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What Is Character?

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

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

I asked myself these three character-related questions:

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few examples of TSVVs: 

2021 Schools of Character (edited) from Dr. Arthur Schwartz President, Character.org (5-13- 2021), https://www.character.org/:

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

Here are the top 10 core values cited the most:  

 

Altogether, 80 unique core values were cited.              

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

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

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

1. Lifelong learner and critical thinker 

2. Diligent and capable performer  

3. Socially and emotionally skilled person  

4. Ethical thinker  

5. Respectful and responsible moral agent

6. Self-disciplined person who pursues a healthy lifestyle

7. Contributing community member and democratic citizen

8. Spiritual person crafting a life of noble purpose

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

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

Courage
honesty    bravery    persistence    zest 

Humanity
kindness    love    social intelligence

Justice
fairness    leadership    teamwork 

Temperance
forgiveness    modesty   prudence    self-regulation 

Transcendence
appreciation of beauty and excellence    gratitude    humor

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

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

 

But wait, there’s more!

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

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

October – Respect for Self and Others

November – Compassion

December – Self-Control

January – Tolerance

February – Trustworthiness

March – Cooperation

April – Respect for Community/Environment

May – Commitment/Dedication

June – Fairness/Justice      

The KIPP Schools focus on these character strengths:

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

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

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

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching
School of Leadership & Education Sciences
University of San Diego
https://charactermatters.sandiego.edu 
Help us if you can: mailto:annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

What’s in Your Character Education Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Think about “positive attitudes.”

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

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

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

Think about “Zoom and room.”

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

Think about “positive thinking.”

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

Think about “second chances.”

 


Snapshot 1:  RESPONSIBILITY

Our job as teachers and parents is to help young people learn to make good, positive, ethical choices, and learn to take responsibility (a virtue) for their actions; to be willing to accept the negative consequences of their actions/behaviors and to do something about them—being responsible.

Responsibility is knowing and doing what is expected of a person; that is, doing what is right, being dependable, and fulfilling what one agrees to do even is if it means “unexpected sacrifice.” 

Sir Josiah Stamp writes:  “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”

Joan Didion, American journalist, notes that:  “Character is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own lifeit is the source from which self-respect springs.”
 


Snapshot 2:  RELATIONSHIPS

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

We know that it starts with the teacher taking time to build trust with each student.  We know that trust must be a joint responsibility between a teacher and his/her students.  

Teachers tell us that we need to pay more attention to the relationship factor because strong relationships help reduce behavior issues, improve classroom climate, enhance student attitudes and attention, and contribute to student achievement.

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

“Character Development is a relational process.  Character is a construct that links the person positively to his or her social world.  Relationships are the foundation of character.”

Tuft’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development


Snapshot 3: REPUTATION

  • Reputation is what you are supposed to be; character is what you are.
  • The circumstances amid which you live determine your reputation; the truth you believe determines your character.
  • Reputation is the photograph; character is the face.
  • Reputation comes over one from without; character grows up from within. 
  • Reputation is what you have when you come to a new community; character is what you have when you go away. 
  • Your reputation is learned in an hour; your character does not come to light for a year.
  • Reputation is made in a moment; character is built in a lifetime.
  • Reputation grows like a mushroom; character grows like the oak.
  • A single newspaper report gives you your reputation; a life of toil gives you your character.
  • Reputation makes you rich or makes you poor; character makes you happy or makes you miserable.
  • Reputation is what people say about you on your tombstone; character is what angels say about you before the throne of God.     

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

Snapshot 4: CIVILITY

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

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

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

 Snapshot 5:  KINDNESS   

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

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

Snapshot 6: THE ROOT

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

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

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

ASCD Express, May 9, 2019 

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

Marshall, Caldwell, and Foster (2011)

THE QUESTION

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

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

https://charactermatters.sandiego.edu

Help us if you can: mailto:annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

Great Expectations

By Ed DeRoche

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

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

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

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

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

I have been selective in our excerpts of their comments. 

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

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

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

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

(https://www.3deschools.org/about/)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several questions come to mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always be ethical, enthusiastic, and empathetic.

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

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

BLOG, April 2021.

https://www.sandiego.edu/soles/character-education-resource-center/

Help us if you can: mailto:annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

This, That and Character

THIS:  The headlines:

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

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

THAT:  PERSEVERANCE has landed!

