creating schools and communities of character
An electronic newsletter to help make sure character counts!
CHARACTER COUNTS! and the Six Pillars of
Character are service marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of
the Josephson Institute of Ethics. For more information about training
opportunities and resources available to assist schools and communities in
the integration of a character education initiative, check out their web
site at: www.charactercounts.org
or call them at 1-800-711-2670.
IN THIS ISSUE
Take a Minute For
Information You Can Use
Evolving an Understanding of
National Schools of Character
Youth Ethic Survey
Commentary by Michael Josephson
TAKE A MINUTE FOR CHARACTER
As you begin a new school year, allow me to share six practical strategies that
teachers can use to create a classroom of character.
May each of you this year have success
in helping students do their best work academically but also be their best self
as demonstrated in living by the Six Pillars of Character.
- Create awareness of the
pillars using visual displays and integration of the common language.
Consider utilizing quotations with practical questions that can be asked of
students that relate to character. You can also have students journal on a
particular pillar, what it means to them and how it applies to their life as
a student. Consider developing a class motto or slogan that clearly
indicates how you will conduct your class this year. Consider beginning the
school year by creating a shared vision and culture that involves your
students in defining the agreements and expectations they will abide by that
fosters their commitment to creating a safe, trusting, and respectful
- Build bonds and model
character. Teach as if relationships matter and get to know students as
individuals. Children need to form caring attachments to adults. These
caring relationships will foster both the desire to learn and the desire to
be a good person. Values are best transmitted through these caring
relationships. Kids care about our values because they know we care about
them. If children do not experience an adult as someone who respects and
cares about them, they are not likely to be open to anything the adult
wishes to teach them about values. Remember to keep in mind the power of
example. Children and young people "learn what they live" so it is important
that all adults who interact with children demonstrate positive character
traits at home, school and in the community.
- Teach academics and character
at the same time by using the ethically rich content of academic subjects as
vehicles for values teaching. Michael Romanowski has said that, “Character
education cannot be reduced to a lesson, a course or a slogan posted on
school walls. Instead, it must become an integral part of school life.” Are
you interested in teaching for character, or are you committed to it?
Teachers need to honor their commitment by moving from incidental to
intentional methods of teaching character. If teaching sound character is
left to incidental or opportunistic instruction, then we can be confident
that students’ application of sound character will be similarly sporadic and
occasional. Mining the academic curriculum for its character-building
potential requires you to look at your grade-level subject matter and ask,
"What are the natural intersections between the curriculum I have to cover
and the values I wish to foster?" When you create those character
connections, you enhance the relevance of subject matter to students’
natural interest and questions, and in the process, increase student
engagement and achievement.
- Practice character-based
discipline. Successful character education cannot be separated from the
system of discipline and student recognition employed within your class.
Consider having your classroom’s code of student conduct based upon the Six
- Communicate with parents about
character on a regular basis. Classroom newsletters and conferences are
easy ways to share information about students' character development. An
excellent guide to what parents can do at home regarding the pillars can be
found on the For Character web site. http://www.forcharacter.com/parentguide.html
- Engage your colleagues in
character development. Colleagues who share the same goals and challenges
are potential allies. Ask your principal for 15 minutes at a staff meeting
to share your character development experiences. Even brief hallway chats
help build awareness, and can be reinforced by sharing information practical
strategies that illustrate what educators can accomplish.
INFORMATION YOU CAN USE
- For at-risk youth, a crisis
deepens - In a policy brief prepared for the new Obama administration and
Congress, MDRC requests better programs for disaffected youth. "Too many
young people are disconnected from the worlds of school and work," it
states, "putting them at serious risk for getting into trouble today and not
succeeding in the future." The brief reports that 30 percent of high school
freshmen nationally do not graduate in four years; in the 50 largest U.S.
cities, the dropout rate is closer to 50 percent. Also nationwide, nearly 14
percent of 18- and 19-year-olds have not graduated from high school, are not
attending school, and are not working. For African-Americans in this cohort,
the rate is closer to 23 percent. Teenage employment has sunk to its lowest
level in 60 years, and employment for those 18 to 29 has spiraled downward.
