Staff model the core values in their interactions with students and with each other.
The school includes all staff in planning, receiving staff development, and carrying out the school wide character initiative.
The school makes time available for staff planning and reflection on character education.
Before a staff can develop, implement, and model character, it’s important to spend time agreeing on how to define character and determining what it looks like in a school. Many schools neglect this critical piece because it is messy and time consuming. It requires vulnerability, change, and a hard look in the mirror. If schools do not begin here and build a strong foundation, the character initiative may not withstand tough challenges ahead.
Character Schools = Ethical Learning Communities
When a school functions like a community, caring and warmth are felt throughout the entire school. School communities are united in beliefs, goals, and philosophies about learning, and about always doing what is best for students. All staff, from the principal to the bus drivers, believe in and model the school’s core values. Adults work together instead of in isolation and all staff work to know all students, not just those in their classrooms. Authentic relationships create family among staff instead of an “us/them” mentality, and the trust built among adults evolves into a character-rich school.
Rick Weissbourd, American Psychologist
Educators influence students’ moral development not simply by being good role models—important as that is—but also by what they bring to their relationships with students day to day: their ability to appreciate students’ perspectives and to disentangle them from their own, their ability to admit and learn from moral error, their moral energy and idealism, their generosity, and their ability to help students develop moral thinking without shying away from their own moral authority. That level of influence makes being an adult in a school a profound moral challenge. And it means that we will never greatly improve students’ moral development in schools without taking on the complex task of developing adults’ maturity and ethical capacities. We need to rethink the nature of moral development itself.
One can feel the caring community at Disney Elementary in Levittown, Pennsylvania by the way that teachers attend to students throughout the hallways in the morning starting their day off with a positive feeling, smiles and with exciting morning announcements from the WKIDS News Studio. Students described the fun lessons they learn from “Superflex” on the announcements and how it impacts their lives and learning about values. Teachers and the school counselor plan skits over the summer in which teachers dress as characters and convey social skills such as the sharing ideas while working with others, compromising, and intentionally focusing on academic work by cutting out distractions. Lively teacher, Mark Costanzo, was in costume this day, and it was obvious how engaging his character is for the students! Teacher Marisa Downie stated that “students love the skits, internalize the skills, and then teachers are able to use these examples to discuss how the character traits the students saw on the morning announcements can then be applied in each of our classes.” The Secretary to the principal, Ms. Amanda Reed exuded, “this journey has changed the mindset of the school to the positive instead of punitive. It feels good when you walk in the door.” Principal Gafgen makes time for planning, and the team is quite creative in growing their character education initiative. They study the data, analyze the need and then form a plan that is creative and flexible.
Sappington Elementary School
Sappington Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri has a teacher mentor from the University of Missouri that helps two new first year teachers each year. Each will receive a master’s degree at the end of the program. The mentor said, “Sappington is like a well-oiled machine. Everyone makes everything appear effortless.” Renee Martin, kindergarten teacher, said she really likes the Elite program for teachers. It helps new teachers during their first three years learn how to include technology. She talked about the power of SeeSaw, an online learning journal where you can use a QR code to scan student work, record comments, and then parents can see it and leave comments. First grade teacher Nancy Boughman who transferred to Sappington five years ago talked about how supportive the faculty is toward one another. “Any teacher will take time to answer questions and show you how to do things,” Boughman said. It is notable that 100% of staff have taken one or more professional development workshops in character education outside of the school over the past three years. The principal also presents to bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodial staff to encourage their commitment to character education at Sappington. All staff are included in book studies. Books mentioned in their application include: Leader in Me, 20 Lessons from the Classroom, Love & Logic, Mindset, and Igniting a Passion for Reading.
Nicolas S. La Corte-Peterstown School No. 3
It doesn’t matter if you’re a certified teacher, a janitor or a paraprofessional — you’re all treated the same,” Melissa says about Nicolas S. La Corte-Peterstown School No. 3 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. All school staff including teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and cafeteria workers take ownership in school’s character education effort. Staff members assume this responsibility by modeling the core values in their own behavior and taking advantage of opportunities to positively influence students with whom they interact.
How does the staff reflect and demonstrate their core values?
What professional development has been utilized by your school to intentionally focus on staff relationships? If there hasn’t been any, what would you like to see happen? What would a plan look like for enhancing staff relationships?
Research that Supports Principle 8
“The most effective professional development engages teams of teachers to focus on the needs of their students. They learn and problem solve together in order to ensure all students achieve success.”
“Why Professional Development Matters,” by Hayes Mizell