creating schools and communities of character
                                                                                                March/April, 2009
An electronic newsletter to help make sure character counts!
                                                                                                                                    Gary Smit

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.


Information You Can Use

Student Context, Student Attitudes and Behavior and Acadmic Achievement
Self-Discipline May Beat Smarts As Keys to Success
The Lesson Spot - Using Quotations
Commentary By Michael Josephson


On the wall in my office is a large framed picture of a young blond-haired boy standing on a beach peering into the light blue water.  The title of the picture is Priorities.  At the bottom of this striking portrait is a saying “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” 

As educators, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children.  However, the opportunity to impact the lives of children goes beyond our role as a teacher or administrator.  No matter what we do, we have a responsibility to the next generation.  Whether we are a parent, grandparent, business owner or community leader, we must demonstrate that we care about children.

You may be saying this is rather obvious.  Few adults in our society go around admitting a dislike for children.  However, a national survey by Public Agenda, a research firm, portrays a different picture.  Two thirds of the adults surveyed for “Kids these Days: What Americans really think about the next generation,” called teens rude, wild and irresponsible.  Nearly half called younger children spoiled.  Only thirty seven percent of adults said, they believe the country will be improved by today’s children. Americans are convinced that adolescences face a crisis – not in an economic or physical well-being, but in their values and morals.

I would hope that in your community these statistics would not hold true.  If you have worked to teach students not only to be smart but good, I would like to think that the people in your community may see things differently.  I am convinced that children and young people learn best when they also learn the “Six Pillars of Character”:  Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.  Together, we can commit to helping our children be in a position where they will be our best hope for the future.

Gary Smit



What are the key factors that promote academic success among students whose demographic characteristics and school circumstances place them at high risk of failure? Theresa Akey provides highly suggestive, although not conclusive, answers to this question. This study’s findings may have important implications for understanding how students learn in the classroom. Consonant with previous research, they indicate that both engagement in school and students’ perception of their own academic competence influence achievement in mathematics for high school students. But the study departs from earlier work in suggesting that perceived academic competence may be more influential than engagement in boosting achievement in both mathematics and reading. Indeed, analyses indicate that perceived competence had a stronger influence on subsequent engagement than engagement had on students’ perceptions of themselves as competent learners. The findings also make clear that supportive teachers and clear and high expectations about behavior are key to the development of both student engagement and perceived competence. This study suggests that the earlier schools and teachers begin to build students’ confidence in their ability to do well, the better off students will be. Because students’ perceptions of their capacity for success are key to their engagement in school and learning, schools should be designed to enhance students’ feelings of accomplishment. Teachers whom students see as supportive and who set clear expectations about behavior help create an atmosphere in which students feel in control and confident about their ability to succeed in future educational endeavors.


Zoe Bellars and Brad McGann, eighth-graders at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, do their homework faithfully and practice their musical instruments regularly. In a recent delayed gratification experiment, they declined to accept a dollar bill when told they could wait a week and get two dollars.

Those traits might be expected of good students, certainly no big deal. But a study by University of Pennsylvania researchers suggests that self-discipline and self-denial could be a key to saving U.S. schools.  According to a recent article by Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman in the journal Psychological Science, self-discipline is a better predictor of academic success than even IQ.

"Underachievement among American youth is often blamed on inadequate teachers, boring textbooks, and large class sizes," the researchers said. "We suggest another reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline... We believe that many of America's children have trouble making choices that require them to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain, and that programs that build self-discipline may be the royal road to building academic achievement."

But how, educators, parents and other social scientists want to know, do you measure self-discipline? Duckworth, a former teacher studying for a doctorate in psychology, and Seligman, a psychology professor famous for books such as "Learned Optimism," used an assortment of yardsticks, including questions for the students (including how likely they are to have trouble breaking bad habits, on a 1-to-5 scale), ratings by their teachers and parents and the $1-now-or-$2-later test, which the researchers call the Delay Choice Task.


A great tool to use in the classroom is having students discuss quotations or to write an essay based upon a specific quote.  Here are some ideas that a teacher can use if they structure a lesson around quotes.

QUOTATIONS - Discussion Guide
Ask questions like the following:

  1. What do you think this quotation means?
  2. What are the most important ideas and values embedded in the quote?
  3. How would you rewrite this quotation if you had to use synonyms of the original words?
  4. Give a “real life” example of what this quote is about.
  5. What circumstances do you think prompted the speaker to say this?
  6. Why do you suppose this quotation is famous or at least notable?
  7. If this quote doesn’t apply to you directly, what kind of person or situation would it apply to? 
  8. Is there something you can learn from this quote about how you should live your life?
  9. How would the world be different if everyone lived by this quotation? How would the world be different if no one lived by this quotation?
  10. Is this quote realistic or idealistic?
QUOTATIONS - Activity Ideas
  1. Have students find five quotes about one topic, such as honesty or success, or about one of the Six Pillars.
  2. Have students research and write a short biography of the person who said their favorite quote.
  3. Have students rewrite five quotes using language a 10-year-old could understand.
  4. Use a quotation as a journal prompt at the beginning (or end) of class. Students can then pick out their favorite journal entry to expand into a full essay.
  5. Have students find and explain one quote that uses a simile and one that uses a metaphor.
  6. Give students the first part of a quote and have them think of different endings. For example, “Most folks are about as happy as ... _________.” (The original quote, from American president Abraham Lincoln, ends with “they make up their minds to be.”)
  7. List 10 quotes for students and have them rank the quotes in order of how meaningful they would be to a child, a teenager, a parent, or an old person.
  8. Select a quotation and write it on the board. Have students copy it, write what it means in their own words, and give an example from their own lives.
  9. As a twist on the traditional “current events” assignment, have students select a quote that relates to the news story and explain why it is relevant to that current event.
  10. Have students organize a list of quotes by the Six Pillars of Character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship). Ask them to explain how each quote relates to the Pillar category in which they placed it.
  11. Assign a group of three or four students a particular maxim and have them prepare a one- to two-minute skit to illustrate the essential message of the quotation..
  12. Cut the quotes into strips of paper and have students draw a quote from a box. For homework, express the message of the quote in a poster, poem, essay, or song.
For more information on using quotations, along with a weekly writing prompt, go to the Foundations for Life web page.

Character Is an Essential Competence
If you were hiring a new CEO, what are the most important qualities you`d look for? Surely you`d want a high level of demonstrated competence - knowledge and experience, intelligence, vision, communication and relationship skills, and the ability to motivate, manage and solve problems. But what about qualities such as honesty, moral courage, accountability and fairness?

Despite bold rhetoric about the indispensability of good character, many hard-driving organizations are willing to be "flexible" on the character issue to get a person perceived to be exceptionally competent.

Thus, many current scandals - in business, the church and college sports - occurred because organizations compromised their principles by recruiting, retaining or tolerating leaders with serious character flaws that generated costly accusations of wrongdoing and undermined trust, morale, teamwork and loyalty.

I used to tell clients that competence and character were two separate aspects of intelligent employment decisions. Now, I think it`s a mistake to separate the concepts. Today, good character is an essential aspect of competence.

Long ago, Samuel Johnson said, "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, but knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." Warren Buffett updated the notion. He said, "In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don`t have the first, the other two will kill you."

Since it`s easier to train a person of good character to do a job well than it is to develop character in a skilled but unprincipled employee, if you have to choose, hire for character and train for skills.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.