creating schools and communities of character
                                                                                                                     November/December, 2009
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: or call them at 1-800-711-2670.


Take a Minute For Character

Information You Can Use

Hot Chalk Learning Environment System

Classroom Ideas

Commentary by Michael Josephson



One of the questions that always seems to be raised at the CHARACTER COUNTS! workshops I do is, “Will implementing a character education program help improve our school’s test scores?’  There is an obvious interest in every school today in making sure students achieve academic standards and that the school is meeting AYP.  I will hear teachers say that they are reluctant to teach character in their classroom because it may detract from student performance.  This thinking really misses the point about how good teachers already teach. In reality, every school is already into character education, as I believe teaching values cannot be avoided. The only question is how formalized the process is by which teachers intentionally integrate core values into their lessons.

I have come to the conclusion that we cannot afford to have teachers focus only on improving the academic performance of students. Thomas Lickona in his book Educating for Character said that, “Down through history, education has always had two goals: to help young people become smart and to become good.”  We would like out schools to graduate students who are able to performance academically but still have a moral compass to guide them in making decisions.

Why do teachers feel if they teach character and academics at the same time that the result will be reduced student performance? If our students come to class prepared, take responsibility for completing homework, are honest, show respect toward the teacher and classmates and demonstrate they truly care about others, will not teachers have more time to teach and not less?  Obviously, the core values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship are not just things we try to do to kids; rather they are outcomes we would like to see in the students we have  the responsibility to educate.

For me, it is ideal when teachers create a classroom in which character is intentionally integrated into what is taught, regardless of the grade level or subject matter. Students needs to be challenged to do their best academic work in a learning environment where they are honest and treat each other with respect and care. When this occurs in a classroom, character is truly being taught. In fact, I believe that in our efforts to educate students we are unable to distinguish between teaching kids academically from the core values they will need to be successful. The “Six Pillars of Character” is a roadmap to a worthy life in which students are challenged to be responsible and pursue excellence while making effective and ethical decision that uphold values that truly matter.

You can’t separate excellence and ethics. Davidson and Lickona in their report on Smart and Good High Schools concluded that, “We don’t want to graduate kids who become mediocre teachers, incompetent surgeons or sloppy mechanics. And we don’t want to graduate kids who become crooked CEO’s, steroid-popping athletes or citizens who don’t vote.”

Teach academics and not character? It is not possible. What truly counts for a teacher, is how effective you will be helping your students to not only be smart but also good.

Gary Smit                                                     







HotChalk is a learning environment for K-12 teachers, students and parents that includes a learning management system (LMS), a rich library of teacher-contributed lesson plans, premium digital content, and professional development for teachers in a Web-based environment. Available through any Internet browser, the HotChalk Learning Environment is an easy to use system and brings teachers, students and parents together to improve education. HotChalk is free to teachers and schools: 


A TREE TO SHARE - Keep a bare, artificial tree in your classroom. Then place a box of "decorations" (i.e. bookmarks, erasers, pencils, small books, etc.) under the tree. When you see students exhibiting positive behavior in the classroom, invite him/her to take a "decoration" from the box and place it on the tree. Also, when students have extra time following an assignment, encourage them to make their own decorations for the tree.
Before school is out for winter vacation, donate your decorated tree to a homeless shelter, children's home, another school, etc. as a gift from "your children" to "theirs."  Students will be thrilled that their own positive behavior made it possible for something very special to be given to others.

Schoolwide Activities
·    Word/Trait of the Month/Week
·    Morning Announcements
·    Posters
·    Pride Campaigns
·    Mottos/Slogans
·    Quotations of the Week
·    Library Exhibits and Booklets
·    Codes and Rules of Conduct
·    Pledges
·    Theme Assemblies
·    Awards and Prizes
·    Contests
·    Ceremonies and Rituals
·    Cafeteria "Table Tents" and Signs
·    Recognition Wall for Student Achievement
·    Hallway Displays
·    Student/Faculty Task Forces
·    Six Pillars of Character Clubs
·    Faculty Trainings/Discussions
·    Parent Meetings/Workshops
·    Parent/Faculty Task Forces
·    Peer Counseling/Mentoring
·    Cross-Age Tutoring/Mentoring
·    School Service Projects
·    Community Service Projects
·    Charity Fundraisers
·    Student-Designed T-Shirts
·    School Murals

Developing a Schoolwide Climate
·    Heavy emphasis on modeling
·    Written rules and expectations for students, faculty, administrators and parents
·    Training for all staff, from bus drivers to district superintendents
·    Committees and task forces involving teachers and other staff, parents, and students
·    Playground and recess activities
·    Rules and expectations

Monitoring, modeling and enforcement Classroom Activities
·    Personal Assignments
·    Reading (books/stories)
·    Personal journal keeping
·    Essay writing
·    Personal mission statements

In the Classroom
·    Character-building lessons integrated contextually into regular coursework
·    Special modules added to existing courses
·    Separate courses added to curriculum
·    Special pre-semester or weekend programs

Children’s Books That Build Character
This list of books for young people, originally compiled by Kate Harrington of the Albuquerque Public Library, indicates which of the Six Pillars of Character is most strongly emphasized and what kind of book it is. Of course, this list is not exhaustive.

Check these websites for other titles:
Advance Publishing offers a variety of children's books suitable for character educators.
Perfection Learning offers a list of books organized by grade level (K-8) and by each of the Six Pillars.

“Until we all ‘get it,’ I propose that we post in large letters in all our classrooms – and above our bathroom mirrors, if need be – the following message:
We Are All Learners.
We Are All Teachers.

We should not only post this slogan, but also reflect on it every day – alone and with our students – and contemplate its many meanings for what we are all struggling to do.”
- Marc Prensky

The Saga of Will and Fern 

Two frogs named Will and Fern weren't looking where they were going and fell into a deep pit. At first they thought it would be easy to jump out, but after numerous failed attempts they were getting desperate. A crowd of animals gathered around the pit.

The consensus of the crowd was there was no way either one could jump high enough, so they urged Will and Fern to accept their fate. The harder the trapped frogs jumped, the more the crowd yelled at them to surrender. Finally, Will fell back to the bottom and gave up. Fern refused to quit, and with one mighty last try she leaped out of the pit.
The other animals were amazed. One asked her how she could keep trying despite the discouraging taunts of the crowd. Fern was shocked. "What do you mean? I'm a bit deaf. I thought you were rooting for me. I couldn't have done it without you."

A woman named Patty, a resident of a transitional housing program, gave a printed version of this story to my wife Anne. After a long period of homelessness and drug abuse, Patty wanted us to understand that positivism and support can really help people who seem down and out to get up and out.

Patty said she got out of her own deep pit of despair because caring people at the housing program gave her the faith and confidence she needed to jump a little harder.

There are lots of ways to help others. We can educate them, feed them, and house them. But we can also change their lives if we encourage and empower them.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character



Little people carry grudges.  Great people simply forgive and forget.  Sticks and stones break bones; but the fact is, names hurt too.  Leaders may not have to dodge the branches or granite thrown by their opposition, but often they can’t avoid their hurled insults.  The way a leader reacts means the difference between leadership greatness and mediocrity.  Great leaders refuse to don battle gear.  Instead they remain focused on their goals.  Ask any leader why he or she is willing to forgive and forget, and you’ll hear, “I don’t have time to be bitter.  I only have time to be better.”  (Stan Toler)  Simply stated- leaders forgive quickly.