose emerges with the development of moral emotions and reasoning, future-mindedness, and the capacity to act on higher-order goals.”
  • “A definition of purpose includes three keys dimensions:

(1) purpose as a sense of direction, 

(2) purpose that is personally meaningful, and 

(3) purpose as a desire to make a difference on the broader world.” 

Kendall C. Bronk’s (associate professor of developmental psychology at Claremont Graduate University): ”Review of the purpose literature concluded that the majority of definitions consists of three irrefutable components: commitment, goal-directedness, and personal meaningfulness.” 

I want to briefly report on three articles.  One addresses instruction (practices) and two that describe curriculum (programs).

Quinn, Heckes, and Shea write about classroom practices supporting the development of purpose among adolescents.  In summary, the most common teacher-practice was “the identification of a goal or long-term intention in the classroom including encouragement, teacher-set goals, student-set goals, and goals set by both.”  In order to help students find personal meaning, teachers most frequently utilized the following strategies: “making outward connections, attending to students’ interests, establishing a strong teacher-student relationship, and making content interesting…(including) using projects and group work, teaching life skills, making outward connections, and civics education.” 

Stillman and Martinez’s article offers a “practitioner perspective” using a Six Seconds EQ Model (Know/Choose/Give).  The inner circle of the framework included these skills—“know yourself, choose yourself, and give yourself”—and three competencies: enhancing emotional literacy/recognize patterns; consequential thinking/navigate emotions/intrinsic motivation/optimism; increase empathy/pursue noble goals.  The EQ Model asked students to think about three questions: “What am I feeling?  What options do I have?  What do I truly want?”

The MPOWER program (Klein, et.al.) is a school program designed to promote purpose by “helping students connect to supportive people, identify their passion and core values, and discover their strengths.”  The program’s primary thrust is 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.” 

Three Final Points

The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools purpose is “to promote strong character and citizenship among our nation’s youth.  Character education reaches the habits of thought and deed that help people live and work together as families, friends, neighbors, communities, and nations.”

I suggest that you read Heather Malin’s book, Teaching for Purpose: Preparing Students for Lives of Meaning, (Harvard Education Press).

“If you are not making someone’s life better, then you are wasting your time.  Your life will become better by making other lives better.”  – Will Smith

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES. USD  February Blog 2020

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts —The PRINCIPAL

During the holidays, I had a conversation with a friend who is a district administrator in another state responsible for monitoring and assisting new principals and those experiencing “difficulties.“  Her story was filled with concerns about their administrative skills and leadership abilities.

In this blog, I share information with those of you who are in educational leadership (administrative) positions with a special focus on school principals.

My view about leadership in schools and elsewhere is summarized best by Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader):

Character is the center pole, the core of leadership effectiveness.  Character traits, for our leaders and ourselves, include respect, responsibility, compassion, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and courage.

I also like the Turknett Leadership Group’s “Leadership Character Model” (www.turknett.com).  Their view is that “Leadership is about character – who you are, not what you do.”  Their model includes three keys to character-related leadership:  

  1. Integrity (honesty, credibility, trustworthy);
  2. Respect (empathy, lack of blame, motivational mastery, humility);
  3. Responsibility (self-confidence, accountability, focus on the whole, courage).

You may have read a few of my past blogs on school leadership such as:

“What’s Under Your School’s Character Education Umbrella?”

“The Principal: Character, Collaboration and Commitment”

“What is This Thing Called – Leadership?”  

“The Qualities of Character and Leadership” 

“Presidential Character and Leadership”

Three examples of my books on this topic include:  

Complete Guide to Administering School Services

An Administrator’s Guide for Evaluating Programs and Personnel 

Character Education: A Guide for School Administrators

In the character education guide book, we developed the idea that a principal’s leadership role must include being a visionary, a missionary, a goaltender, a standard-bearer, an architect, an educator, a communicator, a provider, and an evaluator.

Interestingly, Jacob Francom researched the roles high school principals assume when developing, implementing, and sustaining character education efforts in their schools.  He found six main roles, three of which deal directly with leader skills and abilities: reflective leaders, collaborative leaders, and moral leaders.  These principals were also plate peddlers (get buy-in from constituents), cultural engineers (character education becomes the foundation of the school‘s environment), and champions (obstacles overcome, successes celebrated.)

