Do you think you made a good choice?

Did you do the right thing?

These questions are in the school announcements, in the school song. They’re everywhere, according to Schools of Character principal Kimmie Etheredge. Does that focus on doing the right thing make a difference?  Etheredge shared this story. “The manager of a store close to the school called to tell about a young child who found a $20 bill and turned it in to the service desk.When the service desk person complimented her on her honesty, the child said, “I’m a Granger Wrangler, and we always do the right thing.”

Doing the right thing is an important focus of principle 5, and the emphasis is on “action.” Students learn best by doing in the ethical domain just as they do in the intellectual domain. While recent blog posts have highlighted service learning projects, moral action can include opportunities in everyday classroom routines: showing respect for peers and adults, helping resolve a conflict, and participating in a cooperative learning activity. Each of these could provide a “teachable moment” for any teacher.

AdjEarth20day20201320008People sometimes say “character is what you do when no one is watching,” but it is also what you do in the classroom, when you are out with friends, on the playground, writing a term paper, as well as when you are working in your community. Our definition of moral action is very broad with lots of opportunities for educators. Our emphasis on action includes actions that matter morally even if the students don’t realize that what they are doing has a moral side.

Part of our teaching responsibilities is to help students recognize the moral side of their decisions. I like the quote from Outward Bound: “We are crew, not passengers, and we are strengthened by consequential acts of service.” Getting students to recognize that they are part of the “crew” in developing an ethical school community and providing lots of opportunities for students to learn by doing is what principle 5 is all about.


Aristotle reminds us that consistent moral actions create habits that truly define our character.  Moreover, when we intentionally connect moral actions with moral thought and feeling, our habits become undergirded by powerful intrinsic motivators that continually reinforce these habits.

Principle 5 gets to the heart of Aristotle’s theory: when schools consistently provide opportunities for moral action — along with opportunities to think and reflect on those actions — students begin to develop habits of moral behavior that define their personality and motivations. The reflection time is really critical to growth, and is one of the ways we distinguish between community service and service learning.

Both have value, but they are not synonymous terms.  When we evaluate service learning, we look for very specific indicators of true service LEARNING: 

Indicators of Service Learning

(1) Evidence of student leadership and involvement in planning and executing the experience

(2) Intentional connection to the curriculum — students are engaged in service as a natural outgrowth of topics they learn in class

(3) Specific, dedicated time for students to reflect on the experience 

Service learning can take place inside and outside of school.

Inside schools, Principle 5 might involve instruction and engagement in conflict resolution, ethical decision-making, or academic integrity.  

Specific examples of Principle 5:

– Classroom or student-body governance

– Peer or cross-age tutoring

– Service projects related to the school or school grounds

– Appreciation of custodial staff, bus drivers, cafeteria servers, etc.

– Sportsmanship efforts

Outside school walls, schools often engage with the local community through service learning activities.  

Common service learning themes

– Helping the homeless, those in need, or animals

– Working with the elderly

– Caring for the environment

– Honoring active military and veterans

– Honoring first-responders (police, fire, ambulance, etc)

– Care for students, teachers, or staff with significant medical needs

No matter where the moral action takes place, there is tremendous power behind Principle 5!


Ready for a more in depth look at moral action and service learning? Visit our webstore or click the picture below to learn more about our Guide to Principle 5!