Character Education: Important Tool for Meeting Student Needs

By Lara Maupin, M.Ed. NSOC Director, CEP

As teachers we are increasingly required to meet the varied individual needs of our students. We receive in-service training on differentiation and the impact of poverty and executive function, for example. But how do we put it all together our increasingly crowded classrooms day in and day out? How do we help all our students reach their full potential?

Character education is here to help. When we focus on character development, we make our high expectations clear and meaningful to students while building strong, caring relationships with and among our students. When we do this, disruptions decrease and we gain time on task. As this happens, we also gain more time to meet individual needs and differentiate instruction. As an added benefit, when we know our students well and they trust us, we can better meet their needs. When they know we care, they are more motivated to work hard.

Our National Schools of Character (NSOC) tell this story over and over again. In schools of character, students feel safe, respected, and connected to those around them. As a result, they thrive academically and socially and they become motivated to give back to their communities. We see positive results in terms of academic achievement, student behavior, and school climate. Just take a look at these statistics from the 2011 NSOC:

  • Average attendance rate:95%
  • Low or declining referrals:89%
  • Students participating in service learning: almost 100%
  • Students that report feeling safe:87%
  • Increase in reading and math scores (or over 90% passing):100%
  • Made AYP:78%

These numbers don’t happen without meeting individual student needs. So what do character education and differentiation have in common? How can these two approaches complement each other and work together? What do we see in classrooms of character?

A focus on the essentials:Teachers “put first things first” (Covey). They ask: What are the fundamental needs of my students? What are the essential questions of my discipline? What are our core values as a community of learners?

Acceptance:Teachers accept students for who and where they are. Schools of character embrace and celebrate diversity and train staff and students to understand and respond to differences.

Relationships:Teachers listen carefully to students and invest in creating caring relationships with their students based on understanding of student needs. Teachers and students collaborate and students perceive teachers as caring.

Grouping:Teachers group students in order to facilitate and meet the important goals of equity and excellence. An essential component of differentiated instruction is flexible grouping. Character education is most effective with groups that meet student needs for affirmation, contribution, power, purpose, and challenge (e.g., cooperative learning groups, “buddies,” “families,” morning meetings).

Making Meaning:Teachers assign respectful tasks that enable students to create meaning and make important connections. For example, teachers focus student products around significant problems, use meaningful/authentic audiences, and help students discover how ideas and skills are useful in the real world.

Modeling: Teachers model appropriately – both in terms of their school’s core values and in terms of learning processes. Effective practitioners are “metacognitive teachers.”

Shared leadership:Getting the involvement of all stakeholders is essential to the success of all students. Teachers ask parents what they want for their children and explain the benefits of their approaches. They solicit student input on an ongoing basis and create leadership opportunities for students.

Reflection:Both character education and differentiation – in fact all good educational practices – require ongoing assessment, analysis, and reflection. They work best if they are intentional, proactive interventions. Teachers ask students to reflect on their work and they observe students every day. They collect data and use it as the basis for planning.

Persistence:The result of persistence and determination is increased student achievement. Persistent teachers find new ways to deliver instruction so that all students can meet important goals. They don’t give up on any student.


Noted Author, Paul Tough to Instruct Educators about What It Takes for Today’s Children to Succeed through the Power of Character Education

Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, will address teachers, administrators, and other education stakeholders about the many benefits of character education at the 2012 National Forum on Character Education hosted by Character Education Partnership (CEP).
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Dr. Jacques Benninga to receive 2012 Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education

Sept. 5, 2012, Washington, DC –The Character Education Partnership (CEP) has chosen Dr. Jacques Benninga to receive the 2012 Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education. Dr. Benninga is Professor and Director of the Bonner Center for Character Education and Citizenship at California State University, Fresno.

“For more than 25 years, Dr. Benninga has been a major force in promoting quality character education in California and beyond,” said Mark Hyatt, CEP President & CEO. “His 1991 book, Moral, Character & Civic Education in Elementary School, helped launch today’s character education movement.” He has also written approximately 40 journal articles on character education and sustainability.

This annual award is named in honor of Sanford N. McDonnell, Chairman Emeritus of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation and CEP. It is CEP’s highest honor. The recipient of the “Sandy Award” is an individual who, over a significant period of time, has been an outstanding role model of good character and has also met one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Strong and widely influential advocacy of quality character education.
  2. Outstanding contributions that have broad impact on any or all of the domains in which character development takes place (school, family, community and sports)
  3. Being a friend and supporter of character education by mentoring character education leaders or supporting the field philanthropically.

Dr. Benninga will receive the award on Nov. 2 in Washington, DC, during the 2012 National Forum on Character Education, before an audience of more than 800 educators from across the country.

“To my knowledge, no one else has done research illuminating the factors that enable schools to sustain quality character education once they achieve it,” said Dr. Marvin Berkowitz, endowed professor of character education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a former “Sandy Award” winner.

Dr. Benninga joined Dr. Berkowitz in pioneering research on the relationship between character education and academic achievement. Their review of the literature on this question and the results of their own study showed a positive relationship between academic achievement and the implementation of certain principles from CEP’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. Their study in 120 California elementary schools showed that deeper character education correlates with higher state test scores for at least three years. This study continues to offer answers to people who ask, “Does character have an academic payoff?”

At the Bonner Center for Character Education and Citizenship, Dr. Benninga and his colleagues have done groundbreaking work to create professional development opportunities and materials that enable teachers to reflect together on the practical ethical dilemmas they face in their work with students.

“All of us at CEP applaud the committee’s selection for this year’s lifetime achievement award, named in honor of our founding chairman and inspirational leader, Sandy McDonnell,” Hyatt said. “In addition to being an author, widely-respected scholar, teacher and researcher, and genuine thought leader in our field, Jacques is a humble and quiet professional who has done remarkable work for many years without fanfare or attention. His support for countless school leaders throughout California and the rest of the nation has helped them to create school cultures that foster and reinforce honesty, respect, diligence, responsibility, service and citizenship.”


About CEP and the Award: Based in the Washington, DC, CEP is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian coalition of U.S. organizations and individuals dedicated to helping schools develop people of good character for a just and compassionate society. This annual award is named in honor of Sanford N. McDonnell, Chairman Emeritus of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation and CEP. It is CEP’s highest honor. For more information, visit


Will You Join the National Call to Character?

I truly believe that the best chance any of us has of preventing future school tragedies lies in ensuring that our students and teachers know each other so well that they can “feel” when such incidents may occur. We need lots of communication. Lots of meaningful relationships between coaches, teachers, students, and parents. Such collaborative efforts can go a long way toward helping us identify people who are not well. And once warning signs are detected, they need to spur swift and decisive action.
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