What Sandy Showed Me

by Joe Mazzola, Vice President of Character Education Partnership

I have a very heavy heart right now because Sandy McDonnell passed away. You see, he was my hero. Like many others who knew and loved this great man, I now feel a huge emptiness in my life that I know will never be filled. I loved Sandy like a father.

It was a great blessing to have him in my corner for the five years I served as CEP’s executive director. Anyone who knows me would surely tell you that I needed all the help I could get, too. And that was especially true since I had no experience in the nonprofit sector until Sandy and others hired me.

Fortunately, on the work front, Sandy was always there for me. He coached and guided me through all of the really important and tough areas of running any organization—like financial management, strategic planning, human resources and more.

And, Sandy did all of this mentoring quietly and behind-the-scenes. Board members, staff and others never knew all he did for me from the shadows. That’s because Sandy was one of those very rare but genuine servant leaders that many of us read about but never meet. He couldn’t care less about being in the spotlight. Instead, he worked to make everyone else around him shine.

Along my journey with Sandy, there is no doubt he taught me a lot about being a better leader and manager. However, what I really learned from him was how to be a better person. We talked about this topic often which will come as no surprise. Heck, everyone knows that developing good people was Job #1 for Sandy. However, most of what I learned from him on this front was from the example he set. It’s no fluke that he planted roots in the “Show Me” state—he showed me, and thousands of others, what good character looks like in action.

So it was in this other far more important area, the one called life, where Sandy McDonnell taught me the most. Through example, he showed me how to be a good husband and father…how to be humble…how to be nonjudgmental…how to treat others with dignity and respect…how to talk less and listen more…how to be totally honest at all times…how to maintain a sense of humor and positive attitude…how to give back…and, even when dying, how to maintain faith, dignity and strength in the gravest of situations.

Yes, Sandy McDonnell taught lots of us how to be better managers. However, far more importantly, he taught us how to be better human beings. And he taught in the most effective way possible–by the way he lived and the example he set. Sandy understood what was really important in life—good character. More importantly, he showed us what it looks like in action.

There are lots of tributes being written about Sandy right now by many others who knew and loved him. However, I believe all of us can best honor him by pledging to follow his example and doing all that we can to live good and decent lives ourselves. Furthermore, I believe we should also commit to continuing the important work he started and led for most of his life–developing good character in young people. If we do these two things, I know that our dear Sandy will look down from above with a giant smile on his face.

We appreciate your existence, Sandy…and loved you dearly.


Helping Girls Become Confident Leaders

Contributed by Michele Borba
Parenting advice on how to raise strong, confident daughters from the inside out based on research by the Girl Scouts of the USA

What parent doesn’t want his or her daughter to be a leader? After all, that top role – be it debate captain, head cheerleader, newspaper editor, play director, student body president – is deemed the epitome of success. These are the kids whom adults applaud and peers look up to.

Make no mistake, each leadership success is one more step up a ladder, and each rung up the ladder gives girls that needed “edge” to be accepted to their choice college, win that scholarship or lucrative job. But even more important: those positions are the best ways to build our daughters’ character, integrity and confidence.

There is some truth to that old “We’ve come a long way, baby” slogan. Our girls have come a long way in overcoming the “’Boys Only’ Leadership Club.”

But we still have a ways to go in helping the female gender reach its leadership potential, and interestingly, it’s the girls themselves who tell us we must do more to help them reach that goal.

What Girls Say Impedes Their Potential

The Girl Scouts of the USA conducted a national study of almost 4,000 youth ages eight to 17 on a broad array of issues related to leadership. Their research (entitled Change It Up!) offers important clues as to what our girls say is impeding their potential to leadership. Here are just a few critical findings from the report:

  • Girls say the greatest single barrier to leadership is their self-perception: They lack self-confidence in their own skills and leadership competencies.
  • Girls say that providing supportive environments in which they can acquire leadership
    experience is essential.
  • Girls say that a successful leadership program must address their need for emotional safety, and desire for social and personal development.
  • Girls report that environments in which they can develop leadership skills are scarce. They want more leadership opportunities offered at younger ages.

All four of our girls’ key concerns are solvable. Positive leadership traits are also teachable, though as girls themselves would say, the earlier we begin the better.

Solutions to Boost Girls’ Leadership Abilities

There are proven ways to help kids follow less and lead more. But the best news is that these same leadership traits will help boost your daughter’s potential for success in every arena of life both now and forever. So what are you waiting for? Here is how to apply those findings from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, to help our daughters succeed:

Be a Leadership Example
The Girl Scouts of the USA study found that regardless of age, regions, or income, girls identify immediate family members and relatives—most particularly their mothers—as those they most admire. Be the example you want your daughter to copy.

