Category Archives: Blog Post

The Character Crock-Pot

The Character Crock-Pot
By Ed DeRoche

I recently read an article in Education Week titled “District Pressure Cookers Test Recipes for Success.” From what I have been reading and hearing from educators about implementing the common core standards, many of them are feeling the “pressure” of these mandates and some are letting off steam. A reminder:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers… in the global economy.

If I remember correctly, “pressure cookers” preceded “crock pots.”  I discovered the Crock-Pot several years ago.  Really like it –it fits my cooking skills– stuff in — wait 6 to 8 hours — stuff out – test it –if OK, eat it. Just like teaching subject matter.

“Pressure cookers” and “crock pots” offer an interesting metaphor for teachers and teaching– the “cooks.” Obviously, students are “eaters.”  The “character crockpot’s” ingredients include what has been labeled  “performance character and moral character”. A reminder:

Paul Tough (How Children Succeed)Briefly, “moral character” refers to traits related to values and ethics: honesty, piety, chastity, generosity. “Performance character” refers to traits related to personal effectiveness: self-control, persistence, grit, optimism…. I think both categories are valuable, but I think they’re clearly very different…. Which means that when educators who care about character are able to be more specific about which character traits they’re trying to develop in their students, that benefits everyone.

Additional “spices” flavoring the ingredients are found in an array of positive social and personal social attributes, emotional skills, positive attitudes, motivations, and relationships. As the famous Hal Urban cautions us, in another context, “garbage-in and garbage-out.” My assumption here is that the “food” will be good and if eaten will “nourish “good character.

The “character crock pot” ingredients need to be “cooked,” sometimes on high (intervention) and other times on low (nurturing).  They need to be taught and learned, practiced and performed, and, in some cases, changed and modified. A reminder:

Schools are good at transmitting what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge. This is the sort of knowledge that can be expressed in rules and put down in books — like the recipes in a cookbook.  But craftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge.  This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use.  It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience.  It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting [class], to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in. Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior (character.) —- David Brooks, “The Leadership Revival,” NYT, 1-13, 2014.

Blog Post: Assessment Biases

Assessment Biases
By Ed DeRoche

There are five biases that I have encountered after two decades of teaching , writing, and consulting in the character education field, regarding the evaluation of character education initiatives in elementary and secondary schools.

First, assessing character education efforts is a school-site responsibility. Schools are different. Even within the same school district, schools differ in leadership, students served, location, personnel, size, resources, climate, programs, curricula, facilities, and parent and community support and involvement. Any evaluation of character education will reflect the “personality” of the people, place, and programs of a school.

Second, assessing students’ behavior, character, and/or social skills requires different methods of evaluation than does assessing students’ cognitive growth. The public cannot be lead to believe that the results of character assessment can be reduced to a single score, nor that there is some magic test that will inform parents about the behaviors of their children. Character development may never have the equivalent of its own  standardized tests, nor should it. Assessing character requires a different evaluation paradigm.

Third, there is a difference between scientific research and applied action research. Both have different purposes and different methodologies. Researchers call for designs and techniques that are generally not applicable to the confines of a single school, the talents of the school’s clientele, nor the desires of the school’s constituents.

Practitioners do not have the interest, the time, the skills, nor the resources to conduct basic, scientific research. But practitioners should and do engage in action research.  In reality, what teachers, principals, students, and parents want to know is the answer to a basic question: “Are our character education initiatives meeting our goals and expectations?” Or to put it another way, “Is there a pay-off in what we are trying to do to foster the character of our students in this school?”

My fourth bias is that good things happen to school-site personnel when they come together  for any reason  but particularly to assess their school’s character education initiatives. It is captured in the banner, “collaborate to evaluate.” As one authority noted: “Not only does teamwork bring to the auditing process a range of talents and capabilities, but it also is an effective form of staff development providing both ‘social and psyychological’ satisfactions of collective effort.”  My experiences suggest that involving school personnel and stakeholders in assessing their own character education initiatives enhances relationships, creates ownership, develops a community of learners, and empowers all stakeholders.

My  fifth bias is my respect and appreciation for testimonials, both award and personal.  Award testimonials occur when schools and its clientele receive awards and recognition for their practices, programs, and accomplishments. Personal  testimonials are reports from school stakeholders (school leaders, students, parents, community members) about their school’s  character education program efforts. This data, gathered by focus groups, interviews, surveys, and observations reveal interesting and useful perceptions of  what is working, what is not, and how improvements can and should be implemented.