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

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

THIS: CHARACTER: 

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

(1) It starts with PURPOSE. 

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

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

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

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

(2) Then we add PERSEVERANCE. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(4) Now the all-important RELATIONSHIPS. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT: ONE MORE TIME! 

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

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

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

Help us if you can: mailto:annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

A “KEG” for Home, School and Classroom

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

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

I want to remind you once again that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email: character@sandiego.edu 

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

https://www.sandiego.edu/soles/character-education-resource-center/

Help us if you can: annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

In Defense of Nonacademic Skills

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

MY STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The defense rests!

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

BLOG, JANUARY 2021

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

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

We’d like to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback: character@sandiego.edu

The “Better Angels of Our Nature”

Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and courage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. – William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

In this blog, I am adding to Faulkner’s suggestion that children, teens, and adults “must never stop refusing to bear” – to include kindness, respect, apology/forgiveness, and integrity.

You may recall that my blog for October, “There is No Debating Civility,” addressed the issue of civility.  I follow-up with five resources teachers and others might use for teaching “civility” in the November issue of News You Can Use.  Next, came the popular November blog, “The Masks of Character,” in which I discussed the virtues of commitment, responsibility, gratitude, perseverance, empathy, and faith.

Tis the season to underscore a few other virtues during this celebration of the holidays.

KINDNESS

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

An article in Scientific American (February 26, 2009) titled “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts,” 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, and self-sacrifice.

The interviewer asked Keltner about “take-aways“ from his study.  His science-based conclusion was that emotions are “the core of our capacities for virtue like cooperation, love and tenderness,” and 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]. 

In the link below, two elementary school teachers (Pinger and Flook) discuss the HOW question by sharing their lessons from a “kindness curriculum” for young students (K-3).

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_if_schools_taught_kindness

The research suggests that “acts of kindness” may help increase and strengthen student relationships, social engagement, and broaden their social networks.

RESPECT

A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires. – Paulo Coelho

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of respect people reveal through their behaviors – respect for oneself and respect for others.  Both are learned behaviors as are all character virtues/traits.

Steve and Lisa McChesney publish and produce a daily self-esteem and self-confidence building newsletter for both children and adults.  Lisa is a public school teacher and Steve manages three karate schools. Visit them at http://www.bullyfreekids.com.

They say that “schools teach children about respect, but parents have the most influence on how respectful children become.  Until children show respect at home, it’s unlikely they will show it anywhere else.”

“How can you [parents and teachers] show respect to your child? 

  • Be honest.  If you do something wrong, admit it and apologize.
  • Be positive.  Don’t embarrass, insult or make fun of your child. 
  • Be trusting.  Let your child make choices and take responsibility.
  • Be fair.  Listen to your child’s side of the story before reaching a conclusion.  
  • Be polite.  Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
  • Be reliable.  Keep promises.  Show your child that you mean what you say.
  • Be a good listener.  Give your child your full attention.”

FORGIVENESS (APOLOGY)

It’s not an easy journey to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you. – Tyler Perry

In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at the time you beg forgiveness. – Toba Beta

In an article titled, Leadership, Equity, and Pandemic, Joseph Davis (Ferguson-Florissant School District) noted that “many people and communities carry hurt and anger because of racism and injustice, thus learning to feel empathy and build connection between people is key.  We need to teach forgiveness….”  Forgiveness can’t be forgotten, because so many of us have been wronged in so many different ways, and we carry that toxicity with us.  We need to learn to forgive people so we can move on, and that allows you to engage and to grow in ways you couldn’t before.”  

Davis also noted that those in “positions of power” should respond to the call for “action” and be ready to set an example in this work.  “It may not be your fault, but it is your fight,” he said. 

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/education-now

Author Marlee McKee writes: “How to apologize can be the key to getting true forgiveness and moving a relationship forward in a positive way.”  She offers these seven tips for apologizing sincerely and successfully:

  1. Ask for permission to apologize.
  2. Let them know that you realize that you hurt them.
  3. Tell them how you plan to right the situation.
  4. Let them know that inherent in your apology is a promise that you won’t do what you did again.
  5. After you’ve talked through things, formally ask them for forgiveness.
  6. Consider following up with a handwritten note. 
  7. Now it’s time for both people to go forth and live out their promises. 

https://www.mannersmentor.com/gracious-living/how-to-apologize-the-7-steps-of-a-sincere- apology

INTEGRITY

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going  to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey

One of the “better angels” we need watching over us are people who consistently demonstrate that they are trustworthy, honest, and kind.  Integrity is one of the cornerstones of character.  Thus, like other character strengths/trait, we need to work on it, test it, define it, teach it, model it, and practice it.

