Introduction to the 11 Principles

A blueprint for helping build schools and communities of positive character.

At, we often hear from teachers and administrators who have a nagging sense that they need to be doing something more to create a culture of character at their school.

Sound familiar?


Where can we find time for character building programs with all the pressure of meeting state and national testing standards?


I would not even know where to begin with bringing character initiatives to my school.


I’d like to start something at my campus, but I’m only one person. I can’t do it alone.


We’re already doing some good things, but it just doesn’t feel like we’re all on the same page.


Maybe this sounds like you. Maybe you’ve tried in the past and did not succeed. Or maybe you started with some good initial efforts but quickly found them to be consumed by the demands of a typical academic year.

Breathe and smile! There’s good news:
We can help with this!


At, we’ve helped thousands of campuses move beyond ineffective strategies and begin to achieve real, measurable progress toward a positive and healthy school culture and climate. The odds are good we can help you, too.


The reason we’ve been so successful is our powerful framework for school success: The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. The 11 Principles provide specific, measurable standards for campuses to begin – and sustain – a comprehensive character education program.

Authored by national experts and educators, the 11 Principles are widely recognized as the most comprehensive and effective framework for meaningful character education efforts. While no single script for effective character education exists, the 11 Principles provide a specific, practical framework while simultaneously empowering customized application according to each school’s unique context and culture.


In this certification course, and through the support of the Character Exchange online community, you’ll be fully immersed in each of the 11 Principles. In addition, you’ll receive:

  • Tools to measure and assess your current efforts for each principle
  • Examples of how each principle is being implemented in schools today
  • Access to various strategies and “Promising Practices” to help in your own efforts

Before you dive head-first into each principle, however, we suggest you take a little time to acclimate yourself to this important concept of character education. Specifically, we suggest starting with these three important questions:


What Is Character Education?



Why Is Character Education Important?



What Are the 11 Principles?


What Is Character Education?


Aligning all character strengthening efforts with your school’s core values


Including all members of your school community in character education efforts


Integrating character into your school climate, culture, and curriculum


Promoting intellectual, social, emotional, and ethical development


Guiding young people toward becoming responsible, caring, and contributing citizens


How is character education defined?

Simply defined, “character education” is the intentional effort to develop core values in young people that are widely affirmed across all cultures.

What does character education encompass?

Character education encompasses a broad range of prosocial constructs strategies and programs, including:

  • positive school culture and climate (building relationships, caring learning communities)
  • social and emotional learning (SEL)
  • character development skills (moral, performance, intellectual, and civic character)
  • academic achievement (student engagement, service learning)
  • addressing national and state standards
  • multiple school improvement processes (MTTS, PBIS, RTI)
  • classroom management through application of core values and restorative practices

All of these approaches promote the intellectual, social, emotional, and ethical development of young people and share a commitment to helping them become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.


How is character education related to the concept of “core values”?

11Principlesoverview_coppelllake uses the concept of core values as a defining element of the 11 Principles. Susan Heathfield defines core values as, “traits or qualities that represent an individual’s or organization’s highest priorities, deeply held beliefs and core, fundamental driving forces. They are the heart of what you stand for in the world.”

How are core values related to the different forms of character?

Core values should include a balance of moral, performance, intellectual, and civic character. The daily application and manifestation of moral and performance values can sometimes appear in the development of intellectual character and civic character.

It is important to remember that the examples of core values provided above are for descriptive purposes only. They are not meant to define the full spectrum of potential core values that can be identified by a school or district for inclusion in its educational mission or practice. encourages each school to follow the guidance provided in Principle 1 to determine their optimal core values.



How does your school approach character education? Is it a comprehensive, intentional, integrated, aligned effort?

In your mind, what is the true goal of education? How does the concept of character development inform your perspective?

What strategies would you suggest for your school to begin developing a comprehensive character education plan?

How are the different forms of character (i.e., moral, performance, intellectual, and civic) related and integrated?

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Why Is Character Education Important?


Throughout history, and in cultures all over the world, education rightly conceived has had two great goals: to help students become smart and to help them become good.

Thomas Lickona & Matthew Davidson, “Smart & Good High Schools”


Intelligence plus character. That is the goal of true education.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Character development skills help students identify, define, and live according to core values. Quality character education creates an integrated culture of character that supports and challenges students and adults to strive for excellence.

What is the history of character education?

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What are the benefits of intentional character education?

