Tag Archives: Ed DeRoche

Teach, Inspire, Motivate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here are 10 more motivating strategies that you might use:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) purpose as a sense of direction, 

(2) purpose that is personally meaningful, and 

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

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

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

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

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

The MPOWER program (Klein, et.al.) is a school program designed to promote purpose by “helping students connect to supportive people, identify their passion and core values, and discover their strengths.”  The program’s primary thrust is to engage students in “grappling” with three essential questions: “What do they want to achieve? Who do they want to become? How do they lead purposeful lives?”  The 4-Ps of MPOWER are: “people, passion, propensity, and pro-social benefits.” 

Three Final Points

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

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

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

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

Twelve Days of Teaching Character and Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, monitor your classroom climate.

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

Fourth, start small and build as skills develop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The 90th annual MLB All-Star Game was played on July 9th at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.  The American League won the game for the seventh straight year.  Players are selected based on their SKILLS by three groups—fan voting, player voting, and the Commissioner’s office.  

In schools and classrooms, we call it the SKILLS GAME taught by All-Star Teachers at all grade levels.  The “fan voting” includes parents and students.  “Player voting” includes teachers and staff.  The “commissioner’s” selections are from school and district administrators. 

What might you find on a SKILLS SCORECARD?

On one of the older cards, you will find Bloom’s Taxonomy—the “go to game” for thinking skills a few decades ago.  

Many of you will remember the SCANS Scorecard, highlighting the need for employee skills in three general areas:  

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

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:  

  • Teamwork 
  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Oral communication
  • Listening

Another Scorecard offered by the Pew Research Center showed that adults identified several essential skills that were most important for children and youth to learn “to get ahead in the world today.”  These included communication skills as the most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic. 

There are two other very essential Skills Scorecards.  One is on the topic of Emotional Intelligence (ET) and the other is a scorecard that describes Social Intelligence (SI).

You know well the All Star for Emotional Intelligence.  Psychologist Daniel Goleman hit a couple of “homeruns” with his books Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, and Working with Emotional Intelligence.  His scorecard included such skills as self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, commitment and integrity.  

In discussing emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites Peter Salovey, a Yale professor who categorized components of emotional and social skills into five areas: 

  • Knowing one’s emotions
  • Managing emotions
  • Motivating oneself
  • Recognizing emotions in others
  • Handling relationships

The scorecard for Social Intelligence is also revealing and relevant. 

“Social intelligence [social skills] is as important as IQ when it comes to happiness, health, and success.  Empathetic people are less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and addictions later in life.  They are also more likely to be hired, promoted, earn more money, and have happier marriages and better-adjusted children.” –Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D., Board-Certified Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist

“If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning.  That doesn’t mean that social skills (including cooperation and self-control) make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning.” – Stephen Elliott, Vanderbilt Peabody Education and Psychology Researcher and co-author of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System.

Lastly, there is the Ten Skills Scorecard from the work of Stephen Elliott and Frank Gresham who surveyed over 8,000 teachers and examined 20 years of research in classrooms across the country.  They identified these top 10 skills that students need to succeed: 

  • Listen to others
  • Follow the steps
  • Follow the rules
  • Ignore distractions
  • Ask for help
  • Take turns when you talk
  • Get along with others
  • Stay calm with others
  • Be responsible for your behavior
  • Do nice things for others

“Top 10 Social Skills Students Need to Succeed,” Research News at Vanderbilt University, 9-27-2007

Does this sound like the “skills-game“ teachers are now playing in schools and classrooms?  If so, then give these teachers your vote and be sure they are rewarded for being an ALL-STAR. 

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, University of San Diego. BLOG, July 2019

Apology, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Love

Last month I read a novel titled, The Hummingbird, by Stephen P Kiernan, (Harper Collins Publishers, 2015).  In the book one of the characters asked another “what would be your answer to each of these four questions?”

Is there anyone you need to say ‘I’m sorry’ to?

Is there anyone you need to say ‘I forgive you’ to?

Is there anyone you need to say ‘thank you’ to?