I think the Character Education Partnership (CEP) captures most of my assessment biases when they report: “ Schools that are infusing character education into their curricula and cultures, such as CEP’s National Schools of Character, are finding improved academic achievement, behavior, school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement. They are seeing dramatic transformations; pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, respect, and compassion are replacing negative behaviors such as violence, disrespect, apathy, and underachievement. When you walk into a character education school – you know it. You find an atmosphere of mutual caring and respect, where students value learning and care about their teachers, classmates, communities, and themselves.” (

Blog Post: ‘Tis the Season to Celebrate

“Tis the Season to Celebrate – Kindness and Gratitude
By Ed DeRoche

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

This blog is the result of a Thanksgiving dinner conversation with ten kids–two in elementary school, four in middle school, and four in high school. The stories and tales the kids were sharing with one another about their school experiences, including peers and teachers were of great interest to me. I was proud of the kids and their views about two virtues that they didn’t address directly but certainly underscored what they were sharing with one another—kindness and gratitude.

Their conversation stuck with me. I wanted to follow-up and to find out what others are saying and reporting about these two virtues. As luck would have it, I found three interesting resources. The first, an article in Scientific American (February 26, 2009) titled “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts.” I have taken the liberty to add: “Gratitude” to this short summary.

The article features an interview with Dacher Keltner author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Keltner noted that humans have remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence, (gratitude) and self-sacrifice.

The interviewer asked Keltner about “take aways “ from his study. One was that Darwin descriptions of emotions lead to his (Keltner) science-based conclusion that emotions are “the core of our capacities for virtue and cooperation” love and tenderness,” and other virtues. Keltner suggests that emotions that bring out the “good in others and in one’s self can readily be cultivated” (taught and learned, observed and practiced, modeled and mentored).

Secondly, I discovered a report by researchers at Berkeley regarding a survey of 400 students ages 12-14 in which they found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others ((I am adding “kindness” here) showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.” Positive parent relationships was also associated with gratitude (and probably with many habits of the heart including “kindness.”)

Then in the middle of writing this blog, one of our Center’s board members sends me a video of San Diego’s Superintendent, Cindy Marten, addressing teachers on the topic of why “Kindness Matters.” It is like I planned this to be the highlight of this blog. I cannot do justice in a summary of what she says and why she says it. So, here is the link. I urge you to take the time to listen to it.

Kindness is not an inherited trait; it is a learned behavior.— Katie Couric

Blog Post: The Skills Game…

The skills game: Who’s on first? What’s on second? How’s on third!
By Ed DeRoche

An unofficial, non-scientific poll conducted while watching a World Series game revealed that attendees were in a state of confusion about skill development in schools.

Yes, they had heard about the SCAN’s Report, about “soft skills,” and currently popular 21st-century skills. Some educators at the party recognized the names of Bloom and Goldman. The group acknowledged “heard about” was not the same as “know about.” By the seventh inning, they rebelled against continuing the discussion and expressed more interest in the drinks, snacks and the last three innings.

When the party was over and it was time to call it a day, I drove home happy that the Red Sox won and with an idea for my November blog.

Several years ago, Bloom’s Taxonomy was the “go to” for thinking skills. Then came the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) by the Secretary of Labor. The report illustrated the need for employee skills in three general areas; basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, math, listening, speaking); thinking skills (e.g., thinking creatively, making decisions, solving problems, reasoning); and personal qualities (e.g., responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, honesty).

Like the SCANS findings, recent employee surveys show that employers are looking for certain qualities in employees such as listening and communication skills, adaptability, creative thinking, problem-solving skills, goal setting, and competence in reading, writing and computation. It has been reported that 85% of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, hit a homerun with his books “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ and Working with Emotional Intelligence.” He revealed data from studies in more than 500 organizations that proved factors such as self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, commitment and integrity not only create more successful employees, but also more successful companies. Fortune 500 companies report five top qualities they seek in employees that are directly related to Goleman’s findings: teamwork, problem solving, interpersonal skills, oral communication and listening.

In discussing emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites Peter Salovey, a Yale professor who categorized components of emotional and social skills into five areas: knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships.

Business people are talking and writing about “soft skills.” 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 the education profession, we call this character education.