What then, are the “traits” of integrity?  Here are the main behaviors that reveal if someone has the kind of integrity you want in your colleagues, friends, family, students, coworkers, and leaders. 

  1. Taking responsibility for their actions  
  2. Putting others’ needs above their own.  
  3. Offering to help others in need.
  4. Giving others the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Choosing honesty in all things.
  6. Showing respect to everyone.
  7. Manifesting humility.
  8. Being able to admit they’re wrong. 
  9. Showing regular reliability.
  10. Conveying true kindness.”

https://www.powerofpositivity.com/integrity-traits/

A writer put it this way:  “The good news about integrity is that we’re not born with it—or without it—which means that it’s a behavior-based virtue we can cultivate over time.  We can set a goal to show more integrity in everyday life and we can reach that goal by practicing the behaviors above, as well as countless others which too often go unnoticed.”

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, BLOG, DECEMBER 2020

We’d like to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback:  character@sandiego.edu 

https://www.sandiego.edu/soles/character-education-resource-center/

Help us if you can:  annualgiving@sandiego.edu.

The MASKS of Character

In an article in “Psychcentral,” Therese J. Borchard writes: “While our coping strategies are as varied as our personalities, here are ten of the most typical masks we wear.  She suggests that we ask ourselves the question “which mask do you wear?

  • the cool guy
  • the humorist
  • the overachiever
  • the martyr
  • the bully
  • the control freak
  • the self-basher
  • the people-pleaser
  • the introvert or, 
  • the social butterfly.”

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-10-masks-we-wear/

For this blog, I am adding two MASKS to Borchard’s list but discussing one.   

  • The MASK of Protection (Virus) – have you been wearing one?
  • The MASK of Character

My intent is to say a few words about each the seven character MASKS (strengths/virtues) that are related to our current environment, and testing our character and mental toughness. 

My suggestion:  Create a unit on MASKS with two or three lesson for each of the character strengths that follow.

The MASK of Commitment

Zig Ziglar says:  It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enable us to follow through.”

Three synonyms for “commitment” are also value-words that should guide both teachers and students.  They are duty, responsibility, and obligation.  

Larry Ferlazzo, a renowned high school teacher and writer, asks and answers this question, How Would You Define Success This School Year? (Posted September 2, 2020)     

His answer:  These are my criteria [duty/responsibility/obligation] for success this year in 100% distance learning.

  • Do students come to my class? 
  • Do they learn something valuable? 
  • Do they feel coming to my class makes their lives better? 
  • What realistic suggestions should be added (only from people doing distance learning)?”

The MASK of Responsibility

Sir Josiah Stamp writes:  “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”

As I have said in the past, the word “character” has two Cs in it; one stands for “choices” and the other for “consequences.”  Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by chance, nor does it happen by circumstance.  It happens by the choices one makes.

Our responsibility as teachers and parents is to help young people learn to make good, positive, ethical choices by learning to take responsibility (response-ability) for their actions; be willing to accept the negative consequences of their actions/behaviors and to do something about them.  

Professor Thomas Lickona (2012/Center for the 4th and 5th Rs) created a Respect & Responsibility School Culture Survey instrument of 29 questions developed to assess the extent to which everyone at a school acts with respect and responsibility toward others. 

Retrieved from:  http://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/1398c968-7af6-43bb-9ec9-076f78107a19.pdf

The MASK of Kindness

“Kindness is a behavioral response of compassion and actions that are selfless; or a mindset that places compassion for others before one’s own interests.” – Kristen Fuller, M.D.

The turmoil and uncertainties of the pandemic are likely wearing on you as a teacher, parent or student.  I found an article in Scientific American (February 26, 2009) titled “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts.”  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, and self-sacrifice.” 

In her book, Kind is the New Classy, Candace Cameron Bure writes:  In this book, we will talk about character traits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).”  Her six characteristics for choosing friends are “friends who are kind, strong, loyal, gentle, encouraging, and principled.”   Kindness, compassion, and empathy are values we can all get behind regardless of whether we agree on every issue.

