You’re well-versed in character education. You’ve devoured Kami’s “What is character education and why is it important?”. If you have a spare couple of minutes, you may even pop over to the Department of Education’s website to read their take on character education. Now you know the “what” you want to know the “how” and have come here in search of examples. You have absolutely come to the right place!
Below, we’ve got a few examples of how you can begin to implement character education, not just in the school climate but in real life as well. These teaching strategies are not for any specific grade level and can be used to supplement lesson plans for elementary school all the way up to high school. This kind of social-emotional learning can provide your learners with some great tools to supplement their academic achievements. Use these six tips to start developing your own character education curriculum.
- Set expectations: Although it may seem obvious, you can’t begin building character in your students until you know what core values are important to your classroom, school district, or state. Just in the same way you would set your students up for academic achievement, apply a similar principle to your character education lessons. At the very start of the school year, there should be some kind of discussion to establish what core ethical values the school community deems as important. Take a leadership role to bring the staff, parents, and students together to identify and define the elements of character they want to emphasize; Decide what ethical values you expect out of your students and make those expectations very clear to everyone. This includes the people you report to! If you’re not sure where to start, check out the Six Pillars of Character from Character Counts.
- The Six Pillars of Character: The Character Counts initiative has identified six qualities that they consider to be their core ethical values. They are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. You can read about each of these in more detail here. Starting your school year by introducing these as the foundation of your character education curriculum is a great way to get all your students on the same page, schoolwide.
- Share Leadership: You’ll quickly find that you aren’t the only educator at your school passionate about character education. Take the opportunity to maximise your reach and reduce your workload by encouraging other teachers to join your initiative. Academic performance is always observed schoolwide, so why not establish a character education curriculum that does the same? Create a character education partnership with these folks and work to establish teacher buy-in. Make time to collaborate and develop your respective teaching strategies. You’ll find that teamwork is at the foundation of all good problem-solving.
- Make it Building-Wide: In general, every student should be participating in the same character education program at the same time. This allows you to establish consistent language surrounding the character, which makes communication easier among the building population. It also allows for more meaningful discussions with students and instills a sense of school community which teaches students the value of community service from an early age. It’s a real-world demonstration of how social skills are an integral part of life skills.
- Emphasize Relationships: Multiple Studies have shown that students learn and behave better for people with whom they have a positive relationship. It is no different when it comes to character education. When trying to teach young people the values of self-awareness, self-discipline, and trustworthiness, it makes sense that they’re far more likely to adopt these character traits if they have a positive relationship with you, their teacher. They will look to you for how you handle conflict resolution and the kind of interactions you have in the school environment.
- Make it a Daily Ritual: Incorporate direct instruction in character education every day. By all means possible, implement strategies that are a part of your students’ character development as a part of their daily routine. Ideally, you would introduce this habit at the start of the school year. You can do this in homeroom or advisory period. The daily interaction also establishes relationship building which is so important for building character.
Think of these examples as tools for your students to add to the toolbox they’re supposed to be building during their time at school. Math, English, and social studies are all important, but in life, worksheets will only get you so far! Providing your students with a set of core ethical values can help them apply their academic knowledge in real life and give them critical thinking skills that will benefit them forever. If you’re looking for more activities to teach character education, check out our blog.
Remember, stay flexible! Even if you pick a great character education program, sometimes you will have to veer off-plan a little. The very best lesson plans often don’t survive the curveballs that a class full of middle school students can throw. As long as it is in the best interest of students, you’re doing fine!