Our skills-scorecard now includes 21st-century skills. There are four: Ways of Thinking (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning); Ways of Working (communication and collaboration); Tools for Working (information and communications technology and information literacy; and Skills for Living (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility). Two skills, according to the team managers, that cut across all four categories are “collaborative problem solving” and “learning in digital networks.”

I think it is fair to say that there are enough skills in the ballgame to fill four or more scorecards. So, how are we/you going to play the skills game?

Blog Post: Character Education Standards

Six Character Education Standards in Search of an Audience
By Ed DeRoche

As you probably know, the Character Education Partnership publishes the eleven principles of effective character education and uses them for identifying schools that qualify for state and national awards (    Based on research and award-winning school practices, we created six standards with quality indicators to help define factors that should be present in a school with an exemplary character education program. Space does not permit a listing of all quality indicators; one example is shown for each standard.

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 that are shared, used, and assessed. 
  • Describe the process that the school’s stakeholders experienced in creating the character education programs core values mission, goals, and expectations.
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.
“The National School Climate Council concludes that a positive school climate fosters youth development and learning…(that) includes norms, values, and expectations that support people’s feelings socially, emotionally and physically….”
– R.Sojourner, Character Education Partnership, p.5
  • Describe how school personnel promote and model the mission and core values and ensure a psychologically safe and caring school environment which contributes to a positive school culture.
Standard Three:  Value Formation-Moral Action
Exemplary character education programs nurture and foster students’ interpersonal values (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes in a wide range of situations and activities); intrapersonal values (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes toward others, especially as expressed in relation to family, peers, teachers, and persons in the student’s immediate social environment: and civic virtues (those characterizing the individual’s behavior and attitudes toward the community and society).
  • Describe how character development foster students’ self-motivation, self-awareness,social and emotional skills, and ethical problem-solving and decision-making.
Standard Four: Staff Development
Exemplary character education initiatives include professional development training, workshops, seminar, etc. for developing, implementing, and assessing character-building factors such as:  interactive teaching strategies, direct teaching strategies, modeling/mentoring, classroom or behavior management methods, school-wide activities, community service/service learning, and curriculum and programs.
  • Describe the time, resources, and plans that help stakeholders engage in consistent self- and team- development opportunities.  
Standard Five: Curriculum-Programs-Partnerships 
Exemplary character education efforts focus on “integrating character education into the full spectrum of school activities and school life through such means as (a) involvement across curricular topics, discipline practices, after-school activities, and other such school functions; (b) participation by teachers, principals, school staff, parents, and especially students in program design and implementation; and (c) multiple approaches to teaching character (e.g., instruction, modeling, special events, community service, experiential learning).” Institute of Education SciencesWhat Works ClearinghouseU.S. Department of Education
  • Describe how character education is integrated throughout the curriculum and at all grade levels. Specifically, describe how character education is infused in the general curriculum, includes separate units of study and programs; how they are infused throughout the curriculum? How are they addressed in other content areas? 
Standard Six: Assessment/Evaluation
Effective character education programs and initiatives are assessed on a regular basis and school personnel and others use data-driven information to make informed changes and decisions.
  • Describe specific findings and results from assessment efforts that inform stakeholders and others about “what’s working” with regard to such factors as school culture, classroom climate, students’ pro-social and at-risk behaviors, discipline referrals, absentee rates, etc.
For a copy of the Center’s standards listing all “quality indictors,” email us at

Blog Post: Sense of Humor

Starting the School Year with A Sense of Humor
By Ed DeRoche

Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. — 
George Bernard Shaw, 
playwright and Nobel Prize winnerTo get ideas for a blog on how new and veteran teachers can successfully prepare for a new school year, I spent an hour on the Internet and discovered a rich source of advice and suggestions for teachers. The range of information includes ideas on how to arrange your classroom, 50 ways of getting through the first week and 101 ways for handling stress throughout the school year.So, what is left for me to say? Very little, except some personal observations for what they are worth and maybe a smile or two because I’ve touched on experiences that you have had or heard about. I begin with a reminder. Your students have had three months off. That means they have lost three months of learning, and some people may blame you for this loss.

By now you may have spent some of your own money on school supplies and your own non-paid time getting your classroom ready — arranging the desks, adding decorations, finding out if the equipment works, hanging posters, counting textbooks, and enjoying the quietness of preparation. You probably have the photocopying machine humming because you know — or have heard — that the best way to quiet a classroom of unfocused, talkative students is to give them a packet of worksheets.