Character education provides effective solutions to ethical and academic issues that are of growing concern. Using the 11 Principles framework, educators have successfully implemented character education to transform their schools. When comprehensively applied, the 11 Principles have been linked to many positive trends, which include:

  • Improving school culture
  • Increasing achievement for all learners
  • Developing ethical citizens
  • Restoring civility
  • Preventing anti-social and unhealthy behaviors
  • Improving job satisfaction and retention among teachers

Because students spend so much time at school, the 11 Principles offer a critically important opportunity to ensure that all students get the support and help they need to reach their full potential.

Schools with high-quality character education are places where students, teachers and parents want to be. They are places where young people do their best work because they feel safe, appreciated, supported, and challenged by their peers and the adults around them.


Self-Reflection Questions

Which of the benefits of character education are most needed on your campus?

What might be the consequences of not having a comprehensive character education effort?

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What Are the 11 Principles?

A quick summary of the 11 Principles is provided below. Please remember that this is only a quick summary – each principle is fully defined and expanded upon in the full 11 Principles framework and following modules.

Core values are defined, implemented, and embedded into school culture.

Schools that effectively promote good character come to agreement on the core ethical and performance values they most wish to instill in their students. Some schools use other terms such as virtues, traits, pillars, or expectations to refer to the desirable character qualities they wish to foster. Whatever the terminology, the core values promoted by quality character education are ones which affirm human dignity, promote the development and welfare of the individual, and serve the common good.

The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.

Good character involves understanding, caring about, and acting upon core values. A holistic approach to character development, therefore, seeks to develop the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dispositions required to do the right thing and do one’s best work.

The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to develop character.

A comprehensive approach uses all aspects of schooling as opportunities for character development. “Stand-alone” character education programs can be useful first steps or helpful elements of a comprehensive effort but are not an adequate substitute for a holistic approach that integrates character development into every aspect of school life.

The school creates a caring community.

A school committed to character strives to become a microcosm of a civil, caring, and ethical society. It does this by creating a community that helps all its members form respectful relationships that lead to caring attachments to and responsibility for one another. This involves developing caring relationships between students and staff, among students (within and across grade levels), among staff, and between staff and families.

The school provides students with opportunities for moral action.

Students are constructive learners – they learn best by doing. Teachers connect community service with the curriculum and core values creating service learning experiences for all students. These experiences activate students to impact their school and community outside of school. Service learning includes the following components in which students are involved and have a voice: research, planning, action (service), reflection, and sharing or demonstrating knowledge gained.

The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.

Exemplary schools provide a curriculum that is engaging and meaningful to students. Teaching is conducted in a manner that respects and cares for students as individuals. Effective character educators differentiate instruction, employ a variety of active teaching and learning strategies, and look for ways that character is potentially developed in and through everyday teaching and learning. The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.

The school fosters students’ self-motivation.

The development of self-motivation is a powerful force in a person’s life. Character means doing the right thing and doing our best work not simply because we fear punishment or desire a reward. Self-motivated students produce quality work they are proud of, not just because they want a good grade.

All staff share the responsibility for developing, implementing, and modeling character.

All school staff, including but not limited to, teachers, administrators, and support staff need to be involved in learning about, discussing, and taking ownership of the school’s character education effort.

The school’s character initiative has shared leadership and long-range support for continuous improvement.

Schools that are engaged in effective character education have leaders who visibly champion the effort and share leadership with all key decision makers. Students are explicitly involved in leadership roles that contribute to the character initiative.

The school engages families and community as partners in the character initiative.

Schools that reach out to families and include them in character-building efforts greatly enhance their chances for success with students. They communicate with families through things like newsletters, emails, family nights, the school website, and parent conferences about goals and activities regarding character education.

The school assesses its implementation of character education, its culture and climate, and the character growth of students on a regular basis.

Effective character education includes ongoing assessment of progress and outcomes using both qualitative and quantitative measures. Effective schools use a variety of assessment data (e.g., academic test scores, focus groups, survey results) that include the perceptions of students, teachers, and parents.



11Principlesoverview_question strongly encourages educators to evaluate the extent to which their school or district is implementing each principle. Self-assessment can help you examine current character education practices, identify short and long-term objectives, and develop or strengthen a strategic plan for continuous improvement. After developing baseline data, the 11 Principles can be used over time to assess progress.

Arriving at the destination of a 4.0 score on the entire scoring guide is a goal, not an expectation. Rarely would a school or district be exemplary in every indicator at any one time. For example, schools and districts that achieve State and National Schools of Character status are usually between “Exemplary” and “Highly Effective” on the scoring rubric.