Is there anyone you need to say ‘I love you’ to?

I bookmarked the page saying to myself, “Here is your May Blog – apology, forgiveness, gratitude (thanks), and love.”

I was struck by the power of the four questions and what they say about “reflection” – something I do not think we do often in our classrooms.  As you know, ”reflection” is a component in learning, a source of both knowledge and beliefs, and an aspect of critical thinking—looking back on the implications of one’s actions. 

I asked a few teachers what they thought about the idea of having students answer these questions about once a month during class-meeting time.  

“I like it!  What a good way to teach students to reflect on the substance of the questions.  I would have them write down their answers and discuss them in class, but only those students who want to do so publicly.”

Another teacher suggested that she would have her students add their own reflective question(s) to the list. 

I have written about gratitude (thanks) and love in two previous blogs—November 2018 and February 2019.  Before we revisit those two virtues, some commentary about “apology and forgiveness.”


The question—how does one “apologize?” 

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

  1. Ask for permission to apologize.  
  2. Let them know that you realize 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.



Teaching children “forgiveness” as you may have guessed, is a parent and teacher responsibility.  Enright and Fitzgibbons write that “Forgiveness is a virtue hard to exercise and challenging to implement in the face of injustice, but one that offers a concrete hope for peace.” 

They recommend “family forgiveness gatherings” at least once a week, such as during mealtimes, to talk about “what forgiveness means, how it feels, and what is easy and hard about.”  Here is a strategy that would work in the classroom as well. 

Robert Enright, Forgiveness is a Choice (Washington: APA, 2001); Robert Enright and
Richard Fitzgibbons, Helping Clients Forgive (Washington: APA, 2000); cf. International Forgiveness Institute, web-site: www.forgiveness-institute.org

Jamie Perillo, LPC, a child and family psychotherapist and parent educator, offers seven ideas to help parents and teachers get started on teaching children forgiveness.  He notes that to forgive is to say, “I do not like your words or actions, but I am willing to let it go because it does not help me to hold onto these feelings.”  He suggests that we look beyond the action and explore the person—helping her/him to answer the question: “what triggered the behavior?”

Perillo also suggests that the child (student) should be encouraged to “identify the feeling” he/she is experiencing (anger, embarrassment, disappointment) and then “state the feeling before offering forgiveness.”  

We need to teach our children at home and in school that there are usually two or more sides to an issue or problem.  We need to teach our kids to be able to see things from the other side. Forgiving is much easier when we know the whole story and not just half of it.  Ask your kids how they would want someone to respond when they did something wrong.  They would want to be forgiven.  Then tell them to do likewise.”   


Gratitude (Thanks)

In the November blog, I wrote that Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, said:  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).

I wrote that studies have shown that people who experience gratitude and thanks have more positive emotions (joy, love, happiness) and exhibit fewer negative emotions (bitterness, envy, resentment.)  The “gratitude experience” also contributes to feelings of connectedness, relationships, and better physical health.


In the “What’s LOVE got to do with it?” blog, I noted that, Barbara Fredrickson, psychologist and author of the book Positivity, discusses “the science of happiness” and ten positive emotions including love.  

“Love,” she writes, “comes into play in a close and safe relationship.  Love is the most common feeling of positivity and comes in surges.  Love fosters warmth and trust with the people who mean the most to us.  Love makes us want to do and be better people.”

This might be a good time for you to reflect on each of the four questions and plan your next steps.  Take 10 minutes and ask yourself “is there anyone I need to say I’m sorry, I forgive you, I thank you, I love you to?”

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

Relationships: Teacher-Student and Teacher-Class

April 2019 Blog
By Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center

Sometimes the things you want the most don’t happen and what you least expect happens. I don’t know – you meet thousands of people and none of them really touch you. And then you meet one person and your life is changed forever. Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), Love & Other Drugs

That person could be a teacher! So, let’s talk about teacher-student and  teacher-class relationships. The first, teacher as coach/adviser/counselor. The second, teacher as conductor/director/ringmaster. 

