How do you teach character? My answer is always through practice, practice, practice. “By the time children are 4 years old, they often know certain values–that stealing is wrong, for example. Because kids tend to know values, they often feel patronized by lectures about values or just learn to parrot back what adults want to hear.” (Richard Weissbourd). We practice character education through our behavior, our expectations, and our discussions.
Every adult at the school aims to behave with the characteristics we are trying to impart to the children. We talk to the students about our behavior transparently, we allow the kids to hold us accountable, and we take responsibility when we fail. Kids have a keen eye for sincerity, so the character of the faculty and staff cannot be faked–it has to come from our hearts. When it is genuine, it will color and shape the entire organization, and I believe we all feel the positive effects of the collective character within the organization.
We also expect the students to behave with character. Holding our expectations high — whether that is through asking a 3 year old to put away his work or asking a high schooler to help a parent carry boxes into the school — creates a status quo of kindness and respect. The stronger the parent partnership, the more continuity the students will see between the standards at home and the standards at school, and the stronger the students’ clarity will be about how to be a person of character.
Lastly, discussions are essential because morality and ethics are rarely black and white. There are trade-offs, ambiguities, and conundrums. The more we work through these with our students, the more mature their moral logic becomes. The more time we give to discussions and practice, the more we solidify our identity as people of character.
This article is a short summary of a great book, The Parents We Mean to Be by Richard Weissbourd, and addresses the type of character education I’m describing if you’re interested in reading more.