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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.”

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) (


  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


Theme: How My Character Developed During the Pandemic

The Character Education Resource Center, in the Department of Learning and Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences at the University of San Diego, is pleased to announce a new essay and poetry contest for all public, private, and home school students in grades 6 through 8 and grades 9 through 12 in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

This essay and poetry contest enables students and teachers to meet the California Department of Education’s mandate 235.5 (a) for character and civic education in grades 6-12 as well as Common Core Standards.

The purpose of this contest is to encourage middle and high school students to explore and address the issues, thoughts, and feelings that are most important and significant to them as they cope with living through the COVID-19 Pandemic.


How is the pandemic affecting you and the people around you?

How is pandemic related to other significant experiences in your life?

How are you dealing with feelings such as anxiety or isolation during the pandemic?

Each essay or poem should address some of these character traits:
Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, Perseverance, Gratitude.


Essays must be the sole, original work of the student.

Students in grades 6-8 should submit an essay of no more than 600 words. 

Students in grade 9-12 should submit an essay of no more than 1000 words.

The title of the essay and added footnotes do not contribute to the word count.

The text of the essays should be in English, in Microsoft Word or PDF format.  Once students have completed the final version of their essay, they should give them to their teacher.


Poems must be the sole, original work of the student.

One poem per student.

Poems must be single-spaced and not be over 21 lines of text, (blank lines between stanzas are not counted).

The text of the poem should be in English, in Microsoft Word or PDF format.

Once students have completed the final version of their poem, they should give them to their teacher.


To Teachers:  In this contest we require teachers to be the first reviewers.  The teacher’s role is to select up to two of the best essays and two of the best poems for each class that he/she teaches, and to submit only those essays and poems for consideration.

Teachers who teach multiple classes are able to submit two essays and two poems per class.  For example, if a teacher teaches five classes he/she may submit 10 essays and 10 poems in total.

The teacher electronically submits the selected essays/poems (as an attachment) in a WORD or PDF format to the Character Education Resource Center via email,

Include the following in the body of the email for each essay and poem submitted.

    1. Student’s name
    2. Grade level
    3. School name and address
    4. Teacher contact information (email/ phone)
    5. Permission to use the essay/poem, if selected


Essays/poems will be judged by teams of graduate students in a teacher education program in San Diego County, using the rubric identified below.

  • 50% – Knowledge of the theme 
    The student showed a thorough knowledge of the theme in the essay and/or poem.
  • 25% – Creativity and originality of the essay/poem
    The student related the theme to her/his own experiences.
  • 25% – Clarity of writing
    The student’s essay/poem was written in an easy-to-understand format leaving the reader/judge with a clear understanding of her/his explanation of the theme.


September 9 to 18
Contest announcement

October 23
Student submission to their teacher

November 16
Teacher selections submitted to CERC

Week of November 23 (Thanksgiving Week)
Awards Announced


Middle School and High School Student Awards for Essays & Poems

First Place: $150 VISA Gift Card

Second Place: $100 VISA Gift Card

Third Place: $50 VISA Gift Card

Two (2) Honorable Mentions:  $25 VISA Gift Card

Winners will be announced on Character Education Resource Center website and social media.

Email us at with any questions regarding the contest.

Make a gift to the Character Education Resource Center in support of the contest.

Presentology (The Study of the Present)

Background:  Early in my teaching career, I was a junior high school social studies teacher.  Part of my teaching assignment was teaching a “current events course.”  The texts I used were the local and state newspapers.  Our intent, at the time, was to engage students in a study of and conversations about what was going on in their community and in the world, and why. 

As a result of these experiences, I wrote three books on the use of newspapers in classrooms:  Project Update: The Newspaper In The Elementary And Junior High Classroom, Character Matters: Using Newspapers To Teach Character (co-authored), and The Newspaper: A Reference for Teachers and Librarians.  

WHY Teach Current Events (CE)? 

Here are six reasons for having CE become a key part of your classroom and school’s curriculum.