The MASK of Gratitude

“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.”  – Robert Braathe

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, writes: “You literally cannot overplay the hand of gratitude; the grateful mind reaps massive benefits in every domain of life that has been examined so far.  There are countless ways in which gratitude could pay off in the workplace [and in homes and schools.].”

Practicing gratitude during times like this (Covid-19, online teaching and learning)) may seem tough, but studies have shown that people who experience gratitude have more positive emotions (joy, love, happiness) and exhibit fewer negative emotions (bitterness, envy, resentment.)  Not only does the “gratitude experience” contribute to feelings of connectedness, relationships, and better physical health, it also helps people recover more quickly from trauma, adversity, and suffering.  Gratitude reminds us of all that is good and right in life, renewing our sense of hope.”

Researchers at Berkeley surveyed 400 students ages 12-14 in which they found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.”  Positive parent relationships was also associated with gratitude.

A teacher told me that he has his students write down three to five things that they should be grateful for every day.  At the end of each week, he asks students to review their list and write a summary of what it meant to them.  He asks: “Is there anyone you need to thank?”

The MASK of Perseverance

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.  In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  – Maya Angelou 

Perseverance is sticking with a course of action in spite of obstacles.  Perseverance is a skill that one learns.  It helps build self-confidence, improves performance, creates trust, helps one work through relationship issues, and opens the door to “resourcefulness.”  One author noted that as educators, we can provide opportunities for students to pursue their passions, see persistence pay off, and be mindful about their goals and limits.”

Angela Duckworth calls a combination of perseverance and passion—“grit.”  To encourage “grit” among students, she suggests that teachers “MODEL IT! CELEBRATE IT! ENABLE IT!”   

“Grit predicts accomplishing challenging goals of personal significance.  In most research studies, grit and measures of talent and IQ are unrelated, suggesting that talent puts no limits on the capacity for passion and perseverance. 

Janet Arnold, a Behavior Consultant, writes that “someone with good resilience is a person who can bounce back.  Research shows that children who develop resilience and persevere, are better equipped to learn from failure.  They are also more likely to adapt to change.

Marilyn Price-Mitchell (2015) writes, “Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss and adapt to change.  We recognize resilience in children when we observe their determination, grit, and perseverance to tackle problems and cope with the emotional challenges of school and life.”

The MASK of Empathy

“If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t need to be gorgeous, rich, famous, brilliant, or perfect.  You just have to care.”  – Karen Salmansohn

Researchers Dan Goleman and Paul Ekman report that there are three different ways teachers (and others) must address the teaching and learning of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy: the act of knowing how another person feels.
  • Emotional empathy: the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another.
  • Compassionate empathy: the combination of cognitive and emotional empathy to take action about what one feels and thinks. 

Especially during this pandemic, it is important to help children and youth understand and practice what it means to be empathetic.  Among other things it means non-judgmentally listening; it means acknowledging the importance of how others feel about things; it means putting oneself in another’s shoes; and it means taking action.  That is, to help them realize that they have the power to give back, to respond to the needs of others at home, in school, and in their community. 

The MASK of Faith

This virtue “is an expression of hope for something better.  More than a wish, it is closer to a belief, but not quite.  A belief is rooted in the mind.  Faith is based in the heart.  All that we hold precious rests upon a faith in people, their potential not yet fulfilled.  The evidence of history points us in a different direction—the world is full of ugliness, brutality, and injustices.  Yet there is also tenderness, kindness and concern and that takes the bigger part of our hearts.” Psychology Today, September 28, 2012 

Have faith (an inner conviction/belief) that things will work out and that things will return to “normal” soon.  

Have faith in the compassion and healing powers of our healthcare workers.  

Have faith that our scientists will create a vaccine soon.  

Have faith that we will be back on our jobs and that our children and teacher will return to school.   

Have faith that we, individually and as a society, will have learned lessons from our living through this pandemic.   

Faith will help each of us feel more hopeful and optimistic.

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center

Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, 

BLOG, NOVEMBER, 2020

What do you think of this blog? We’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback: character@sandiego.edu 

There Is No Debating Civility

I’m at Starbuck’s.  Mask on.  In line, six feet from the person in front and in back of me.  All wearing masks.  A young man enters—not wearing a mask.  The lady in back of me requests that he put on a mask.  His response, “F*** you lady” and takes off.

