Good character development is not found on posters or in the “word of the month.” Good character develops over time, and requires an intentional, sustained effort on the part of the school to live its core values (such as respect, responsibility and integrity) in everything it does from academics to extracurricular activities.
Good character involves understanding, caring about, and demonstrating core values. Using the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of character development will considerably impact student growth. This can be done by helping students understand the core values in behavioral terms and providing opportunities for them to use their “head, heart, and hands” as their character forms. This always-evolving, developmental process is related to experience and maturation and is not linear or consistent.
For core values to have an impact you must consider the complete picture:
Will students really be able to live the core values if they do not understand them?
Will there be an impact on the students’ character development if there isn’t an emotional connection to the core values?
Will students fully understand and embrace the core values if they do not practice them?
Think, Practice, Reflect
Thomas Lickona says,
When we think about the kind of character we want for our children, it’s clear that we want them to be able to judge what is right, care deeply about what is right, and then do what they believe to be right—even in the face of pressure from without and temptation from within.
Character develops as students reflect on their understanding of core values, and whether or not their experiences and actions are consistent with that understanding. They may not recognize how their actions impact their sense of right and wrong until they begin to think critically and reflect.
Students develop their character by experiencing and practicing core values and ethical decision-making. Reflection is critical in helping students learn to connect their thoughts and feelings to action.
As children grow in character, they develop an increasingly refined understanding of the core values, a deeper commitment to living according to those values, and a stronger capacity and tendency to behave in accordance with them.
Repeatedly practicing behaviors, especially in the context of relationships (classroom norms, cross-age tutoring, conflict resolution, service learning) deepens the student’s commitment to living in accordance with those values. All aspects of school life, from academics to extracurricular activities, are opportunities to practice and live the core values.
Schools are often overloaded by so many things to do. Take a moment to reflect on how your school promotes character. Does your school emphasize character through various actions and activities?
Respect is a word that every school focuses on in some way. How can you teach respect in an actionable way?
Check for Understanding
1. Knowing what character words are is not enough. We are charged with helping students ______ the good.
2. A key way to help students connect their thoughts and feelings to action is through _____.