Pursuing Character Education
Purpose: Introductory meeting with high school staff to provide motivation toward character education and introduce a new character education curriculum. Led by the local Character Education Supervisor.
The Need for Character
Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re all Math teachers – excellent Math teachers. We take our jobs seriously, so that we eat/drink/sleep teaching Math.
Let’s imagine further that a large portion of our students are not only excelling at Math, but one catches fire for Math, excelling to such an extent that he skips two grades, graduates from Harvard, winning a prize for his doctoral thesis, and lands a job teaching Math at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley.
I’d feel pretty successful. Wouldn’t you? I just might put his picture up on my desk, as an example of where disciplined learning can lead.
But let’s further imagine that as we read our morning paper, we’re shocked to find our former student’s picture on the front page, not accepting a Nobel Prize, but in handcuffs, tracked down and convicted as the infamous Unabomber who was convicted of murder. (The awards and honors I described were of course factual.) I look at his picture on my desk and slowly hide it in my drawer. After the initial shock, I believe I’d start thinking, “should I have seen it coming? Is there anything I could have done to have urged him toward serving others with his great intellectual gifts?”
Now I’m definitely not laying the blame for Kaczynski’s murders at the feet of his teachers. If we’d taught him, I don’t know if we could have turned him around or not. But his story does clearly warn me that if we only teach academics, we may find ourselves merely educating smarter criminals, equipping them to be more successful in leading future Enrons to steal our life savings, or even taking others’ lives.
As America’s most successful investor, Warren Buffett, has said,
''Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you.'' (From the Omaha World Herald, February 1, 1994)
Teachers Can Impact Character
Studies have confirmed that we can impact the character of many of our students. Schools that implement a positive character program often survey students from year to year and find school climate changing – their classmates and teachers exhibiting more kindness, compassion and tolerance. Studies also find that as we promote positive character, grades go up. It only makes sense when we think about it. When students exhibit character traits like tolerance, students can concentrate on studies rather than being distracted by the intolerant. When students exhibit diligence, they complete their assignments. (See documented evidence in such books as Character Matters and Educating for Character, both by Thomas Lickona, Ph.D., international authority on child development and education.)
I suppose I’m trying to convince the already convinced here. But we can always use more motivation. What are some reasons you think it’s important to try to positively impact the character of our students?
(Let them share.)
- We’re all doing character education anyway, whenever we set class rules, discipline procedures, in how we treat students, etc. If we’re doing it anyway, why not learn to do it well?
- Many of us become teachers because of the impact of one or more great teachers. These often did more than transfer knowledge. They often cared about us.
- Without character, our schools aren’t safe.
A Resource for Character Education
None of us want to teach selfish, rowdy, ungrateful, undisciplined, prejudiced students. How can we encourage them the right direction?
First of all, character education experts encourage us to promote character in the way we conduct our classrooms. If we treat our students fairly and show compassion, we model positive character for them. Second, we can find ways to incorporate it into our curriculum. Rather than just learning the facts about Benjamin Franklin, why not go further and explore some of the character traits that made him successful?
Secondly, it often helps to set aside a few minutes regularly to reflect on a particular trait. That’s why we as a school emphasize a certain trait every month. Problem is, we’re all so busy, that it’s hard to put together compelling materials. Who has the time to research motivating stories and discussions for each character trait?
Fortunately, fellow educators are developing resources that we can take and tweak for our classes, rather than having to develop them from scratch. I’d like to show you a curriculum from Legacy Educational Resources that I’m recommending for our school. (If you can, put it up live online, for them to see.)
Here are some of its strengths:
- It’s written for teens, appealing to them with its stories and discussions.
- It offers full lesson plans, but also additional quotes, discussions, activities and stories to use in making each lesson more appealing to your students.
- I especially like the “Intercom Insights,” which are short, 2-minute people stories, which we can share with the class, or have a student read to the class, followed by discussion questions.
- It’s all available online, so that all teachers can access the materials on the site. We can either print what we want as is, or download it into a word processing document to adapt it as we want.
- The writers can often write custom lessons, free of charge, if we have needs for lessons on topics they don’t currently offer. (They put up the custom lessons on the site for others to be able to use.)
We can all try it out free of charge and I’d love to get your input, positive or negative. The site is www.character-education.info and your codes to get in are your username and password.
Do you have any questions or suggestions? (Written by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources, 4/02/05)