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Including Character Education in your Day-to-Day Curriculum

Between the ages of five and 18, most US students spend at least one-third of their day in a classroom. Over those 13 years, spending 180 days at school, seven or eight hours a day, adds up to somewhere around 18,000 hours in school.

That is a lot of time for students to be influenced by educators. So we must incorporate one of the most fundamental building blocks of a good education: character building.

Character Education Defined

"Nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue." -Benjamin Franklin

Character education, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education's website, "is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue, citizenship, and responsibility for self or others."

Character, then, is necessary to furthering education. Character will help students get along with and discuss issues with others in the community. It will help them evaluate why they are doing something and how it effects others. If they cannot learn to do this, they will struggle. 

Introduce Character to Your Students

Introducing the idea of building character to your students doesn't have to wait until they are older. You should help students understand the benefits of developing their own character and why it's important to do so from elementary school and on.

You might start simply by asking what the word "character" means to your students. If they say it's someone on a TV show, dig deeper. Ask them what the character's personality is like and what the character thinks is important. Then point out that we, too, have personalities and values that drive our own decisions. We sometimes refer to this as "character." We are real-life characters. You can then have them come up with a list of things that makes someone of good character.

However, be open-minded. This is not a word with a rigid meaning. For example, while it generally does refer to acting upon a set of values, according to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, it can also be the quality of being determined to make it through a difficult time.

Older students especially will want to understand this lesson is about more than just being a "good" person. It is about being a strong person, too, one who endures when life is challenging. Teaching students the benefits of building character will strengthen their resolve to cooperate with the lesson plan and, ultimately, will help you achieve the results you want as an educator.

Provide Visuals

As you are well aware, people learn in a variety of ways. While some students will pick up on everything just by hearing you talk about it, other kids will need to act out scenarios, and others will need to be reminded visually. Visuals, in general, are great learning aids and easy to incorporate in classroom settings.

You could have your students make a poster showing what character means to them. Remember those posters of the whale tail with "Perseverance" written on the bottom? Find a similar image that defines a good, strong, or compassionate character and post them around the room. Make it a daily affirmation.

Another possibility is to have your students come up with a list of people who had great character in history or pop culture and post their image room. If this is the route you choose, just be sure to have your students explain why that individual is a good example of someone with good character to be sure they've understood the assignment.

Work it Into Curriculum

There are several easy ways to incorporate character education into your curriculum. Include lessons on people with good character in your history lessons. For example, if you're learning about our country's founding, you might include George Washington. Avoid figures who have recently been called out for uncouth practices like Thomas Jefferson (slave-owner) and Christopher Columbus.

If you give your class a book report assignment, have them talk about a character's character. In art class, have them design their own superhero and create a backstory that explains a noble character.

You can also teach social lessons and acting lessons using with character education. Have students act out a skit where someone is being bullied. The person who demonstrates good character should intervene to help the person being bullied. For students in drama class, you may want to assign a group project, writing a skit that includes a protagonist with a complex, yet ultimately good, character.

For language learning lessons, especially for younger students, teach words that we associate with character.

Observing and Self-Evaluating Character

One way to teach character is to teach your students to be active observers. Have them observe the characters in any media you show them or books you read. Allow your students to explore the motivations of the person and what drives their character. 

When they can observe what good character or character flaws look like in others, they may better be able to self-evaluate themselves.

Consider asking students at the end of the semester or year to do some of this self-evaluation, explaining what they have learned in the realm of character development and how they think it will help them going into the next grade or graduation. 

It may also be helpful to encourage your students to keep a journal, providing students with a daily writing prompt at the beginning or end of class to give a better picture of how they've grown over the school year.

Final Words

When teaching character development, include parents in the process. They must know the lessons you're teaching at school so they may be encouraged to reinforce them at home. It'll also give you insight into what family values influence your student's innate character.

But most importantly, continue to be you and lead by example. You're already doing so much for your students by holding up your own good character and letting the rest of your class and coworkers follow your shining example.

Written by Michael Combs

Education World Contributor

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