Push the pause button on your behavior just this past week. How would your daughter describe your leadership style? Do you…

  • Speak up at home and in public?
  • Help out in causes that concern you?
  • Share your opinions with your family?
  • Stay current with what’s going on in the world and talk about them with your daughter?
  • State your political opinions (and listen to hers)?
  • Vote?
  • Bring your daughter along to charitable events you are organizing?
  • Let her know you believe in her traits and boost her confidence?
  • Share examples of women who are strong leaders?
  • Watch media shows that portray confident, strong women?

Don’t undermine your power! Our girls are watching and copying our actions.

Break Those “Sexism” Stereotypes, Pronto!

Girls–and boys–must understand that gender is not a barrier to leadership. Period! We’ve come a long way, but the report shows we still have work to do.

It is crucial that we catch a stereotype (i.e. “Women can’t be leaders…”) before it becomes an engrained belief, locks in doubts, and derails a girl’s confidence for a lifetime.

One way to dispel a stereotype is by starting a family rule: “Anytime a family member says a sweeping generality such as ‘Girls can’t…’ or ‘No woman ever…’ say: “Check that!” The sayer must then give evidence to counter the view.

For instance, your daughter says: “Women can’t be leaders.”

You say: “Check that! Let’s think of women who are! What about…” And then give her an example of a strong woman leader who counters that stereotype.

Here are a few female leaders-past and present-to get you started (and keep adding to the list).

  • Queen Elizabeth II of England
  • President Pratibha Patil of India
  • Queen Margrethe 2 of Denmark
  • President Mary McAleese of Ireland
  • Governor-General Hon. Dr. Dame C. Pearlette Louisy of St. Lucia
  • President Cristina E. Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina
  • President Tarja Halonen of Finland
  • President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines
  • President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia
  • Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany

Stress “There are different leadership styles”

Girls need to learn that there are different leadership styles from active, reflective and supportive.

Provide various examples of strong women leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and Golda Meir in books, magazines, videos, or in the news.

Point out the quiet, compassionate leadership styles such as a Mother Teresa vs. supportive, team-building styles of others such as Pat Summitt of University of Tennessee.

Help your daughter identify her own leadership style.

The key is to emphasize: You don’t have to be strong and pushy to be a good leader. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that the traits of sensitivity and caring are strengths – not weaknesses – for women leaders.

Stress “You need to find your own unique strength and talent, then lead from it. Don’t copy anyone else. Be true to yourself!”

Encourage Her Voice

Girls say their fear of public speaking (followed by shyness and embarrassment) is the biggest obstacle to assuming leadership roles.

If this is your daughter, find ways to build her confidence in speaking up so she is less likely to be intimidated. Here are ways:

  • Enroll her in speech and debate or theatre.
  • Hold family meetings at home in which she learns to share her feelings.
  • Put her in supportive learning environments (girls say such an atmosphere is critical to building confidence).
  • Reinforce her views. Encourage her views. Let her speak!
  • Don’t speak for her!
  • Let her know you value her opinions.
  • Encourage her to find friends who aren’t always the bossy, domineering type so she can
    learn to find her voice.

Provide Early Leadership Opportunities

Girls say that environments in which they can develop crucial leadership skills are scarce. And when we finally do provide those leadership opportunities, they are often “too late.”

The Girl Scouts study found that a girl’s desire to be a leader changes with age. It peaks at 44% among eight- to 10-year-olds, then drops to 36% for 11- to 13-year-olds, rises to 40% for 14- to 15-year-olds, and drops back to 36% for 16- to 17-year-olds.

The crucial lesson: Find ways for your daughter to practice leadership skills earlier so that she finds ways to be in charge, gain confidence and practice those crucial leader skills.

Also, don’t think of leadership roles as only elected positions such as class president or team captain.

Any opportunity for your child to lead another is fine.

For example: babysitting, tutoring the neighbor child, watching a younger sibling, or teaching a small Sunday school class.

The size of the group also doesn’t matter; the opportunity to lead is what does.

Also, watch out that you don’t enroll your daughter in too many adult-supervised, highly-structured activities. Girls will never be able to practice leading if someone always leads them.

Find Ways to Help Your Daughter Make a Difference

The fact is any leader—young or old—can’t lead without a cause.

Start by identifying your daughter’s passions or concerns–polar bears, cleanliness, fossil fuel, graffiti..or whatever!–and then expand her knowledge about that issue.