Rate your school / district based on the following scale of implementation:







No Evidence


Your overall score will be automatically calculated.

Districts: Please replace school with district as you complete this scoring guide.

PRINCIPLE 1: Promotes Core Values 0.00
Indicator 1 Stakeholders in the school community select or agree to core values.
Indicator 2 Core values guide every aspect of school life.
Indicator 3 Reminders and statements of core values are visible throughout the school community.

PRINCIPLE 2: Defines Character to Include Thinking, Feeling and Doing 0.00
Indicator 1 Staff teach and provide opportunities for students to understand core values, ethical decision-making, and applications to life situations.
Indicator 2 The school provides time for students to reflect on and internalize the core values.
Indicator 3 The school provides opportunities for students to practice the core values so they become habitual patterns of behavior.

PRINCIPLE 3: Uses a Comprehensive Approach 0.00
Indicator 1 The school is intentional and proactive in addressing social, emotional, and character development.
Indicator 2 Character is integrated into all aspects of teaching and learning.
Indicator 3 Character education is infused in all aspects of the school day including classes, procedures, meetings, and extra-curricular activities.
PRINCIPLE 4: Creates a Caring Community 0.00
Indicator 1 The school makes it a high priority to foster caring attachments between students and staff.
Indicator 2 The school makes it a high priority to help students form caring attachments to each other.
Indicator 3 The school makes it a high priority to foster caring attachments among adults within the school community.
Indicator 4 The school takes steps to prevent peer cruelty and violence and deals with it effectively when it occurs.

PRINCIPLE 5: Provides Opportunites for Moral Action 0.00
Indicator 1 The school expects students to engage in service, both community service and service learning, and prepares them to be competent to do so.
Indicator 2 The school provides all students with opportunities for service and service learning within the school and time to reflect about them.
Indicator 3 The school provides all students with repeated opportunities for service and service learning outside the school and time to reflect about them.

PRINCIPLE 6: Offers a Meaningful Academic Curriculum 0.00
Indicator 1 The academic curriculum provides meaningful and appropriate challenges for all students.
Indicator 2 The school staff understands and accommodates the diverse interests, cultures, and learning needs of all students.
Indicator 3 Teachers promote the development of performance character traits that support the students’ intellectual growth, academic performance, and capacity for both self-direction and teamwork.

PRINCIPLE 7: Fosters Students’ Self-motivation 0.00
Indicator 1 Staff and students recognize and celebrate the positive, natural benefits of acts of character rather than rewarding students with recognition or material rewards.
Indicator 2 Student behaviors and mistakes are used as opportunities to teach and reinforce character development.
Indicator 3 Character education is evident in how teachers organize their classes.

PRINCIPLE 8: Engages School Staff 0.00
Indicator 1 All staff commit to and hold each other accountable for modeling ethical character.
Indicator 2 All staff members are involved in planning, designing, and implementing the school-wide character initiative.
Indicator 3 Time is given to staff to learn about, plan, and reflect on the teaching of character in their roles.

PRINCIPLE 9: Fosters Shared Leadership 0.00
Indicator 1 The school principal and other key leaders champion the character initiative.
Indicator 2 There is a leadership team dedicated to the character initiative that includes staff, students, and parents.
Indicator 3 Students are explicitly involved in leadership roles that contribute to the character initiative.

PRINCIPLE 10: Includes Families and Communities as Partners 0.00
Indicator 1 Families are involved in the character initiative.
Indicator 2 The school communicates often with parents and guardians about the character initiative and seeks families’ input and engagement.
Indicator 3 The school seeks help and involvement from the wider community.
PRINCIPLE 11: Assesses the Climate and Culture of the School 0.00
Indicator 1 Core values are reviewed and discussed annually so that they can be reaffirmed, updated, or revised as needed.
Indicator 2 The school sets goals and measures, (both quantitatively and qualitatively), its culture, climate, and character initiative.
Indicator 3 All staff members are given time to reflect upon and discuss character implementation and individual growth.
Indicator 4 The school assesses how the character education initiative impacts students.

TOTAL (average of each line divided by 11)


Score sent successfully.

So What’s Next?

Now that you have a general idea of each of the principles and where your school stands, you get to choose where to begin! Here are some ideas on where you might want to start:

Self-Reflection Questions

In which principle(s) is your school particularly strong?

In which principle(s) does your school currently need the greatest improvement?

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Authored by Dr. David Keller