“Roles High School Principals Play in Establishing A Successful Character Education Initiative,”  Journal of Character Education, Vol 12(1), 2016, pp. 17-34)

Three Surveys

A 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that three out of four K-12 public school principals believe the job has become “too complex,” with the majority contending that school leadership responsibilities have changed significantly over the last five years.  Nearly half of the principals surveyed indicated that they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

In a teacher survey, 21% of teachers polled completely agree that their school’s principal possesses the subject-matter/content knowledge necessary to help them improve their instruction.  Forty-one percent of the principals believe that they did. 

(Education Week Research Center, 2019)

A survey of the top reasons cited by principals for leaving their jobs are: poor working conditions, lack of resources, insufficient salaries, inadequate preparation and professional development, overwhelming job with inadequate support, lack of decision-making authority, and high-stakes accountability policies.  The research also shows “that principals are highly committed to their students and staff.  The root of the turnover problem is school conditions.”

(Education Dive, Roger Riddel, July 22, 2019)

Two Article Summaries

Bernard Marr, internationally best-selling author and keynote speaker, writes about the 14 Essential Leadership Skills During The 4th Industrial Revolution.  They include: actively agile, emotional intelligence, humbly confident, accountable, visionary, courageous, flexible, tech savvy, intuitive, collaborative, quick learners, culturally intelligent, authentic, and focused.

In the February 27, 2019 issue of SmartBrief, Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, writes that the “average 21st century school leader is in over his or her head in work demands and expectations.”  

He poses this question: “What are principals to do?”  

His answer: “Become more comfortable with and proficient at delegating.”

How?  His suggestions (edited) include: 

  • Remove bottlenecks, attend to the “continuity of process.”
  • Focus on prioritization.
  • Work only on the things that they are uniquely qualified to do. 
  • Delegate tasks – delegating meaningful work that builds trust and improves morale and engagement.
  • Encourage cooperation and teamwork.
  • Focus on communication.
  • Encourage new ways of looking at things, new approaches to problem solving.
  • Be accountable and responsible in shaping employee behavior. 

The Question

The question for current school principals posed by Baruti K. Kafele, an award-winning former urban principal in New Jersey: Is my school a better school because I lead it?”

His answer:  It’s my strong belief that to lead your school forward, you must consider this question daily.  To answer this question affirmatively, you must be absolutely clear about who you are as the school leader, what your mission is, what purpose drives your work, and how you envision the future of your leadership and school.  These characteristics determine who you are, what you’re about, why you’re about it, and where you are going.  They serve as a mirror for why you do this work in the first place.  You must lead your school with the confidence to say, ‘Yes, my school is, in fact, a better school because I lead it.’  And when you do, students win.”

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, University of San Diego, January 2020

Twelve Days of Teaching Character and Civility

Seminar: I had just completed my 40-minute talk urging teachers and other school personnel to focus on the character development of students in their classrooms and schools: “What is it?”  “Why do we need it?”  “Where do we find the time to do it?”  “How do we do it?”  “How do we know if it’s working or not?”   

After the presentation, I opened it up for questions.  A middle-grade teacher asked: “For now, I just want to know how to I teach my kids to be civil to one another in and out of my classroom?”

On the FIRST day of classes my mentor said to me:  

“You asked me how do you teach students to be civil to one another?”  

Character is about relationships – emotional and social.  It is about teaching your students skills such as sharing, participating, following directions, and listening.  It is about helping them to recognize their own emotions (self-control), how to recognize the emotions in others (listening and questioning), and how to motivate oneself (grit and perseverance).  It is about learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to appreciate others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous, civil, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

On the SECOND day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I want you to think about the implications of this survey and read this article.  Notice we are talking about skill development that students can and must learn in your classroom (and elsewhere).”

A survey of 8,000 teachers done at Vanderbilt University identified these top 10 skills that students need to succeed: “Listen to othersfollow the stepsfollow the rulesignore distractionsask for helptake turns when you talkget along with othersstay calm with othersbe responsible for your behaviorand do nice things for others.” 

