Ignite ‘The Passion for What is Right’ in Teens

Pam Bylsma, assistant principal at Hinsdale Central High School (IL) offers her insight into developing intrinsic motivation in teens.

Over the course of eight years, Hinsdale Central High School has evolved into a culture where students exhibit ethical and performance values, earning us recognition as a National School of Character.  How did we develop our students’ intrinsic motivation to do the right thing?  How can you work with your teenagers so that they genuinely strive to be their ethical best? Continue reading


Character Integration – authentic or artificial?

Which is best? Or does it matter? In our preK-3 character building, the character lessons serve as something tangible for our young students to connect with and hold on to as they learn all about the pillars of character. Because of their developmental age, trustworthiness, for example, is kind of an abstract concept, but when we pitch a quarter – which represents a lie – in to a bucket of water and then give the students an “honest abe” penny to pitch in to show that it’s impossible to cover up a lie, now we’ve done some science with the water displacement and given students a concrete visual of the ripple effects that lying and then trying to cover it up can have.

When teachers seize teachable moments in their classrooms to build character, they’re doing much of the same but seemingly a bit more authentically since the integration isn’t in the shape of a formal lesson. Morning Meetings or Sensitivity Circles help to accomplish the same integration goal by creating a safe place to share and modeling listening and empathy to connect a classroom community.

This year our high school PALs formed Integrity Teams and taught character lessons; there was a great deal of engagement in the lessons delivered by their teenage role models! But were those lessons more powerful than when those same teens modeled good character by performing their traditional German Dances for us or leading us in a Red Ribbon pep rally? It probably depends upon the learner. 

Just as there are many different learning styles, so we have many, many ways to integrate character into our curriculum, all equally ‘value-able’ methods if they can empower our students with character strength.


What is the impact of awards programs on students?

Lara Maupin, Associate Director of the National Schools of Character, reflects on her son’s feelings about end-of year awards. We welcome your comments on the value of awards and how best to foster intrinsic motivation. Click on the comment button below to responds.

It is that awards assembly time of year again, and many schools with an interest in character education, such as the public elementary school my own children attend, are giving out awards to students for exemplifying core values such as honesty, respect, and responsibility. In my work at CEP, I have encountered many such programs that I would consider effective and thoughtfully implemented.

My 10-year-old son received such awards for most of his years in elementary school but did not last year or again this year. Spurred by recent debate over the possible unintended negative consequences of such awards on young children, I asked my son how he felt about not receiving an award for honesty or one of the other values again this year.

He said, “It makes me feel like my teachers don’t notice the good things I do. They focus on the bad.”

That really made me think. Not because I worry about my son’s self esteem or because I think every kid should get a trophy for just showing up. Because I don’t. My son plays baseball and is an actor: he’s resilient. But I also know he struggles each and every day to do his best and be a good kid, and if these awards make him think his teachers don’t see this in him, I have to question their value.

So I ask, what is the impact of such awards or other “caught being good” programs on students, some of whom may be struggling with issues that make just keeping it all together at school an accomplishment? What are the best ways to foster intrinsic motivation and commitment to core values in students? For those who value and implement such recognition programs, how do you reflect on these issues and ensure that your programs do not unintentionally cause harm?


More on Integrating Character Education

Dr. Peter R. Greer, former headmaster of Montclair Kimberly Academy (NJ) and member of CEP’s Blue Ribbon Panel, adds to the dialogue on integrating character education into the curriculum. He is the author of “Character Education on the Cheap”  [  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/11/14/12greer.h27.html.]

I agree with Dr. Berkowitz and Mrs. Stoodley (and they with Aristotle) that merely having intellectual discussions (theoretical wisdom; the head) about the virtues/character/values is merely “half a loaf,” BUT IT IS HALF THE LOAF!  The other half loaf is practicing good habits (practical wisdom; the hand).  Constant activities (the hand) without the theoretical background (the head) do not make for student retention, the formation of good habits, etc.  

How can you have a social climate of respect if you have not discussed/reflected on what the virtue of respect is and then attempted to form good habits regarding that virtue — stumbling at times, but working toward the “aim” of respecting others and yourself?  What is conflict resolution without an understanding and practicing of the virtues of courage, self-control, justice, wisdom, and respect and responsibility?  How serious are classroom discussions and school projects when students study one virtue/value a month — never suspecting that in a single situation, one might be forced to see injustice and practice courage and responsibility to the best of one’s abilities and with the right intent?

Character education comes from teacher exemplars; character education comes from discussions/reflections within academic areas; character education comes from activities — the wisdom from doing those activities.  I think I understand Dr. Berkowitz’ idea when he says that “…it is more about the pedagogy than the content.”  But, how can you not teach the content of the virtues/values — at the same time you are empowering students to choose a service learning project; at the same time you are using cooperative learning (not merely a technique, but an opportunity to understand better the fundamental trait of “taking others seriously as persons — and yourself seriously”; at the same time you are connecting (relevance) with the students?

The content of the virtues/values (I like virtues and I like what Kevin Ryan says about the difference) is more than a booster shot or turbo-charge, the content is half the loaf.  You wouldn’t know that reading the school applications.  The loaf is 1/2 SEL and 1/2 strategies and activities.

I would like to hear more about why Dr. Berkowitz says that integration into the curriculum in prepared lessons is vastly overrated; what he means by “a novice school” (no in-service? no character curriculum or plan? no attention to the 11 Principles?).

I would suggest that the very fact that schools and other character groups do little to nothing to help teachers feel competent and confident about what the virtues (values) actually mean is a poor foundation for constantly and spontaneously addressing character in academic lessons (unless it is the value /Pillar of the month variety — whereby activities, not serious theoretical knowledge, reflection, and action are the norm).  

I would suggest that integration of character education in the daily curriculum and school life is currently more of a goal than a reality.