About a week later, I read that a rabbi was attacked at a synagogue about a mile from where I live.  A 14-year-old boy jumped off his bike, punched the rabbi “spewing” racial slurs and yelling “white power.”  He was arrested on battery and hate crime charges.

Some say ”civility” is on the decline because of technology, the Internet, television, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

Some say most of our citizens believe that “civility” has declined for a variety of reasons including ideological differences, individual and group conflicts, and our political difference and divisions.

Some say just look at the rate of bullying, rudeness, lying, ridicule, vulgarity, and physical violence one witnesses in this country. 

Some say that in local schools, communities, neighborhoods, and households, for the most part, people are civil to one another.

What Say You?

The purpose of this blog is to discuss two questions: 

  1. What do we mean by “civility?”   
  2. How do we teach it to our children and youth?

Civility is imbedded in these and other character strengths: 
self-regulation, social responsibility, citizenship, empathy and kindness, respect and responsibility, humility and modesty, love, social-emotional intelligence, and putting the “common good” over self-interests.  

You are well aware that these are learned behaviors.  

The Pew Research Center reported that of the ten skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life, communication skills were 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.  

Neither report says it, but I bet they mean, civil communication.

So, let’s see what the experts say about how to teach civility.  Here are about 25 plus ways to teach your students the skills necessary to be civil human beings.

Melissa Benaroya 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.”  (How to Teach Civility During Divisive Times, Committee for Children, February 2017)

Matthew Lunch suggests seven ways to teach civility:

1) manners matter, 

2) show tolerance, 

3) give examples, 

4) listen well, 

5) apologize regularly,

6) encourage empathy, and, 

7) practice what you preach.  

(7 Ways To Teach Children Civility, The EDVOCATE, 2-23-18)

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, suggests 15 Ways to Foster Respectful Behavior.  She writes:  We can teach kids the foundations of civility every day in the way we communicate with them and others, including the following: 

  • Think about the impact of words and actions on others before you use them.   
  • Apologize when you are wrong. 
  • Set ground rules for civil behavior at home and in classrooms. 
  • Teach kids how to become engaged citizens.   
  • Treat children and adults with the respect that you expect from them. 
  • Demand civility of politicians and public servants. 
  • Use respectful language when you disagree with someone.  
  • Don’t let anger and emotion get in the way of listening to others.  
  • Be tolerant of people who are different from you.
  • Teach character strengths, like respect and empathy, at home and in classrooms.  
  • Challenge people’s views, but don’t attack the person. 
  • Acknowledge others for their civility and respectful behavior, regardless of their viewpoints. 
  • Remind kids often why they – and you – should be civil.
  • Empower children to take a stand against bullying.”

https://www.rootsofaction.com/civility-101-whos-teaching-the-class/

I do not know where I read this—it was in my notes without a reference.  The author suggests these five ways for a teacher to “help students learn to engage in productive, civil discourse in the classroom.”

  1. Begin with yourself—be the model in your classroom.  
  2. Monitor your classroom climate—start small and build as skills develop. 
  3. State your dialogue expectations—the basic rule of civil discourse is to be respectful and don’t make it personal.
  4. Have students watch civil debates [a challenge these days].
  5. Have your students use a “private journaling” strategy. 

When you get a chance, try out this civility quotation lesson with your students. In this lesson, your students will be asked to: 

  • compare and contrast quotations,   
  • find information about the author of each quote,   
  • determine the meaning and implications of each quote,   
  • write and/or draw how the quote may apply to what they do and say.   

I also suggest that your students discuss the meaning of the quotes with classmates, friends, and family.

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

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

University of San Diego
BLOG, October, 2020
See News You Can Use-October Issue

Character & SEL: A Roadmap

I just read the 32-page report on “Model Standards” for the teaching and learning of character and social-emotional development.  These standards “provide a roadmap for school leaders and teachers to help children and teens understand, care about, and consistently practice the SEL skills and character strengths that will enable them to flourish in school, in the workplace, and as citizens.”

https://www.character.org/model-standards

My intent is to provide an overview of a few major points in the report.  I encourage you to read this report, reflect on it, discuss it with your colleagues and others, and then use the ideas to develop your own school and district’s character and social-emotional programs and initiatives.

The Model Standards address four dimensions of character-strengths – moral character, performance character, intellectual character, and civic character – and five skills of social-emotional learning – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal/relationship skills, and responsible/ethical decision-making.

