creating schools and communities of character
                                                                                                May/June, 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.

Matrix of Middle School Activities
Information You Can Use
Influence of Teacher Approval or Disapproval on Student Behavior
Lesson Corner
Commentary by Michael Josephson


Last week, I was on a “red-eye” flight from California back to O’Hare. Leaving Los Angeles at 11:15 PM meant that I would arrive in Chicago a little after 5:00 the next morning.  I needed to be at a meeting that was scheduled for 7:30 AM. When I got on the plane, I sat next to a man who also needed to be back in Chicago by morning.  As we talked, I learned he was an executive of a major Chicago area company.  His reason for needing to get home was that the following day was visitation day at his son’s school. The executive shared with me that no matter how driven, committed or ambitious he had become in the workplace, spending time with his family was most important.  He said to me, “No one on his deathbed has said, I wish I would have spent more time at the office.”

What we discussed that evening on the Los Angeles flight was not new news, but to Type-A personalities, we realized that it’s easier said than done. When I returned home I found a poem by David Weatherboard’s entitled "Slow Dance" that sends the message in a particularly compelling way:

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round, or listened to rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight, or gazed at the sun fading into the night?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly, when you ask "How are you?" do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed, with the next hundred chores running through your head?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow, and in your haste, not seen his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die, because you never had time to call and say hi.
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere, you miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day, it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life is not a race, so take it slower, hear the music before your song is over.
Looking now back on my own administrative career, these words make a lot of sense. The pressure to commit ourselves solely to the work we have been called to do, can leave us no time for the important role we play in being there for those we love.  You know, sometimes the lessons we learn do not occur just in school.

Gary Smit


After doing a number of in-service training specifically for middle school teachers, I’ve written a matrix of activities that can be used at the middle school level to integrate CHARACTER COUNTS! into the instructional program. The activities are written to coordinate with a “pillar of the month” focus for a middle school. The activities are for grades 6-8. The direct link to the matrix is:


Interested in having character education as a topic for a school institute day in the 2009-10 school year? Now is the time to schedule. Topics could include: Moving Character Education From Words to Action: Strategies for Integrating Character Into Your Classroom; If Character Education is up to you, What do you do? Making Sure CHARACTER COUNTS!


How do the ways in which teachers express approval and disapproval of student actions bring about change in individual and group behaviors? The latest ASCD ResearchBrief highlights a study in which researchers designed a short-term program to help teachers examine their own use of praise and disapproval in the classroom and supplemented this information with a brief training presentation on managing student behavior. Relationships play a key role in classroom management and discipline. The way in which teachers interact with individual students -- as well as with groups of students and the entire class - -helps define acceptable (and unacceptable) academic and social behaviors, as well as desired learning outcomes. When reacting verbally to students, teachers may use a variety of management techniques, including praising desired behaviors, expressing disapproval of undesirable behaviors, or even ignoring student behaviors. Although historically many teachers have worked to control student outcomes by expressing disapproval for unacceptable actions, recent research has focused on the benefits of praising good behavior rather than focusing on unacceptable behavior. Expression of disapproval may have a short-term effect on student behaviors, but praise appears to have a longer-term effect and to be more generally effective at influencing student actions.


Taking Action
OVERVIEW: Students pick a social cause they support and formulate a plan of action to further that cause.
Copy of Action Plan handout, one for each student
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it is never difficult to find a social cause worthy of support. Explain that part of being a good citizen is pitching in to make things better for others. Often problems can seem overwhelming, and students may think they are too young or too insignificant to make a difference. Consider telling them this inspirational tale about the starfish:

One morning an elderly man was walking along a beach and saw a younger man in the distance who appeared to be dancing in the sand. As the older man got closer he saw that the young man was not dancing, but was picking up starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea. As the older man came upon the younger man he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The young man turned to the older man and said, “Well, you see, the sun is up and the tide is out and if these starfish do not get back into the sea they will die.” “But young fellow,” the older man said, “Look ahead of you. There are miles and miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The young man looked at the older man and then looked at the starfish in his hand. He gently tossed the starfish into the sea and then turned to the older man and said, “Well, sir, I made a difference to that one.”

Have students research different social causes and choose one they feel drawn to and want to support. Students may wish to partner up and tackle a cause together. Distribute and go over the handout, which outlines ways to support a cause. Have students create a plan of action tailored to their cause. Then encourage them to take the first step in putting that plan to work.

Formulating an Action Plan
Once you have decided what cause to support, the following steps will help you formulate an action plan to make a difference.
1. Gather information.
a. Sources
i. Internet
ii. Library (newspapers, magazines, books, videos)
iii. Television
iv. Experts
b. What to look for
i. Organizations already working for the same cause
ii. Books and pamphlets relating to your cause
iii. Documentaries about your cause
iv. Information about what’s already been done to help your cause
v. Information about what still needs to be done to help your cause

2. Publicize.
a. Posters
i. Promote your cause in general and heighten awareness.
ii. Feature attractive, colorful design.
iii. Send a simple but powerful message.
iv. Display in many locations.
Local businesses
b. Flyers or brochures
i. Can have more information than posters
ii. Can be photocopied and distributed to lots of people
iii. Places to distribute:
School sporting events
Local shopping centers
c. Events
i. School assembly
ii. Play
iii. Volunteer fair

3. Make contacts.
a. Go to meetings of local organizations that support this cause.
b. Write to your congressperson to express your support for the cause.

4. Take responsibility.
a. Be a model of the change you want to see.
b. Encourage others to follow your lead.


While teachers can have a lifelong effect on the way students think, psychologist Haim Ginott has focused on a more immediate aspect of impact: the creation of a positive or negative physical and emotional environment that can determine the quality of a child`s life.

"I`ve come to a frightening conclusion," he said. "I am the decisive element in the classroom. My personal approach creates the climate. My daily mood makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child`s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. It is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized."
Yet as profound as this observation is for professional educators, it`s even more so for parents. A parent`s power to create the daily climate and lasting environment in which a child grows is so awesome it must be used consciously and responsibly.

Since our daily moods make the weather, we should try to shield our children from the thunder and lightning of our frustrations and anger. Instead of the dark clouds of cynicism, fear and depression, we should discipline our own emotions and give them the light and warmth of love, hope and good cheer. Conscious efforts to be positive, enthusiastic, and supportive can have a huge impact not only on the emotional well-being of our children, but on their ability to experience the joys and pains of childhood in healthy and constructive ways.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.