Cut out news articles, check out library books, surf the Internet, but increase your child’s interest and understanding about that issue.

Encourage her to be in charge of the church clothes drive for the women’s shelter, raise money for flood victims, volunteer to do community service, plan a garage sale for the homeless, or stop the bullying epidemic at her school. Find her passion!

Also, encourage your daughter to develop a plan to connect with like-minded kids to voice their concerns and lead a group–whatever the size–and make a difference through positive leadership.

Then cheer her on and on and on.

In fact, don’t stop cheering!

Let’s keep finding those leadership opportunities and keep cheering our girls on until we can finally say without any reservation: “We really have come a long way, baby. In fact, we’re there!”‘


Resources for this Blog:

Girl Scouts Research Institute, Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. New York: Girl Scouts of the USA, 2008. National online survey of 2475 girls and 1514 boys between the ages of 8 and 17 years fielded from June 22, 2007 to June 29, 2007.

Need for single-sex, safe environments for girls to confide in trusting adults and others girls: Girl Scouts Research Institute, Feeling Safe. New York: Girl Scouts of the USA, 2003.

K. Mishra, “Your Older Sibling Really is Smarter, Study Says, More Time With Adults May Be a Major Factor,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 2007.


Common Core: Building the Moral Infrastructure through Character Ed

Common Core

By Kristie Fink, CEP Education Advisory Council member

The Common Core has now been adopted by all but five states in the U.S., making it the topic of discussion in faculty rooms all across the country. It touts high standards that encapsulate the knowledge and skills students need for college, career and civic readiness in a 21st century global society, but will it really deliver on its promise?

There is much to like about the new Core. Governors and state superintendents all across the country collaborated to create it, reflecting our national ideals of state and local control of education. This collaboration has also resulted in developing high standards rooted in performance that meet our national goals of preparing every young person to be college-, career- and civically ready by high school graduation. The standards also draw heavily from best practices and research on what high-performing countries do.

The new standards could elegantly inform our journey a decade into this new century with a vision of what it means to be educated and prepared for the challenges of a new global society. The new Core proposes to make rigorous academic content accessible to all students so that all students can be successful. They represent a paradigm shift in that they move teachers away from an emphasis on preparing students for low level, multiple-choice tests to more real-world, performance-based assessments. The level of rigor has been increased, with daily reading and writing across the curriculum in a wide range of texts, including literary and informational, and increasing text complexity across disciplines.

So what’s missing that might help students grapple successfully with the increased rigor and expectation of performance in this new Core? While it lays out what students need to know and be able to do in a 21st century global society, it falls short on identifying what students need to “be like,” (term coined by Ivor Pritchard, senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education) or the dispositions and qualities of character they will need to develop to be well-prepared for what it means to be educated in today’s world and beyond, and to be successful on high stakes performance tests. Some of these key learning, inquiry and literacy skills include collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating, building arguments, creativity, planning, presenting and researching. Clearly character is implicitly built into the new standards, but is not explicitly named or identified as key to successful implementation of the standards. However, character is the important foundation and common denominator that will help students effectively cope with all of these greater demands.

The new Core makes it clear that it does not attempt to identify all that should or could be taught, or specify the supports that schools must continue to put in place to help all young people be successful. And these are standards—they don’t identify the curriculum or teaching and learning strategies that teachers will use. An important dimension of optimal school planning that will help both students and teachers transition effectively with the new standards includes a focus on the following:

•Explicit planning for the core civic and ethical values that young people will need to acquire to be college, career and civic ready, and to grapple with the greater performance demands of the Common Core

•Modeling core values and teaching a curriculum grounded in values so that young people have clearer visions of the kinds of people they might become

•Intentional planning and working towards a pervasive sense of community for every student and the caring relationships that foster optimal human development across all domains—intellectual, social/emotional and ethical

•Collaboration to create a school and classroom culture rooted in respect, responsibility and excellence, so that students not only develop moral character, (caring, respect, trustworthiness, for example) but the performance character they will need to successfully grapple with more rigorous standards, (diligence, effort, responsibility, for example)

•High quality teaching and learning with appropriate scaffolding and supports to help all young people be successful

•Collaboration among teachers, with support from administrators, to understand and plan for implementation of the Common Core

The Common Core lays out a clear vision of what it means to be educated in the twenty-first century. It will require educators to look deeply within themselves, reflect on what students most need to be prepared for a very different world than has existed in the past, and to move forward skillfully, courageously and gracefully so that every student can succeed, contribute and create happy and flourishing lives for themselves.