  1. Your students are already talking about what is going on in their world and the “real world” anyway, so under your guidance, take time each day to let them talk about current events—hearing and discussing multiple issues respectfully.
  2. A CE curriculum will introduce your students to a wide range of new content—the more you know, the more you grow.
  3. A CE curriculum will contribute to creating, hopefully, students who are informed, engage, active citizens as well as lifelong news readers.
  4. A CE program will provide the opportunity for teachers to help students develop digital media literacy skills, improve reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, oral expression, and listening skills.
  5. A CE program will encourage your students to improve their language, vocabulary, and writing skills especially using the “news style “—Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How—also an important skill for summarizing and interpreting digital content.
  6. Most CE teachers report that they tend to use a variety of grouping methods in their classroom as student collaborate to study, discuss, and debate issues and events.

Prior to the advent of digital media and technology, research using newspapers (the print copies) and current events in classroom showed: 

  • Students who use newspapers tend to score higher on standardized achievement tests—particularly in reading, math, and social studies—than those who don’t use them.
  • Newspaper use helps teach students to be effective readers. 
  • Reading newspapers can help develop and improve student vocabulary, word recognition skills, and comprehension. 
  • Newspapers are effective tools for teaching many math concepts, particularly fractions, decimals, currency, and averages.
  • In surveys, students overwhelmingly support the use of newspapers in the classroom and have a positive attitude toward reading newspapers.  
  • Using newspapers increase awareness of and interest in current events. 
  • Students who read newspapers in school tend to continue reading them when they become adults.   

My original guess was that the findings above would be the same for students in today’s schools and classrooms where using technology (online learning), digital media, and social posts, for the teaching and learning of currents events and citizenship is common. 

I was wrong. 

One of my colleagues sent me an article with the headline: “Study: U.S. adults who mostly rely on social media for news are less informed, exposed to more conspiracies.”

Another suggested that I look at the Pew Foundation study that found “more Americans get their news from social media than from newspapers, that people who use social media for news are less knowledgeable than other news consumers, that they are also more likely to see and believe misinformation, and are not as concerned about it as people who consume news elsewhere.”

If that was not surprising enough, a CERC advisory committee member sent me an article on the “state of civics instruction” in which several surveys found that “barely one in four Americans could name the three branches of government,” that “just one in three Americans could pass the nation’s citizenship test,” and that “less than one-fourth of eighth-graders were judged proficient on the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics test.”

Two HOW Ideas!

One idea:  In her article, “The Best Way to Teach Current Events? Let Students Lead,” Meghan Selway, notes that one of the problems teachers have in teaching current events is that students lack the background knowledge required to understand news events. 

She asked her seniors what would make current issues more meaningful to them and they said they needed time to learn about the issues and events.  Her solution?

  • Give students choices—have them select two topics from a list she provided.  
  • Next she created “Current Issues Groups” of three to five students based on their interests.  The groups met in class every other week to read the articles and then discuss the news events posted for their topic with their peers.  
  • Then, she tracked student participation by “creating a website for each class on Google Sites where students posted relevant news stories bi-weekly on a blog with accompanying questions.”…

Another idea:  Heather Wolpert-Gawron is an award-winning middle school teacher and PBL coach.  In “Teaching Current Events in the Age of Social Media,” she writes that [edited]: 

Students have to know about the world around them, and part of our job as educators is to prepare them for the realities of the world outside the classroom walls.  We need our students to leave classrooms knowledgeable and critical but also hopeful.  Make your classroom one of positivity so that they have a place to go to feel that the state of the news is not necessarily the state of their own lives.”

She describes four resources that will help you.

1. Utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels. 

Look at resources like Newsela to filter news stories not by topic but by grade level, so that articles are suited to your students’ emotional stages.

2. Create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories.

  • Start with Common Sense Media’s list of news sources for kids.  Remember, however, that every site has articles that need to be vetted.   
  • DailyGood: This is a great resource of straightforward pieces with an emphasis on the amazing and interesting.  
  • Yes! Magazine: The tagline for this magazine is “Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions.”  It focuses on problems, yes, but also on how people are solving those problems.  
  • Positive News: This site focuses on challenging stereotypes and sharing what people are doing to tackle the world’s challenges. 

3. Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false. 

From PBS to KQED, from Common Sense Media to The New York Times, there are many outlets out there to help teachers tackle this challenge.

4. Teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes.  

Teach students that unplugging is healthy for their hearts and heads.  Unplug, recharge, and oxygenate your brain with exercise.

Three Additional Resources

Besides using your local news sources, here are a few sites that will help you plan with a current events curriculum and instructional activities.

Twenty-five great ideas for teaching current events…

NEA – Teaching With The News

Cnn Student News Today Student News Today

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

BLOG, August 2020

Teaching PEACE

In the Center’s July newsletter, we described 25 Steps on becoming a culturally response teacher.  Several responses and questions helped me develop the content for this blog.  A few respondents believed that “civility is on the decline “and one teacher wrote: “We need a citizens’ peace treaty.”  

I had my topic for this blog.

“If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.”  Mahatma Gandhi


“Perseverance” is the ability an individual or group has to keep going to reach a goal in spite of how hard it is to attain or how many obstacles one faces.  

Perseverance builds self-confidence, improves performance, creates trust, helps one work through relationship issues, and opens the door to “resourcefulness.”

Angela Duckworth calls it “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.”



Psychiatrist Alfred Adler defined empathy as “seeing with the eyes of another, hearing with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”

Sam Chaltain ( developed “The Empathy Formula” noting three types of empathy:

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

Michele Borba says this about writing her book, UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.

“My 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.”


Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, a management research and training firm.  In an article, Teaching Positive Attitude, he offers this advice that is applicable to educators.

“Research shows that if you make an effort to display positive words, tones, and gestures on the outside, it has a positive effect on your internal brain chemistry and it actually makes you feel better on the inside.  Good attitudes can be a self-fulfilling prophesy: Behave as if you feel positive, and you will eventually begin to genuinely feel positive—and experience positive results.”

Here are five reminders about the importance of helping your students learn how to develop positive attitudes [edited]:

  1. Positivity makes it easier to ask for help.  When you see an obstacle in your path, you’re more likely to reach out to a teacher or parent for advice.
  2. Positivity can even improve your health—by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.
  3. Positivity increases your satisfaction in life and school.  When you choose to embrace positive thoughts and focus on the things you’re grateful for and successful at, you stop comparing yourself.
  4. Positivity helps you grow.  Positivity can be useful by prompting students to take risks and try new things in the classroom and at home.
  5. Students who learn from their mistakes can still focus on the positive side of things.


Collaboration requires commitment.  Commitment requires courage.

Canice Nuckols says there are “2 critical factors” and suggests four ideas with regard to teacher collaboration [edited]: 

The critical factors: 

  • The first is teachers’ “buy in to the idea of collaboration.”   
  • The second is that teachers understand “how to effectively engage in collaborative work with fellow teachers is critical to the process.”

Her four collaboration ideas are:

  1. Create a shared vision.  Develop statements addressing the group’s vision, goals, and an assessment plan.  This connection between the shared vision and subsequent goals (and assessment) will define the work of the team and ensure ownership on the part of each individual.   
  2. Develop a collaborative community.  Mutual respect and trust for each other can be gained by getting to know each other on a personal as well as a professional level  This will take time to develop and will require a lot of work among the members—attending all meetings, being an active, contributing member, and accepting of the ideas of others.
  3. Establish protocols.  In order to progress towards the goals established by the group, teachers/members will need to develop protocols to ensure the smooth functioning of the group—defining roles and responsibilities, how the group will communicate thoughts and ideas, and defining time parameters.
  4. Proactively manage conflict.  The group should establish a conflict management plan that includes providing support and time for individuals to work through the reasons that are causing conflict.  All members of the group should be vigilant with regards to managing their own responses and interactions with their colleagues.…


In its June 17th, 2020 issue, Education Week ran this front-page headline:

“Are America’s Schools Ready For Tough Talk on Racism?  We want equality is easier to say than We stand against racism.”