Both are grounded (or should be) in “relationships” that are positive, rewarding, and productive. Students deserve teachers who are encouraging conductors of learning rather than domineering ringmasters focused on maintaining order. 

In the March 13th issue of Education Week (www.edweek.org), Sarah D. Sparks wrote an article titled, “Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter.” She framed her full-page report around five questions. I have marked the author’s quotes with “SS.” All other quotes come from different references. 

1. Why are student-teacher relationships important? 

Positive teacher-student relationships are associated with fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. 

A teacher’s relationship with students is the best predictor of how much the teacher experienced joy versus anxiety in class. 

2. How does a teacher’s approach affect that relationship? 

Sometimes teachers don’t understand the importance that their relationship with each student has on that student’s identity and sense of belonging. Vicki Nishioka, researcher with Education Northwest (SS) 

Emotional control, and social and relationship skills are learned behaviors that must be taught and practiced by all students. Enter—the teacher! The ones that know how to counsel and conduct; the ones that respect, care about and show concern for the character development of their students. The ones that create a positive learning environment and show that they care are most likely to have their students reciprocate and show respect for them and their fellow classmates. 

3. How can teachers improve their relationships with students?

In a word: Empathy. (SS) 

We know from the work of Goleman and others that emotional intelligence consists of four attributes: self-awareness, self- management, social awareness, and relationship management. (You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.) 

Research shows that teachers who cultivate empathy for and with their students are able to manage students’ behavior and academic engagement better. 

4. How can teachers maintain healthy boundaries with students? 

Experts caution that for teachers and students, “relationship” does not equal “friend,” particularly on social media. (SS) 

Most school districts have rules guiding teachers about using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Teachers can create “healthy boundaries,” by using common sense, by being honest with students about who want to share their personal stories, and, of course, there are always the liability issues. 

5. How can relationships with students support teacher quality? 

(Use) student feedback to improve teaching practices, and in particular, such feedback can be used to help teachers build deeper relationships with students. (SS) 

Strong teacher-student relationships have long been considered a foundational aspect of a positive school experience. – Clayton Cook, Professor, University of Minnesota 

I conclude by quoting Neville Billimoria, a friend and Vice President, Mission Federal Credit Union. Neville writes a weekly column called “Soul Food Friday.” 

In one recent posting, he addressed teachers directly about developing positive relationships with students. 

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. 

Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that has no barrier. And that emotional relationship is on the most important characteristic, which is trust. —Howard Schultz, Businessman 

Reputation, Relationships, and Responsibility

January 2019 Blog
By Ed DeRoche, Director,  Character Education Resource Center

“I know. I’m lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have ’til December, right?” – Catherine O’Hara

It happens daily—the references to “character.” We read about it, we hear about it, we even practice it (at least most of us do).

The most frequently asked question: “What is character?” A quick answer: Character is who you are when no one is looking—or, these days, when everyone is looking (see tweeting).

I decided to frame my answer to the question around specific character strengths as I did in my November blog (gratitude) and December blog (emotions, empathy, and engagement).

My purpose is to encourage you and others (students, colleagues, parents) to think about, to talk about, to ask the “why and how” questions about learning, teaching, and practicing the “strengths” that support good, positive character behaviors.

For this blog I have selected three character strengths—Reputation, Relationships, and Responsibility.


One cannot answer the character question better than William Hersey Davis has. (Positive Thoughts, 25 Sep 2016) Bolded words are mine. 

  • 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 givesyou 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.


“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

Research clearly reveals that few factors in K-12 education have a greater impact on students’ educational experiences than a caring relationship with teachers. James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, notes that, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” 

We know that positive relationships can help reduce the negative effects of stress and boost one’s self-esteem. In classrooms, we know that it starts with the teacher taking time to build trust with each student. We know that trust has to 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. 

John Maxwell invites us to “Relationships 101” and the six most important “relationship” words. He notes that the least important word is “I.” 