Read:  7 Ways To Teach Children Civility, Matthew Lunch, The EDVOCATE, 2-23-18.  He says that “our children desperately need someone to teach them civility and show why it is important.”  His seven ways include: 1) manners matter, 2) show tolerance, 3) give examples, 4) listen well, 5) apologize regularly, 6) encourage empathy, and, 7) practice what you preach.

On the THIRD day of classes my mentor said to me: 

“We should discuss the curricular and teaching implications of these two studies.  The Pew Research Center lays the foundation for your question about how to teach students to be civil.” 

They report that of the ten skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life, communication skills, was selected by most of the respondents.  In another report about 21st century skills, respondents noted that there is a need to teach children and youth two very important skills: communication and collaboration.  In one sense, these make up a skills curriculum that you and others should be implementing to teach students oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills, including the emotional and social skills that we talked about. 

On the FOURTH day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I do not know where I read this—it was in my notes without a reference.  The author suggests ways ‘to help students learn to engage in productive, civil discourse in the classroom.’  You might try this with students in your classroom.”

First, begin with yourself—be the model in your classroom.

Second, monitor your classroom climate.

Third, state your dialogue expectations/boundaries clearly from the start.  The author notes that the basic rule of civil discourse is to be respectful and don’t make it personal.

Fourth, start small and build as skills develop.

Fifth, have students watch civil debates and begin classroom debates using non-threatening topics. 

Sixth, have your students use a “private journaling” strategy in which you provide a debatable statement and have them decide whether or not they strongly agree/agree/disagree/strongly disagree and write out the “why” to their selection.

On the FIFTH day of classes my mentor asked me to try this activity::  

“When you get a chance, try out this quotation activity with your students.  I hope that after this lesson your students will be able to compare and contrast quotations, find information about the author of each quote, determine the meaning and implications of each quote, write and draw how the quote may apply to what they do and say, and, discuss the meaning of the quotes with classmates, friends, family.”

  1. “Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.” —P.M. Forni
  2. “I think civility is important to getting things done.” Amy Klobuchar 
  3. “You can disagree without being disagreeable. “—Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  4. “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.” —Mary Wortley Montagu
  5. “Civility is the art and act of caring for others.” —Deborah King

On the Sixth day of classes my mentor said to me:

“It’s the holiday season.  Take a break.  Go see the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Next, watch a couple of episodes of the TV program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Have your students see the movie and a few of the TV programs.  Develop a teaching unit and other activities in your classroom that build on a relationship of care (one of FR’s themes).  For example, have your students create posters of what Mr. Rogers says to them –followed, of course, by classroom discussion. 

“You are lovable.  I like you just the way you are. There is only one person like you in the world. You are my friend; you are special.”

On the SEVENTH day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I am a proponent of teaching students the why and how of asking questions. Teaching your students the skills of question-asking helps them clarify what others are saying or doing in a situation.  I suggest you access The Right Question Institute and examine their Question Formula Technique, a strategy to teach your students how to formulate their own questions.”  (https://rightquestion.org)

On the EIGHTH day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I suggest that you consider being the ‘character education leader’ in your classroom and school.  To do that, you should know this about the character development.”

Character is taught to our youth through the media, the Internet, the environment they live in, their peers and role models, and by parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions.

Character is about strengths and virtues that guide us “to act in an ethical, pro-social manner.”  It is about choices—the ones we make daily (good or bad, ethical or unethical); about relationships and social skill; and about “emotional” self-discipline. 

On the NINTH day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I want to tell you a story that I read written by 7th grade language teacher, Justin Parmenter, from Charlotte, N.C.  He created an assignment called Undercover Agents of Kindness.  He had each student draw a random classmate’s name from a bowl.  In pairs, they had two weeks to perform an unexpected act of kindness.  Then he had each pair of students write a missions report detailing what they did and how it went.  Why don’t you try a similar activity with your students?  Maybe call it Mission Civility.”