You also know that during that first week of school you have to over plan because when kids have nothing to do, things happen. Some educational specialist will tell you to greet each student  — shake hands, maybe give a hug or two (Careful here. Check the school policy on hugging), and look them straight in the eye when doing this.

The experts also suggest that you to get to know your students names as soon as possible — no nicknames until the second semester. All agree that you must review your classroom rules as soon as possible, generally the first hour. It’s best to post them. Kids have a tendency to forget “rules” at school and at home. The experts also suggest that you  “get to it,” start teaching content, impress the students with your knowledge and make it look like they might learn something.

Some specialists recommend that you send a letter or email to parents during the first week of school There are all kinds of sample letters on the Internet so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Be sure to tell the parents how much you look forward to teaching their son/daughter this year. The rule is that you have to tell parents this tale even though you don’t know their child, yet, or you have had less than positive reports about their child from another teacher.

Another big thing, from what I read, is your statement of “expectations.” If my kids were in your class, I would warn you not to expect too much. I wouldn’t want to contribute to your frustrations without a warning. In your communication with parents it would be best to also talk about behavior, homework and how you grade. Now, this is really important. Your letter or email to parents should require them to sign a “contract.” I checked with a lawyer; it doesn’t mean much, but it is symbolic. My question: What happens to parents who refuse to sign the contract?

I was once told that it is a good idea to end a blog with bullet points. Here are a few:

  • Do not go into the teachers’ room during the first month. You may hear things that will destroy your enthusiasm for teaching the rest of the year.
  • Develop a sense of humor –quickly. Your students’ behaviors will contribute to this. Humor is going to help you stay healthy mentally.
  • In many cases, teaching can be and often is stressful. There are days when you will be angry, frustrated, anxious, and emotional. Do something about it. Take a break, write about your feelings in a journal, go to the movies, the theater, etc. Most importantly, do something physical, try yoga, take a long walk, jog, or work in your yard. Also, be flexible, set your own comfortable pace/schedule, and work on developing a positive attitude about things.
  • Teaching can be a lonely experience. Don’t let it be. Collaborate! Cooperate! Be a leader and team player! Get involved in school and community activities. Take a professional development course. Also, go online, there are a number of teacher blogs and forums that offer advice for dealing with stress, for invigorating your teaching, and for inspiring you to keep going. A positive relationship is to your mental health as location is to real estate.

Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.

Blog Post: Common Core

Character: The True Common Core
By Ed DeRoche

Politicians, the press, the public, and most educators are excited about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), and, of course, the ever present thrust for more testing. Many believe the new common core state standards and education incentive programs such as “Race to the Top” are the panacea for saving our young from the embarrassment of not being among the top scorers in the international testing race to the top in reading, math, and science.We may need to enter a “moral-ethical” race, as well. Consider a few character-related questions: Do we really believe that children are born “morally literate?” (No)  Do we believe that the young need to be taught to be moral (knowing the difference between right and wrong) and ethical (doing what is right) at home, in school, and in the community? (Yes) Do we want our children to be good, caring, empathetic human beings? (Yes) Do we want to help them develop positive social and emotional skills? (Yes) Do we let this happen by chance? (No) If you agree with the answers, what do we do? We help the young learn how to be successful in school, society, and in life—the “new century skills.”

In California, we should be promoting a “balance” between helping our young to be both smart and good. The California Education Code Section 233.5(a) lays the groundwork for this:

Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government. Each teacher is also encouraged to create and foster an environment that encourages pupils to realize their full potential and that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, in order to prevent acts of hate violence….

Since 1995, the Character Development Center (CDC) has been making a difference by helping educators, parents, youth agencies personnel, and students learn, teach, and practice the positive habits of good character, citizenship, and social-emotional skills.  We promote 10 BADGES OF CHARACTER: RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, COMPASSION, COURAGE, PERSEVERANCE, TRUST, HONESTY, GRATITUDE, SELF-DISCIPLINE, and AND CITIZENSHIP.

