Monday, November 29, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest

Last year, one of our local schools was named a National School of Character. This was a proud moment for the town, and especially for the teachers and the students. The school’s administration and staff consistently work diligently to help the students develop and abide by core values, such as honesty, respect, and integrity. The goal is not to simply create a caring, safe, and inclusive learning environment, but to also develop the students’ ethical and moral compasses. While there is intense pressure on educators to prep our students for the next assignment, the next grade, and the next standardized test, we need to keep in mind the overarching goal of education: to aid in the development of our students in becoming compassionate, active, and successful citizens.

Over the past decade, the realization of the importance of character education in schools has grown. While some critics initially branded the movement as a touchy-feely outgrowth of rampant political correctness, many educators now acknowledge the value of character education in creating a strong and positive school culture. When I was a K-12 student back in the Dark Ages, concepts such as respect and integrity were expected and discussed in passing, but not necessarily internalized into the school’s culture. Drafting a comprehensive character education program on paper is relatively simple, but creating and institutionalizing a quality character education program is very difficult in practice. In order to succeed, it requires total buy-in and commitment from every school employee as well as the students over an extended period of time. It’s a gradual process, perhaps, but one that can be instituted in a series of steps. On The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages later this week, I’ll be featuring many character education resources, including guides to help you get started in developing and implementing a program at your school.

Character education goes far beyond hanging posters that urge students to “share and care”. A successful program needs to permeate all aspects of the curriculum as well as the school environment, including the cafeteria, the playground, and the gym. We all desire for our students to develop and exhibit core ethical values, and to be able to independently discern the difference between right and wrong. A good character education program can help students to develop a lifelong sense of compassion, justice, and the ability to feel passionately about causes that affect us and our communities, even when faced with possible opposition from peers or others. There is too much emotional and intellectual malaise in our society today, and character education may well be one approach to help turn the tide. The resources below give some great ideas on how to incorporate some character education into your classroom, and please remember to check out our Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the week for additional resources and information.

Character Education Podcasts
Subjects: Language Arts, Civics
Grade: 4-6
In this lesson, students conduct research, write scripts, and independently record podcasts. Each month, students focus on a different character trait, and create and record a podcast highlighting that character trait. The target audience is the other students in the building. The podcast will include tips on how to demonstrate the trait, highlight students who exhibit this trait and other useful information. Guests from the school or community may be invited to participate in the podcast. This resource is from Digital Wish, a non-profit that seeks to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. On the Digital Wish web site, teachers can create wish lists of technology products for their classroom. Donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations. Check them out at

Responsibility and Community Service
Subjects: Civics; Character Education
Grade: K-3
This lesson plan teaches students that each of them has responsibilities to themselves, their families, and their community. Students discuss what makes a good citizen, examples of good personal and civic responsibilities, and how we all have a responsibility to help others. This lesson is a product from the American Bar Association, which encourages judges, lawyers, and other representatives of the legal profession to volunteer in schools to help students learn about American law in action.

Peace Partners
Subjects: Character Education, Writing
Grade: 7-12
In this lesson, students research the similarities of historically conflicting cultures and then negotiate and write a peace agreement to promote them. This lesson was produced by Character Counts, a character education program offered by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics. The Josephson Institute is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and deliver services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society. In addition to free lesson plans, they also offer publications, training, and other services.

~Joann's Picks - 11/25/2010~

1 comment:

  1. I agree, there has to be a school culture that values character. Great resources!


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