JP writes:  It was my students’ reflections on the kindness activity that revealed its impact most. Again and again, they acknowledged that it was difficult and felt awkward to approach someone they didn’t know well and do something for them. But almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves for doing it anyway and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”

On the TENTH day of classes my mentor said to me: 

“I found an interesting article written by Melissa Benaroya titled How to Teach Civility During Divisive Times, Committee for Children, Feb. 24, 2017.” 

She writes:  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.”

One the ELEVENTH day of classes my mentor said to me:  

“Here are four resources to help you teach your students the positive behaviors of being civil and people of good character.”

  • Nine Lessons on Peer Relationships
  • Class Meetings: Creating a Safe School in Your Classroom
  • Behavior Problems in the Classroom: What to know, What to do.
  • 3 Steps to Civil Discourse in the Classroom 

On the TWELFTH day of classes my mentor said to me:

“I have three gifts for the new year for you (no, not gold, frankincense, and myrrh).  They are PEACE, HOPE, and LOVE!”

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES. USD
12-1-19

May I Ask You Some Questions?

This blog, as you will note, begins with two quotes that will frame the questions that are constantly raised when we talk about character and character education with educators and others.

“Students who can effectively manage their emotions and behavior tend to do better in their coursework and on assessments.  In fact, students who report high self-management are 75 percent less likely to face failing grades than students who report low self-management.           
Panorama Research Team 

Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (2012), suggests that what matters to children and youth is adults’ (home, school, community) abilities to “nurture the development of a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.  Economists refer to these qualities as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us think of these traits as character.”  

What do we know about character?

There are no character genes—character is taught to the young by social media, the Internet, the environment they live in, their peers and role models, and hopefully by parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions.

  • Character is about strengths and virtues that guide an individual “to act in an ethical, pro-social manner.”
  • Character is about choices—the ones we make daily (good or bad, ethical or unethical).  It is about decision-making—the circumstances, the risks, the chances, the consequences, and the rewards.
  • Character is about relationships and social skills—skills such as sharing, participating, following directions, and listening.  It is learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to appreciate others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Character is about “emotional” self-discipline. 

To assist administrators, teachers, and others in schools, we offer nine questions about character education that address the WHAT and HOW.

1. What is the environment/climate of the school and what should it be? 

Our answer is that at the very least it should be: Safe – Caring – Civil – Challenging – Empowering.

2. What outcomes do school personnel, parents, and students desire for students who have attended the school for three or four years?

Our answer is this question should be based on at least three categories: character, career, and citizenship.

3. What are the character traits/virtues that should permeate the curricula and co-curricula programs at the school? 

The answer to this question must be a list agreed upon by the school’s stakeholders and incorporated into the mission of the school.

4. What thinking, communication, and social skills should permeate all subjects, programs, and instruction? 

5. What special/intervention programs should be implemented to promote the character development of students, to enhance their social and emotional skills, and to foster their leadership and citizenship skills?

6. What must school personnel do to be sure that all school stakeholders are on the same page relative to the answers to the questions above?

7. What are the EXPECTATIONS for students regarding their behaviors?

8. What are the EXPECTATIONS regarding relationships at your school?

  • Students and students / students and parents / adult and students?  
  • Teachers and parents / teachers and parents and administrators? School and community?

9. How will school personnel (all stakeholders) know that their efforts to do the above have paid-off?

  • How will programs and efforts be assessed?
  • How will students’ academic, social, emotional, and character behaviors and actions be assessed and evaluated?

Then we are always asked –Do character education initiatives work?

A national survey and report (Character.org) described three essential life-long skills that must be taught to children and young adults.  

  1. “Social skills and awareness (e.g., communications skills, active listening, relationship skills, assertiveness, social awareness). 
  2. Personal improvement/Self-management and awareness (e.g., self-control, goal setting, relaxation techniques, self-awareness, emotional awareness). 
  3. Problem-solving/Decision-making.” 

The report states: “They found that schools that score higher on implementation of a variety of character education aspects also have higher state achievement scores.  Most notably, such higher scores were most consistently and strongly related to the following four aspects of character education: 

  1. Parent and teacher modeling of character and promotion of character education;.
  2. Quality opportunities for students to engage in service activities;
  3. Promoting a caring community and positive social relationships; and 
  4. Ensuring a clean and safe physical environment.”