From the CDC site one may download 8 x 11 posters of each of the 10 badges of character.  Each poster has a definition of the character trait along with a quote.  The CDC site is full of recommendations for educators, administrators, and parents describing how to integrate the “ true core standards” at home, in school, and in the community and

One important point here is that attending to the character development of students in our schools supports academic achievement and social-emotional skill development. A few examples:

Character and citizenship are the critical elements of a positive school culture and climate.” Elias, 2008, p.31

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)

Compared with their peers (in strictly academic programs), participating students also significantly improved on five key nonacademic measures: They demonstrated greater social skills, less emotional distress and better attitudes, fewer conduct problems such as bullying and suspensions, and more-frequent positive behaviors, such as cooperation and help for other students. Also, the effects continued at least six months…. Education Week1-25-12

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell asks:  Is our only objective to get students ready for success in the workforce? Do we not also have a responsibility to prepare students to be active and engaged citizens? Don’t we want our next generation to be caring neighbors, effective parents, and strong role models for the generation after theirs? Aren’t we obligated to provide them with the skills they need to successfully pursue and achieve happiness and joy in their lives? I think we are, and I believe technological change and the global economy make it more important than ever that we focus on these things” (the true common core).

Blog Post: The 8 C’s of Character

The 8 C’s of Character
By Ed Deroche

There are only two C’s in “character,” but one can find many words that begin with C in describing good, positive character traits and behaviors. I’ve compiled a few C words that show the attributes of character.

  1. Caring: Two important synonyms are “compassion” and “empathy.” Robert Krzaric wrote in The Greater Good’s e-newsletter that caring-empathy is one’s “ability to step into another person’s shoes, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.” Most importantly, he notes that new research suggests that caring-empathy is “a habit we can cultivate.”
  2. Choice: Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by chance, nor does it happen by circumstance. It happens by choice. One of my favorite character education authors, Hal Urban, reminds us that no matter what the circumstances — “people, places, times, things, conditions” — your choices determine your actions and behaviors, not the circumstances. Somewhere in this C word, I sense virtues like respect, responsibility, perseverance.
  3. Citizenship: Two social studies specialists once wrote that the purpose of schooling is not to help people be better off, but to be better scholars, citizens and workers. They noted that a multicultural society needs roots. These roots, they said, are described in our founding documents, in our symbols and slogans, and in our personal and public civic virtues. Our schools, therefore, are called to educate the young to uphold (and sometimes challenge) core virtues such as trustworthiness, fairness, patriotism, justice, courage, responsibility, respect and honesty.
  4.  Common sense: “Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.  He is survived by his four stepbrothers I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame,  I Am a Victim.” (CS Obituary printed in the London Times, date and author unknown)
  5. Company: “Character is how you behave in response to the company (peer groups, friends, family) you keep, seen and unseen,” according to psychologist Robert Coles in  “The Call of Stories.” Who are the virtuous, the responsible agents, the moral teachers, and the positive role models that keep company with our young people? Is it their peer group, the entertainment industry, the Internet, Facebook, YouTube?
  6. Conscience: From the B.C. comic strip Pearls of Wisdom: “A conscience is what hurts when everything else feels great.” No need for further comment.
  7. Consequences: The penalty we pay or the internal-external rewards we receive from the choices we make. Behaviors have consequences — some positive, some negative. People make mistakes, including people of good character. But these people have what might be called “character strengths.” They hold themselves accountable, take responsibility, pay the consequences, learn from their mistakes and do not repeat them.
  8. Courage: As adults, we know our courage is tested daily. The young can be taught to meet the personal and social challenges to do the right thing; to stand up for their own and other’s rights; to make difficult decisions particularly when such decisions may not be easy or popular; and to have the courage to say “no” when invited to cheat, bully, harass or be unfair, impolite or disrespectful to others. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The time is always right to do what is right.”  What C words would you add to the list? Why?

Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.


Blog Post: What is a Character Educator?

What is a Character Educator?
By Ed DeRoche

A strange thing happened to me at a holiday party. I was making the rounds introducing myself to people I didn’t know. The most common question, asked was, “Well what do you do? My answer stops people in their tracks. They pause! They look quizzical, baffled and hesitant about what to say next. Why? Because my answer to the question is “I am a character educator?” Well, let’s have another drink and move on.

What do I say if someone in the group asked, “Well, what is that?” Few do, of course, but how would I answer that question? “A character educator, I would explain, is someone who specializes in educating others, mainly educators and parents, about the need to teach young people (and some adults) what it means to be people of good character.

“But what do you do?” is usually the next question. I tell them: “I teach, write, and consult with educators and parents at schools, in the community, at parent-teacher meetings, at conferences, and in courses. I engage interested adults in conversations about helping young people learn and practice positive social and emotional skills and the virtues that the young need to learn and they need to model; virtues like respect, responsibility, perseverance and empathy.”

