Search form

Guide Offers Practical Character Education Lessons


With more teachers and parents seeing the need for character education, the non-profit Heartwood Institute has released a book of lessons for teachers and counselors to teach children ethics, social and emotional skills. Included: Information about the guide.

Today's children face new stressors and problems that require new strategies, so to help them develop the coping skills they need, the Heartwood Institute has developed the Implementation Guide for School Counselors.

The guide is designed to help school counselors, educators, and after-school staff "coach students to become resilient and develop strong character," according to Heartwood. The ethics and character education curriculum is literature-based, and links the experiences of characters in the stories to students' own lives. Discussion sections and activities in the Counselor's Guide provide a basis for addressing a wide range of counseling issues, such as bullying, grief, anger, and self-esteem, noted Heartwood.

Eleanore Childs

A non-profit educational institute, Heartwood was founded in 1986 by Eleanore Childs, a mother and criminal defense attorney who saw a need for more character education in the schools. Now Heartwood's president, Childs spoke with Education World about how teachers and counselors could use the new guide.

Education World: How is Heartwood's Implementation Guide for School Counselors different from other approaches to teaching character education?

Eleanore Childs: The Heartwood guide allows room for the counselor and other caring adults to customize the lesson, problem solve, and have discussions with individual children and small groups. You can be issue specific, child specific, or problem specific. Heartwood's framework of seven universal attributes has proven itself in more than 16 years of use in a wide variety of schools. (The seven universal attributes are courage, loyalty, justice, respect, hope, honesty, and love). The guidebook's focus on emotionally engaging, multicultural children's literature gives the program more depth than other programs offer.

EW: What are the key components of the program?

Childs: The seven attributes and the literature in conjunction with a caring adult who can make them relevant to the child's own life are the program's primary components. Making a connection between the child and the attributes empowers children, by showing how the attributes can help them; for example, "Life is better with love".

"Teachers see the needs of their kids every day; they know when a lesson on courage or honesty or hope is going to help their classes with real life situations."

EW: What are the hardest concepts for elementary students to grasp?

Childs: That these abstract attributes are real. That when you show them and feel them and practice them it can actually change the way your day and your life turn out. Also, that their actions have great impact on those around them, and that they can help others as well as themselves.

EW: Since not all elementary schools have counselors, how can teachers use the guide in their classrooms?

Childs: That's easy when you look at the issues related to the attributes. For example, courage is related to standing up for oneself, facing fears and challenges, taking action in difficult situations, and coping with bullying. Teachers see the needs of their kids every day; they know when a lesson on courage or honesty or hope is going to help their classes with real life situations.

EW: What are teachers looking for in a character development program?

Childs: Something that really, truly, honestly, helps their kids and is not just another new thing they have to do.

Through talking with teachers, we have learned that they are overburdened with requirements from new standards and curriculum, and are forced to focus on standardized testing due to requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. At the same time, they are dealing with more behavior problems due to increased inclusion, reduced disciplinary support from parents, and other social factors. So they need a program that lightens their burdens instead of adding to them. The idea behind the Implementation Guide for School Counselors is to relieve teachers of some burdens by enabling counselors to assist them with character education, especially in dealing with students who need extra help to cope with problems such as grief and bullying.

EW: How do you know the program is effective? Have you done any follow-ups with students in middle and high school?

Childs: Well, it works to open doors if you wind up having more discussions and insight than you used to. It works with helping to develop more caring students if you see declines in bullying and discipline infractions. You need to look, listen, and pay attention.

To address your question directly, let me say that unlike many character education programs on the market today, Heartwood has been rigorously evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively. In addition to demonstrating that students understand the seven universal character attributes after one year of exposure to the program, a four-year follow-up study showed that students who have had Heartwood for several years are more caring and respectful than students with little or no exposure [to the program], and perceive their teachers as modeling the attributes, which means that they respect their teachers. Studies of disciplinary data in middle school showed that students with the most exposure to Heartwood had the fewest disciplinary referrals in middle school.

This e-interview with Eleanore Childs is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. 


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World