Principle 1 Overview


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


The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.


Core Values — qualities that are universally understood to promote better individuals and a better society, and to serve as a guide for schools and districts on their character journeys. Ideally, these should be a blend of both moral and performance values. Moral and performance values work together to advance both intellectual and civic character.


Ethical values include caring, honesty, fairness, and empathy

Performance values include effort, commitment,
and perseverance


Intellectual character includes wisdom, knowledge, and truth

Civic character includes service, personal responsibility, and equality


Integrating these values (sometimes referred to as pillars, habits or virtues) into a school’s way of life takes time and effort. Schools of Character consistently say that top-down character initiatives just don’t work and that listening to many voices (administrators, staff, students, parents) in choosing core values is a critical factor in the success of any initiative.


Ideally, the choice occurs at the beginning of the journey. However, for many schools, the process is not always standard. Some have bits and pieces of a character program and find themselves without an anchor to reference. At this point, they stop, gather together to ask, “Exactly what are the values we want our students to develop?” At the other end of the spectrum are veteran schools that are already active in character education. In order to not become stale, it is necessary to conduct an annual review, not so much to change the values, but to revitalize them or to add additional values based on current needs.

Principle 1 is the foundation of the other Principles, which, in turn, results in the embedding of the core values into the school culture.

However, the school or district must take meaningful first steps:


Hire staff that understands the value of
character-building and train them appropriately.


Make certain that staff, students, and parents understand these values and use them as a common language.


Promote these values visually — in the classrooms, halls, grounds, mission statement, publications, website, and social media. A District of Character consistently reaches out to the parents and the larger community, making them partners in the character mission.


Thinking of your school’s core values, what values are the most represented or underrepresented?

How can you make sure that other values are being taught and internalized by students, even if they are not listed as core values?

[wp_quiz id=”4795″]

Research that Supports Principle 1

icon invertedcomas

“A ‘creed’ or ‘way’ has been the glue that has held successful organizations together and kept them focused even during turbulent times. Such a creed creates an ‘intentional community,’ one in which members feel strong connections and a shared moral identity because they are joined by commonly held values.”

“Make Your School a School of Character.” Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues, by Thomas Lickona, Simon & Schuster, 2004.

icon invertedcomas

“While core ethical values remain foundational in a life of character, character education must also develop students’ performance values such as effort, diligence, and perseverance in order to promote academic learning, foster an ethic of excellence, and develop the skills needed to act upon ethical values.”

“Performance Values: Why They Matter and What Schools Can Do to Foster Their Development,” Whitepaper.


Authored by Eileen Dachnowicz