I don’t know the answer to the question.  I do know that I need clarity on the meaning of the two words “equity and equality.”  You might as well. 

Robert Longley, a history and government expert, says:

“In education, equality means providing every student with the same experience.  Equity, however, means overcoming discrimination against specific groups of people, especially defined by race and gender.”

In an article titled, Racial Equality or Racial Equity? The Difference It Makes, author Paula Dressel, Ph.D., writes [edited]:

“Racial equity results when you cannot predict advantage or disadvantage by race.  But the route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally.  It will be achieved by treating everyone equitably, or justly according to their circumstances.This is why we advocate the dual aspirations of raising the bar and closing the gaps.  Yet, when resources are limited, as they often are, it is critical to invest in ways that erase those gaps that for too long have compromised the promise of children, families, and communities of color.  Racial equity matters.”

“If you are a parent [or teacher]—regardless of your race or the race of your child—ask your child’s teacher or principal: ‘What is the school doing to ensure all students, especially Black and Latino students, are getting access to rigorous academic experiences?’”

Gloria Lee, founder and CEO of Educate78

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

Character Education Snapshots

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

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


“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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Berkowitz and Bier (2005)

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

-Marshall, Caldwell, and Foster (2011)


Standard One: Mission-Core Values-Goals

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

Standard Two: School Culture

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

Standard Three: Value Formation-Moral Action

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

Standard Four: Staff Development

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

Standard Five: Curriculum-Programs-Partnerships

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

Standard Six: Assessment/Evaluation

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


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

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


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

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

pp. 17-34)

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

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

(Education Week Research Center, 2019)


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

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

Shari Caudron, “The Hard Case for Soft Skills”

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

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

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

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

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

And so, what is in your character education garden?

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

The Essence of Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Wisdom and Knowledge 

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

2. Courage

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

3. Humanity

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

4. Justice

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

5. Temperance 

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

6. Transcendence 

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

The KIPP Schools, another example, focus on these seven “character strengths.”

Zest—Enthusiastic and energetic participation in life 

Grit—Perseverance and passion for long-term goals  

Curiosity—Eagerness to explore new things with openness 

Optimism—Confidence in a future full of positive possibilities 

Self-Control—Capacity to regulate one’s own responses so they align with short and long-term goals 

Gratitude—Appreciation for the benefits we receive from others, and the desire to express thanks 

Social Intelligence—Understanding the feelings of others and adapting actions accordingly 

Curiosity—Eagerness to explore new things with openness  

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

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

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

Let’s look at “social skills.”

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

  1. Listen to others
  2. Follow the steps
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Ignore distractions
  5. Ask for help
  6. Take turns when you talk
  7. Get along with others
  8. Stay calm with others
  9. Be responsible for your behavior
  10. Do nice things for others.• Include the weekly character trait concerts, and pep-rallies.  

“How to Build a 36-Week Character Education Curriculum” suggest 36 traits from which teachers and school leaders may choose to meet the needs of their students and educational programs.  For space purposes, I selected 10 of the 36-trait curriculum. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Principal: Character, Collaboration and Commitment”

“What is This Thing Called – Leadership?”  

“The Qualities of Character and Leadership” 

“Presidential Character and Leadership”

Three examples of my books on this topic include:  

Complete Guide to Administering School Services

An Administrator’s Guide for Evaluating Programs and Personnel 

Character Education: A Guide for School Administrators

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

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

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

Three Surveys

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

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

(Education Week Research Center, 2019)

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

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

Two Article Summaries

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

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

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

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

How?  His suggestions (edited) include: 

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

The Question

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

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

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

Twelve Days of Teaching Character and Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, monitor your classroom climate.

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

Fourth, start small and build as skills develop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ruler and the Umbrella

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

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

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

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

The model includes: 

“Recognition of emotions

Understanding of emotions

Labeling emotions

Expression of emotions

Regulation of emotions (PRIME).”

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

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

A 12-page brochure about RULER can be found at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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