By now there are only two or three people in our group, the others have wandered off to get another drink and have conversations about sports, their favorite movies, and the latest issue of People magazine. But for the three or four who remain (I’m counting my wife here), the next question is usually: “How do you do that?”

The “how” question is a little complicated and can lead to a long-winded answer. A holiday party is no place to do that. So I suggest that they let me ask them a few questions. “What do you think of when I use the word ‘character’? After a short discussion, I remind them that the word “character” has two Cs in it; one stands for “choices” and the other for “consequences.” Living a life of good character, I tell them, doesn’t happen by chance, nor does it happen by circumstance. It happens by the choices we make. So as a character educator I try to help adults teach the young to make good, positive, ethical choices and learn to take responsibility (a virtue) for their actions and be willing to accept the negative consequences and do something about them, as well as celebrate the positive consequences.

By this time, we are ready to move on and engage in conversations with others. As we conclude, I suggest three things:

One, that character matters no matter who you are or where you are. Two, that they might look at character education this way: If exercising builds strong muscles, then practicing the virtues of good behavior builds strong character. Three, one important way that our children learn character is from observing, imitating, and modeling what adults say and do.

This being the case, I remind them that they too are character educators.

For some reason, I seldom get invited back to holiday parties.

Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.

Blog Post: Character and Academic Achievement

Character & Academic Achievement
By Ed DeRoche

Believe it or not, character education (including social-emotional programs) promotes academic achievement.

“I don’t believe it!” “How can you make such a statement?” “For such an outlandish statement you need to show me proof!”

The case is rather straightforward. When teachers – all school personnel for that matter – take the time and make the effort to nurture character development traits (values/virtues) such as respect, responsibility, self –discipline, caring/empathy, honesty, trust, and fairness, there is a “pay-off” academically, socially, and emotionally. Students, in all classrooms and in every school, need education and guidance regarding their behaviors, their attitudes, and their actions.

A few quotes from the research (without references as I want to limit this blog to about 600-words) will clearly suggest that character education instruction and academic achievement are related.

“A 2011 meta-analysis of school-based social and emotional learning programs, published in Child Development, found significant improvements in academic achievement, behavior, and attitudes compared with control groups.”

“[Our study] found that greater reliance on character education translated to higher state academic test scores. Additional positive results have been found within the closely related field of Social Emotional Learning.”

“[Researchers] performed a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, social and emotional learning programs involving 270,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Compared to control groups, SEL participants demonstrated significant improvement in social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance.”

Russell J. Sojourner, Director of Leadership Development, Character Education Partnership writes: “Perhaps no case is more compelling than that of Ridgewood Middle School (Arnold, MO), which Charles Haynes and I reported in USA Today on February 20, 2007. Simply by transforming the horribly negative school culture of a failing school by using character education principles, they moved from state test scores with only 30% success in communication arts and 7% success in mathematics in 2000 to 68% in communication arts and 71% in mathematics.”

Here is one of my favorites because it introduces us to the emerging field of positive psychology. “We have found that students’ academic achievement is influenced by a set of character strengths. Among middle-school students, the character strengths of perseverance, love, gratitude, hope, and perspective predicts academic achievement. Similar results are found as well among college students.”

Here is another: “Youths’ social, emotional, and academic development are related, and promoting social and emotional development can lead to several desirable outcomes…an increase in positive student behavior and academic performance, and also a reduction in disruptive behavior and emotional distress.”

The Child Development Project (Oakland, CA), implemented in many elementary schools and written about in several research publications, demonstrated the “transfer effect” of their character education program. When compared to a control-group, students in CDP’s character education program were found to be more concerned for others, demonstrated more altruistic behavior, learned greater conflict resolution skills, had a greater liking for school and classes, and were more motivated to learn school subjects. Most important, however, “years later, students from the program’s schools were making greater academic progress relative to their peers….”

Regarding Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, J. Nocera (New York Times) says: “…tapping into a great deal of recent research, Tough writes that the most important things to develop in students are ‘non-cognitive skills’ which Tough labels as ‘character.’ Many of the people who have done the research or are running the programs that Tough admires have different ways of expressing those skills. But they are essentially character traits that are necessary to succeed not just in school, but in life.”

As we say and promote at this Center, CHARACTER MATTERS. It matters because helping children and youth develop positive character traits and skills is an important means of helping them become both smart and good, managing their emotions and behaviors, and becoming productive and contributing citizens.