Among 18- to 29-year-olds not in school, nearly one in four is currently not
working, and one in six did not work in the previous year. What to do? "The
first policy option should be to prevent young people from dropping out of
school." But once youth are disconnected, states and localities need
assistance from the federal government via funding, compilation of best
practices, and research. Evidence-building in the youth field is critical
because self-selection issues are severe: Only the most motivated
voluntarily participate in "second chance" programs, the same young people
more likely to succeed on their own. Read more:
- Less violent, yes -- but
safer? - A study published jointly by the federal Education and Justice
departments last month underscores that while schools are less violent than
in the past, they are not necessarily safe, The Washington Post reports.
Eighty-six percent of public schools in 2005-06 reported one or more violent
incidents, thefts, or other crimes -- a rate of 46 crimes per 1,000 enrolled
students. Almost a third of students aged 12 to 18 reported being bullied
inside school, and nearly a quarter of teenagers reported the presence of
gangs there. "For both students and teachers, victimization at school can
have lasting effects," the report says. "In addition to experiencing
loneliness, depression, and adjustment difficulties, victimized children are
more prone to truancy, poor academic performance, dropping out of school and
violent behaviors." The study used the most recent data, from school year
2006-07, and drew information from a handful of surveys and other studies.
Reporting systems, however, are imperfect, and attempts to pinpoint
particular schools is problematic because principals are reluctant to cast
their schools in a bad light. The report's author, Katrina Baum, attributes
the decline to the overall decrease in societal violence, but other
criminologists are not sure. They say the issue is multi-faceted, and may be
due in part to efforts to improve school climate. Read more:
- If legislation is the problem,
civic engagement is the solution - In a post on Alexander Russo's This Week
In Education blog, frequent contributor Margaret Paynich writes that she
came away from Jay Mathew's recent book "Work Hard. Be Nice" with several
conclusions. In the first place, she feels that our school systems and
school structures "were designed for educating students from hundreds of
years ago," and are no longer geared toward helping teachers and students
achieve to their fullest, despite our claims. In her view, legislation that
is "passed without proper attention to those who have to carry it out" makes
up a large part of the problem, and public engagement is a way to fix
things. "I believe that the public needs to demand a solution from their
legislators," she writes. "Education professionals have been doing the best
they can -- but I don't think they can do it alone anymore." For her part,
Paynich will be involved in a pilot project in Rhode Island, in which she
will be "walking door-to-door this summer introducing individuals to the
school committee, showing them after-school and mentoring programs they can
volunteer for, and hoping to inspire individuals to take a better
responsibility for their role as citizens." Read more:
EVOLVING AN UNDERSTANDING OF
- New recommendations for a
problem as old as time itself - A new movement is afoot, writes Dr. Perri
Klass in The New York Times, to give bullies and their victims long-deserved
attention, of the kind they have received in Europe. Americans are moving
past the idea that bullying is a normal part of childhood, and are
recognizing it as a long-term risk -- in the case of victims, for suicidal
thoughts and depression; for perpetrators, reduced likelihood of finishing
school or holding down a job. In its policy statement on preventing youth
violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics will include a new section on
bullying. This will recommend that schools adopt a prevention model
developed by Professor Dan Olweus of Norway, which focuses attention on the
largest group of children, bystanders. "Olweus's genius," lead author Dr.
Robert Sege said, "is that he manages to turn the school situation around so
the other kids realize that the bully is someone who has a problem managing
his or her behavior, and the victim is someone they can protect." Through
class discussions, parent meetings, and consistent responses to every
incident, a school broadcasts that bullying is not tolerated. A pediatrician
can be a first line of defense in this process, notifying schools when he
detects or is told of bullying by his patients. Read more:
A new report from the Association of Childhood Education International has
practical steps that teachers can follow to implement anti-bullying programs and
stem "the tide of the international plague known as bullying." Bullying should
not be considered a normal stage of child development, but a precursor for more
serious violent behaviors that need immediate and appropriate intervention by a
caring adult. Children who bully are four times more likely than non-bullies to
be convicted of a serious crime by age 24. The first step is to recognize
characteristics of bullies, who may be physically, emotionally, or verbally
abusive. Once teachers and other administrators understand some of the complex
causes of bullying and learn to identify bullying characteristics, they can move
forward. The next step is training, after which point teachers can establish
anti-bullying methods in the classroom. Teachers must establish clear rules on
behaviors and consequences, and work with bullying victims to prevent the cycle
from repeating. Read more: http://www.acei.org/bullying.pdf
NATIONAL SCHOOLS OF CHARACTER
The National Schools of Character Awards identify exemplary schools and
districts to serve as models for others, and helps schools and districts improve
their efforts in effective character education. Maximum award: $2,000.