19 Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied and What to Do about It

Contributed by Michele Borba

Warning signs that your child is being bullied

If your child is bullied it means that a peer or peers are intentionally causing her or him pain. Peer abuse! Just the thought can send shivers down our spines.

But the fact is 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students. Reports also confirm that bullying is starting at younger ages and is more frequent and aggressive than before. And the cruel behavior increases with age. Chances are your child may be bullied.

Also troubling is that our children don’t always tell us that they have been bullied. I’ve spent many a meeting with kids who were repeatedly victimized and in clear emotional pain.

“Why didn’t you go to a trusted adult for help?” I’d ask.

Their replies were concerning:

“I did tell my mom. She didn’t believe me.”

“I tried to tell, but I got too embarrassed.”

“If I told my dad he would have only made things worse by yelling at the bully.”

“Why bother? The stuff my mom told me to try wouldn’t work.”

Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and can erode a child’s self-esteem and mental health. Whether bullying is verbal, physical or relational, the long-term effects are equally harmful. Both boys and girls report high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as lower self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Some situations the outcome is tragic: the child may take his or her own life.

So it’s time to get savvy and learn the warning signs of bullying. Bullying is always intentional, mean-spirited, rarely happens only once and there is always a power imbalance. The victim cannot hold his own and often will need adult help. Your child may not feel comfortable telling you about his pain, but if you know these signs your child is being bullied and tune in closer, you might be able to start bullying prevention in your home.

Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

Here are possible warnings that a child may be bullied and needs your support. Of course, these signs could indicate other problems, but any of these warrant looking into further. See my blog, Signs of Cyber-bullying for signs of electronic bullying. Every child is different and any child can have an “off” day, so look instead of a pattern of behavior that is not typical for your child.
 1. Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
 2. Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
 3. Clothes, toys, books, electronic items are damaged or missing or child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
 4. Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
 5. Afraid of riding the school bus
 6. Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
 7. Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
 8. Marked change in typical behavior or personality
 9. Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause
 10. Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
 11. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
 12. Change in eating habits
 13. Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully.)
 14. Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying).
 15. Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
 16. Ravenous when he comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
 17. Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
 18. Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
 19. Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away.

What to Do if You Suspect Bullying but Aren’t Sure

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Review the signs of bullying and then ask direct questions.

“You’re always hungry: have you been eating your lunch?”
“Your CDs are missing? Did someone take them?”
“Your jacket is ripped. Did someone do that to you?”

Watch your child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful.

If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. The trick is to figure out if your child is bullied and then where and when it is happening so you can get the right help for your child.

Hint: If your child has a classmate, you might be able to gain more information from the pal than your own child.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school.

Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem.

Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help.

Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!” Please!


Member of Post-Columbine Generation Reflects on School Shooting

by Carol Dreibelbis, Education & Research Fellow

Monday, February 28th brought us news of another school shooting—this time in Chardon, OH. The entire country has been rocked by this violent act that killed three students and injured two others. This is news that we hope to never hear again.

I must admit that I was not shocked when I heard about the shooting. I had just turned 10 years old when the Columbine shooting occurred, so I’ve grown up with school shootings in the news. When I was in elementary school in Minnetonka, MN, a 5th grader brought a knife to school. Bomb scares happened every so often during middle school and high school, and gun scares were not unheard of on my college campus in Princeton, NJ. While some of us might deny that a school shooting could ever happen in our community, it seems all too possible to me.

Having graduated college back in June, I’m a relatively new employee here at CEP. Joining CEP has pushed me to think about issues such as school violence in new ways. I have realized that violence is something that schools can both prepare for—just as Chardon High School did by creating a response plan to deal with violence when it occurs—and prevent. Can we work toward a new future where shootings and other acts of violence are rarities in school settings? I think so.

We have all heard that instances of school shootings, teen suicides, and other violent acts have been connected to bullying and lack of acceptance at school. Given this, the shooting on Monday highlights the importance of creating safe and caring school communities. Comprehensive character education efforts can build an atmosphere where students feel included, connected, and part of their school community; where both students and teachers step up to report bullying and stand up for victims; where teachers check in with vulnerable or troubled students instead of hoping, “she’s fine” or “he’s too much trouble”; and where parents are involved and engaged. This may seem like just a dream to many, but it is achievable—just ask many of our National Schools of Character!

There are, of course, countless reasons why acts of violence take place in schools. Still, recent events in Chardon remind us that schools—together with parents and their communities—can work to minimize these occurrences. Let’s work together to make each student feel safe, valued, and strong enough to do the right thing.

Question: How does your school work to create a safe and caring school community? Please let us know by posting a comment below!