  • The most important word: WE
  • The two most important words: THANK YOU
  • The three most important words: ALL IS FORGIVEN.
  • The four most important words: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?
  • The five most important words: YOU DID A GOOD JOB.
  • The six most important words: I WANT TO UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.

Post this on your bulletin board and your refrigerator.


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.” 

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 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 thembeing responsible. 

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 life – it is the source from which self-respect springs.” 

And Denis Waitley, speaker/writer:  “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” 

Character Education Resource Center

The Three “E’s” in December

By Ed DeRoche

Last month’s blog focused on the “G” (gratitude) in the word “Thanksgiving.” Of the ten blogs I have written this past year, the “G” blog received the most responses.

Well, when you’re on a roll, why change things?

So as you know, the word “December” has three E’s in it. I selected three special E’s to discuss this month – Emotions, Empathy and Engagement.


Several months ago I read Dacher Keltner’s book, Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. He writes 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]. “Emotions,” he says, are “the core of our capacities for virtue and cooperation, love and tenderness, and other virtues.”

It’s not news to you that social-emotional learning (SEL) programs are capturing the attention of school personnel and the public. In my March issue of News You Can Use, I provided an array of resources for teachers and administrators who want to implement SEL in their schools.

In a major report titled, The Positive Impact of Social and Emotional Learning for Kindergarten to Eighth-Grade Students, researchers from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning found that SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connections to school, positive social behavior, academic performance, reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Bottom-line: SEL programs are among the most successful youth- development programs offered to school-age youth.


In one of my blogs, I asked and answered nine questions about empathy. Let me share with you a very important piece of information that teachers and others need for teaching students about empathy.

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

  • The first stage of becoming empathetic is cognitive empathy – the act of knowing how another person feels.
  • The second stage is emotional empathy – the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another.
  • The third stage is compassionate empathy – the combination of cognitive and emotional empathy to take action about what one feels and thinks.

Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
(To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

That’s a good way of defining empathy – understanding what someone else is feeling because you have experienced it yourself or you can put yourself in his/her shoes.


Engagement includes relationships. So let’s start with some interesting information about “engagement” and then follow that with commentary about “relationships.”

A Gallup Poll found that 63% of students in schools are “highly engaged and enthusiastic about school.” Interestingly, there is an “engagement slide” – peaking during elementary school, decreasing through middle school and early high school, and then increasing through the rest of high school.

In a Kappan article on engagement in schools and classrooms, Shane J. Lopez reports that students polled suggest four ways to keep them engaged—note the relationships factor in each:

1) prepare them for the rigors of the work;
2) get to know them;
3) praise and recognize them for good school work, and;
4) have a school wide commit to building the strengths of each student.

“Teachers who are engaged in their work tend to have students who are engaged in learning.”

It is clear that in schools and in life there is a very close connection between emotions, engagement (relationships), and empathy. As author Robert J. Marzano writes:

Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Conversely, a weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies.

Let’s “wrap-it-up.”
December is the month of holy days and holidays.

During this month let us celebrate and apply at home, in school, and where we work these positive emotions—joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, awe and LOVE.

During this month let us not engage in what Professor William Glasser calls the “seven deadly habits of relationships – criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to control.”

During this month let’s respond positively to Maria Shriver’s request that all of us join the “Inner Peace Corps.” She reminds us that “we are the American family and many of us are hurting and feeling isolated, lonely and scared. Let’s step up. Let’s serve one another. Let’s be friends.”


Edward DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center December 2018 Blog
For past issues of News You Can Use and Blogs: http://charactermatters.sandiego.edu 

My First Parent-Teacher Conference

September Blog 2018
By Ed DeRoche

When I was a kid, my father and mother took me to my first parent-teacher conference. I told them that students did not attend these meetings. “You’re going.” I don’t know why my parents wanted me there because I did not plan to participate in their conversation. But I knew it was a big deal when they dressed up as if they were going to church.

As we waited in the hall to see my teacher, I noticed that other parents were giving me that “What is he doing here?” look. I knew then that all the other fifth-graders would hear about this tomorrow and that I’d be heckled all day long.