Eligibility: To be eligible, a school must have been engaged in character
education for a minimum of three full years, starting no later than December
2006 for the 2010 awards. Districts need to have been engaged in character
education for a minimum of four full years, starting no later than December
2005. Smaller administrative units that maintain a separate identity within a
large district may apply in the district category, e.g., a school pyramid or
cluster. Deadline: December 1, 2009.
ETHICS - 2008 SURVEY RESULTS ARE IN
"Report Card" on the values and conduct of high school students that is
conducted every two years by the Josephson Institute reveals by interesting and
yet discouraging data.
STEALING. In bad news for business, more than one in three boys (35 percent) and
one-fourth of the girls (26 percent) — a total of 30 percent overall — admitted
stealing from a store within the past year. In 2006 the overall theft rate was
28 percent (32 percent males, 23 percent females).
LYING. More than two of five (42 percent) said that they sometimes lie to save
money. Again, the male-female difference was significant: 49 percent of the
males, 36 percent of the females. In 2006, 39 percent said they lied to save
money (47 percent males, 31 percent females).
CHEATING. Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse. A
substantial majority (64 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (38
percent did so two or more times), up from 60 percent and 35 percent,
respectively, in 2006. There were no gender differences on the issue of cheating
Dishonesty: Clues and Consequences
Students discuss the kinds of dishonest behavior that their peers might display
outside of school and then create hypothetical "whodunit" crime scenes of
dishonesty. After the mysteries are solved, the students discuss the
consequences of the crimes for all stakeholders (persons who were affected).
Paper, pencils, or pens
- Ask the students to list types
of crimes that occur in their community. Share answers. Ask them to list
types of crimes that young people often commit. Share answers.
- Explain that another, less
newsworthy, infraction also occurs regularly: dishonesty. Ask the students
to share examples of dishonest behavior. Discuss what makes one act of
dishonesty worse than another. Discuss the effects and consequences of lies
on the liar and on those being deceived.
- Divide the students into
groups of three. Tell them to write a "whodunit" involving dishonesty. Have
them leave clues throughout their story that will help identify the
dishonest character. Remind them of the examples of dishonest actions you
- On a separate sheet of paper,
have them list who the liar is, how he or she was dishonest, why he or she
acted that way, and ways the dishonest behavior could have been avoided.
Everyone in the group must contribute.
- Collect the stories and
redistribute them to different groups. Have each group do the following:
Solve the caper and identify the dishonest culprit. Explain how they
arrived at their conclusion. List how events might have unfolded if the liar
had been honest.
- Offer ways that characters in
the story could have helped the liar be honest. After collecting and
reviewing the stories and responses, have each group share their crime and
- (Optional) Invite a
law-enforcement official speak to the class about the consequences of
certain dishonest actions. Have the speaker discuss methods that help keep
individuals from repeating such offense
Free Lesson Plan
Search this collection by subject, age group, and by the Six Pillars of
The Foundations for
Life essay program offers character-building materials that develop writing
and critical-thinking skills. Be sure to check out the weekly writing prompt and
monthly lesson plan.
COMMENTARY BY MICHAEL JOSEPHSON
During a dinner party, a self-important business executive said, “The problem
with our education system starts with teachers. What can our kids learn from
people who decided their best option in life was to become a teacher? Those who
can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
A guest protested, “I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, and that’s simplistic and
“Really?” the executive said. “Then be honest, what do you make?”
“I suppose you’re thinking of money,” the teacher replied. “I earn enough, but
let me tell you what I make.
I make other people’s children read, think, write, wonder, and talk about
important things such as the world and their role in it.
I make them appreciate the value of education, not simply as a way to make a
living, but as a way to make a life.
I make them work harder than they want to and accomplish more than they thought
I encourage them to be skeptical without being cynical and optimistic without
I make them understand that the quality of their life will be determined by
their choices, and I make them take responsibility for their actions.
I make them feel proud, capable, and worthy when they try hard.
I make them appreciate the importance of integrity and honor in a world that too
often shows little regard for either.
I make them respect themselves and treat others with respect.
“I make them feel proud and grateful to live in America where people are
entitled to be treated fairly and with respect and judged by their
accomplishments and character, not by their color, creed, or size of their bank
Most of all, I make a difference.
“So now,” the teacher said to the executive,” tell us what you make?”