Baseball great, Yogi Berra, once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” This may sound somewhat silly at first glance, but it rings with truth. Schools must identify what they hope to improve or change through character education and monitor progress continuously.
Character education programs are easy to implement, but implementing character is a different story. Character is deeply personal and based in relationships and how people treat one another. Mandating character is like mandating love, which is why top-down, mandated character educator programs can be ineffective. Before a staff can assess the implementation of character education, each staff member must acknowledge their own interactions with others and reflect on their own character.
Culture vs. Climate
These words are often used interchangeably by schools, businesses, and organizations and while both are important, they are different.
The climate of the school represents the attitudes of people in the school. A school’s climate will often fluctuate due to situations that can improve overall perceptions and/or create negativity. For example, you can predict how school climate changes following a salary freeze for all faculty and staff positions.
Culture, on the other hand, is a deeper description of a school. It is based in shared beliefs, agreed upon values, and like-minded philosophies of stakeholders. Culture has been called the school’s personality. When a school has a reputation for being excellent or dismal, it is often the culture that is being identified.
It can be intimidating for some educators to assess character because it is subjective; but, in truth, many academic assignments are as well. Because character education is not a hard science, it is imperative that schools know exactly what they hope to achieve through character education and assess goals regularly. It is also critical that students and parents understand what good character is, the meaning of the school’s core values, and how the school expects all stakeholders to demonstrate good character. While it may be challenging to measure, few would argue that it is obvious when a school’s culture is defined by good character and just as obvious when good character is never addressed.
Donald Stewart Center for Early Childhood Education
Donald Stewart Center for Early Childhood Education, School 51, a preschool, regularly assesses its culture and climate, the role of its staff as character educators, and how the students manifest good character. Data is collected from surveys twice a year. The results have been outstanding with 100% of parents reporting they receive courteous attention at the school, teachers care about students; the school is supportive when they have concerns, and that the communication from school is good. Additionally, 95.65% of the teachers believe the administration is fair and supportive of the staff. The students and teachers are assessed throughout the school year.
The Early Learning Scale is used to assess the students’ growth in three domains: Math/Science, Social Emotional/Social Studies, and Language Arts/Literacy. The teachers take anecdotal notes throughout the day while observing and interacting with the students The notes are used to score the students. The school average for the Social Emotional/Social Studies domain was 4.15 out of a possible score of 5. The data is analyzed in order to write Individual Students’ Goals, develop lesson plans based students’ needs, offer PD workshops, and to differentiate instruction. There have been high scores on CLASS assessments and the school has been named as a Top Ten Early Childhood Center in Elizabeth since 2004.
Yorktown Central School District in NY
Yorktown Central School District in New York also has a strong commitment to assessing and reflecting on its character education initiatives. Two hundred students were surveyed to see how school climate affects healthy eating habits. Of the students surveyed, 75% stated they like their school and 73% participate in school and community activities. Data regarding student behavior is collected weekly and monthly. There are 1,120 students enrolled in more than 35 middle school clubs and 1,400 students enrolled in more than 40 high school clubs and extracurricular activities. These after-school programs support the development of important skills outside of the classroom and reinforce key concepts in leadership and sportsmanship. Surveys indicate growth: the results of a middle school survey provided the basis for character education lesson development for this year based upon students’ concerns and needs.
Areas in which students reported positive outcomes included:
- Students treating other students with respect, 543/690 responses (79%)
- Teachers treating students with respect 637/690 responses (92%)
- Students helping other students who were being treated unkindly 583/690 (84%)
Yorktown Central students still score above the state mean as well as similar schools every year in state assessments and Regents.
Cheesequake Elementary School
Qualitative and quantitative data through parent, teacher & student surveys, attendance records, HIB reports, observations, and & standardized test results are used to assess culture & climate at Cheesequake Elementary School in New Jersey.Over the past 5 years, 5th grade NJASK Math scores have shown a steady increase. Student absences have decreased as have student infractions. Recent statistics confirm the success of their efforts. New Jersey uses a rating system which compares a school’s progress against those of a school in their peer group of similar socio-economic status. At Cheesequake, 34% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, 10% are of Limited English Proficiency, and 11% receive special education-related services. These statistics describe an early-learning center that is now ranked first in its peer group in all of New Jersey for student performance, and third for student growth!
What is your school’s culture and climate like? Have you surveyed your stakeholders about the culture and climate? What is the next step you are going to take to improve your culture and climate and further embed the teaching of character?
In what ways do you assess your character initiative? How do you know your plan is working? What adjustments have you made when your plan was not working? What are your next steps to drive the teaching of character further into the school culture?
Which of the 11 Principles is your greatest strength? Which of the 11 Principles do you need to work on? What plan will you create to improve? Who will be involved?
Research that Supports Principle 11
“Because a positive school culture is central to student success and holistic school transformation, we must help all schools acquire the tools needed to develop and assess such cultures.”
Developing and Assessing School Culture: A New Level of Accountability for Schools, Character.org White Paper
“It is most important that school climate be evaluated in an ongoing manner with measurement tools that have been developed in a scientifically sound manner.”
School Climate: Research, Policy, Practice, and Teacher Education, by Jonathan Cohen, Elizabeth McCabe, Nicholas Michelli, Terry Pickeral