The classroom door opened and there stood Ms. James (a first year teacher leading her first parent-conference). She was smiling. I gasped! This was the first time I had seen Ms. James really smile. My friend, Andy, told me that teachers were ordered not to smile until winter break.

Ms. James seemed as nervous as my parents. There they were—three grown-ups, six pairs of eyes looking at me—as I was told to sit in the chair next to Ms. James’ desk, facing my parents. Their looks suggested (maybe demanded) that I pay “attention.”

Ms. James kept smiling as if something very funny was going to happen. I failed to see the humor in having to attend this meeting, but Ms. James seemed to be conveying the message that I was going to benefit from it.

When we were settled in and ready to talk, I noticed that Ms. James glanced at a card on her desk that had printed in big bold letters: Smile and be pleasant.

She handed my parents my report card, smiling. My Father began to breathe heavily and I noticed beads of perspiration on his forehead. My Mother clutched her pocketbook and kept saying, “Not my son! Not my son!” Being as astute as one could be at that age, I immediately sensed that something was wrong. Ms. James turned to me and gave me a “not to worry look.”

The report card went back to Ms. James who said, “Edward could do much better if he tried.” My Father retorted, “We have heard that story for the last four years.” My Mother asked, “Why doesn’t he do well in school?” This question and the possibility that my Mother might cry seemed to fluster Ms. James. I caught her glancing at another card on her desk: Stress pupil’s strengths.

“You must understand,” she said hurriedly, “Edward has a few strong areas on which we can build.” My Father countered, “Obviously school work is not one of them.” Ignoring my Father’s remark, Ms. James noted that I got a good grade in physical education, that all I talked about was sports, but needed to do better in the academic subjects.

My Father agreed and asked Ms. James, ”How do you explain the fact that he is not doing well?” Ms. James didn’t answer the question right away realizing, I think, that there were few strengths to talk about. She immediately checked another card on her desk: Be frank about weaknesses.

I looked at the classroom clock to see how much time we had left. This topic could easily take up most of the conference. I heard Ms. James say that such failures were usually the result of heredity and/or environment, sometimes both. I’m not sure what she meant but my Mother quickly responded that our family tree was loaded with teachers.

Ms. James told my parents that I appeared to be a slow reader, inattentive, a procrastinator (I looked it up when I got home) with limited interests except, of course, in sports. At this point Ms. James noticed that my parents appeared speechless. I don’t know why. Ms. James hit a “home-run” with her description— that was ME! She decided to move on and quickly checked the next card on her desk: Discuss student’s social adjustment.

“Let’s look at the citizenship side of Edward’s report card,” she said. “As you can see Edward appears to be an introvert and his social skills need work.” Another “home- run” for Ms. James! She added, “As you can also see, most of the checkmarks are in the ‘Needs Improvement’ column.” She went on to explain to my parents (and I guess to me as well) that we must get along with everyone, that we do things in groups, that this is our class where everyone is expected to cooperate and help one another.

My Father: “How can Edward learn school subjects if he has to spend time trying to be cooperative?” Ms. James sensed that he didn’t expect an answer and checked the last card on her desk: End conference on a positive note.

Ms. James: “Edward has the potential. I hope all of us can work on that.” There was a long pause. I’m not sure that my parents agreed with her. I don’t think they understood how she came to that conclusion given the information on my report card.

But they had not seen Ms. James in the classroom. She may not smile, but my classmates and I would “swear” to her enthusiasm, her persistence, and her determination in not letting one of us “off the hook.” These days, I think they call it “responsibility.”

The conference ended. As we left the classroom, Ms. James gave me a “thumbs-up” and told my parents that she would keep them informed about my “progress.”

Walking back to our car, I started to worry about my immediate future. Evidently, my mother was worrying about the same thing, saying, “Edward, I just do not know what on earth you’ll turn out to be.”

When we got into the car I asked my Dad to turn on the Red Sox-Yankee game. All I heard were two big sighs. I wondered why.

EDWARD is the Director of the Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, SOLES, University of San Diego.