“The aim of education is not the knowledge of facts but of values.” —Dean William R. Inge

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, University of San Diego 

November, 2019

The Ruler and the Umbrella

“This year, young people across the country and around the globe will spend hundreds of hours honing their academic skills.  But in most schools, they will spend exactly zero instructional hours engaged in the mastery of emotional intelligence.” – Psychologist, Angela Duckworth

Professor Duckworth authors a weekly blog titled “Emotional Intelligence 101.”  In September, she provided the reader with a “beginner’s guide to feeling.”  She mentions the “Mood Meter” developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and suggests that educators try “Yale’s RULER approach to social and emotional learning, developed to help children and adults recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate their emotions.”

In a book authored by Marc Brackett and Janet Kremenitzer (National Professional Resources, Inc.  www.NPRinc.com), the authors write that: 

The RULER Approach…supports the power of emotional literacy training.  Students trained in emotional literacy showed higher academic grades, higher grades in social development and work habits, were more likely top complete their homework, work cooperatively with others, demonstrate self-control, and pay attention to the rules of the classroom and the school. (P. xi)

The model includes: 

“Recognition of emotions

Understanding of emotions

Labeling emotions

Expression of emotions

Regulation of emotions (PRIME).”

One of the questions asked by educators is whether or not to adopt RULER if the school or district has an SEL or character development program?  The answer:

“RULER integrates seamlessly with many other school-based initiatives and its goals and methods overlap with those of other SEL and character education programs.  In general, RULER becomes the backdrop with a common language and a positive and safe climate in which to teach other academic and SEL topics.”

A 12-page brochure about RULER can be found at http://www.rulerapproach.org.

Since we are talking about “rules,” it is interesting to note Robert Marzano’s list of The Golden Rules of Character:  

    • RESPECT:  Respect others just as you want them to respect you.
    • RESPONSIBILITY:  Take responsibility for yourself just as you want others to take responsibility.
    • COMMUNICATION:  Listen to understand—speak to be understood.
    • EMOTION:  Think before you act—act for the good of yourself and others.
    • APPLICATION:  Act on these GR in and out of your classroom and school.

Those of you who have read our postings over the years know that we believe that an “umbrella metaphor” captures the paradigm posed by Davidson, Lickona, and Khmelkov (Education Week, November 14, 2007) that “students need performance character to do their best academic work; (and)…moral character to build the relationships that make for a positive learning environment.  Performance character: qualities such as effort, diligence, perseverance, strong work ethic, positive attitude, ingenuity, and self-discipline.  Moral character: qualities such as integrity, justice, caring, and respect—these are needed for successful interpersonal relationships and ethical behavior.”

Umbrellas have a handle and eight panels.  In our metaphor, the “handle” represents the core virtues of Caring, Courage, Responsibility, Respect, Empathy, etc.  

The “eight panels” of the umbrella represent Academic Achievement—Curriculum—Classroom Climate—Co-curricula Programs—Instruction—Partnerships—School Culture—Special Programs.

A sample of the “special programs” under a school district’s character education umbrella includes:  

    • anger management
    • conflict resolution
    • social-emotional learning
    • emotional intelligence
    • drug and alcohol use/abuse
    • violence prevention
    • peace education
    • anti-bullying programs
    • social skill development
    • virtues and ethics education
    • RULER
    • Project Wisdom
    • Fostering Purpose Project
    • project-based and service learning
    • VIA Institute on Character (https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths 
    • citizenship (see December 2018 blog –Civics Education)
    • assemblies, celebrations, award events

These special programs, either individually or in combination, have three goals: 

1) the character development of students, 2) the creation of a positive, safe, and nurturing school culture, and 3) the active involvement of educators, parents and the community.

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES, October, 2019

It’s Time for C-P-R

By Ed DeRoche, Ph.D.

Welcome back to a new school year! 

Last month, I read David Brooks’ new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life—a book about relationships and commitment. 