These “character strengths” and “social-emotional skills “are based on Six Core Beliefs.  In summary, they are:

  1. The family is a child’s first character educator.
  2. These strengths and skills are not add-ons, but rather add significant value to student success.
  3. A positive school climate is critical to fostering the whole child. 
  4. Character and social-emotional development requires thinking, feeling, and doing.
  5. The character strengths should be taught, caught, and sought.
  6. The “model standards” align with the fill-range of classroom and school-based initiatives.

The report includes a section describing “a conceptual framework” that includes:

  • The Developing Child and Teen – There are essential building blocks of development.
  • Caring and Supportive Environments – Our role as adults is to offer and provide a “constructive web” for every child and teen to learn and practice the SEL skills and character strengths.  
  • Opportunities to Learn and Practice – Research confirms that well-scaffolded, engaging and evidence-based instructional and curricular design can impact the development of self-regulation and executive functions.   
  • A Thriving/Striving Person of Character – Raising or graduating smart teenagers – to be kind and honest, and individuals who other people trust – a good person.

Section 4–Part 1 of the model defines and describes the four character dimensions – moral, performance, intellectual, and civic.  Each dimension is defined with outcomes by grade and age level, examples and resources. 

Let me share one example from Part 1.  

I selected “performance character” defined with grades 9-12, ages 14-18+.  There is an “outcome” statement, and then there is a list of six activities about what should be learned and practiced.  I listed three so that you’d get the idea.

  • Give an example of a habit you have developed because you wanted to become a better person.   
  • Explain the relationship between being responsible and a person’s reputation.   
  • Explain a time when you had a ‘setback’ but your grit kept you motivated.

Section 4-Part 2 defines and describes the five skills of social-emotional learning – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal /relationship skill and responsible and ethical decision-making.  Each defined.  Each with outcome statements.  Each with age and grade levels.  Each with a list of resources.

I selected the skill of “self-awareness” with Grades 6-8, ages 11-13.  There are seven activities that should be learned and practiced.  I have selected three to share.  

  • Describe how different thoughts, situations, and behaviors affect your feelings and emotions.
  • Recognize the times when you exaggerate the severity or consequences of mistakes, embarrassing moments, failures, rejections and other negative events (e.g., “I can never face them again.” “Everyone thinks I’m stupid.”)   
  • List and explain the different external supports you have used when feeling stressed or anxious (e.g., family, friends, teachers, neighbors).

In Section 5, the authors wrote in summary:

“We believe the SEL skills enable and support a young person’s determination and commitment to be a person of character.  The SEL skills help students consistently be honest and trustworthy, caring and compassionate, self-disciplined, intellectually curious, fair, and respectful.  The CSED Model Standards provide school leaders with a unifying vehicle that will bring the staff together toward a shared goal and purpose: supporting students as they strive to become young people of character who will flourish in school, in relationships, in the workplace, and as citizens.”

As a postscript to this report and to satisfy my curiosity, I wondered how others identify “character strengths.”  Here are three examples.

From T. Lickona and M. Davidson, Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work, and Beyond (July, 2005) (www.cortland.edu/character).

8 STRENGTHS OF CHARACTER:

  1. Lifelong learner and critical thinker.
  2. Diligent and capable performer.
  3. Socially and emotionally skilled person.
  4. Ethical thinker.
  5. Respectful and responsible moral agent, committed to consistent moral action.
  6. Self-disciplined person who pursues a healthy lifestyle.
  7. Contributing community member and democratic citizen.
  8. Spiritual person crafting a life of noble purpose.

From the perspective of positive psychology:  The Values in Action (VIA) Projecta starting point for the systematic scientific study of good character.  The VIA Classification consists of 24 widely-valued character strengths, organized under six broad virtues: 

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge 
  2. Courage  
  3. Humanity 
  4. Justice 
  5. Temperance 
  6. Transcendence

(Park & Peterson, 2006b; Peterson & Seligman, 2004)

From the North Carolina State Board of Education’s Character and Civic Education Handbook and Guide:  

Respect – Trustworthiness – Responsibility – Fairness – Caring – Citizenship – Accountability – Integrity.

“Character education is the component of social and emotional learning that promotes core virtues, moral sensitivity, moral commitment, ethical reasoning, and personal growth aspirations.”
 – Yael Kidron, Director of Character Education, Santa Clara University

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center 

University of San Diego, BLOG, September 2020