Brooks says he wrote the book to “compensate for the limitations” of his first book on character, The Road to Character.  That book, he notes, was written while he was “still enclosed in the prison of individualism”—the “resume virtues” of career, successes, accomplishments, rewards, fame, and self-interests, or the “first mountain.”  

Thus, the idea for this blog on Commitment, Purpose, and Relationships.  I hope you take classroom time early in this new school year to encourage your students to think about, talk about, and practice C-P-R at home, in school, and in your classroom.  

COMMITMENTS are the school for moral formation. The “disposition to do well is what having good character is all about.”   (Brooks) 

The word, commitment, has several synonyms.  I picked three— intentionality, responsibility, and promise.  One question for classroom discussion might be, “What promises should you make to your students and they make to you and their classmates? 

Our job as educators (and parents) is to help students understand the importance of making and keeping commitments (responsibility/promises).  This understanding will have a positive influence on their academic performance as well as their personal and social behaviors. 

Psychologist Angela L. Duckworth’s wrote that she “recently surveyed thousands of adolescents about their positive and negative emotions, then asked their teachers to rate them on the same scales.  The correlation between how students were really feeling and what their teachers perceived was surprisingly weak and, in some schools, close to zero.  In other words, it’s hard to know how someone feels unless you ask…and listen.”  

This school year make a commitment to listen, to question, to be “tuned in” to your students’ emotions and behaviors.  

PURPOSE:  Our commitments give us a sense of purpose.” (Brooks) 

The question for you, me, and other adults is:  How do we help students develop a sense of purpose about what they do in school, in our classrooms, and elsewhere?  

Our job as educators (and parents) is to help children and youth learn to take responsibility for their actions, to be willing to accept the negative consequences of their actions and behaviors, and to do something about thembe responsible.  

William Damon, Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence says a sense of purpose is “the long-term, number one motivator in life.”  He writes:  

“Schools must address the ‘why’ question with students about all that they do.  Why do people study math and science?  Why is it important to read and write?  To spell words correctly?  Why have I (the teacher) chosen teaching as my occupation?  Addressing this question in front of students, which unaccountably teachers rarely do, not only helps students better understand the purpose of schooling but also exposes them to a respected adult’s own quest for purpose.  Why do we have rules against cheating?  This is a good opportunity to convey moral standards such as honesty, fairness, and integrity and is a missed opportunity in most schools, even those with strong character education agendas.  Why are you, and your fellow students, here at all?” 

“Research shows that young people rarely have a sense of purpose.  Only about one in five high schoolers and one in three college-aged youth reports leading a life of purpose.” says Kendall Cotton Bronk, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Claremont Graduate University).   

RELATIONSHIP is the driver of change—underscored by a “Tremendous emphasis of listening and conversation.” (Brooks)  

We need to pay more attention to the “relationship factor” because strong relationships are the “life line” in helping to reduce behavior issues, improve classroom climate, enhance student attitudes and attention, and contribute to student achievement.  We know that positive relationships can help reduce the negative effects of stress and boost one’s self-esteem. 

Katrina Schwartz reports:  

“Classroom educators know better than anyone else how much of learning is built on the strength of relationships in the room.  When students like and trust their teacher, they learn better.  Veteran teachers know those factors often hinder teachers’ ability to form relationships.  But a slow shift may be coming as some school leaders are starting to recognize that the health and happiness of teachers, students, and staff depend on making space in school for relationship building.”  

Your take-aways:  

C-P-R is your and your students “life-line” to a peaceful, promising, and productive new school year.  

C-P-R captures essential behaviors that underscore the character formation of students.  

C-P-R must be taught and modeled.   

“At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished.  It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments.  It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better.  It’s about what you’ve given back.”   —Denzel Washington     

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, SOLES

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks. New York: Random House, 2019.  

William Damon, “Teachers can still instill sense of purpose,” Education Next, Summer 2009 / Vol. 9, No. 3

Kendall Cotton Bronk | Five Ways to Foster Purpose in Adolescents, December 21, 2017. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ 

Katrina Schwartz, Helping Teens Find Purpose: A Tool For Educators To Support Students’ Discovery, September 25, 2017 KQED News