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By Dr. Arthur Schwartz 

This past week I spoke at a convening organized by Harvard University’s Center for Human Flourishing. The Center brought together leaders from character formation organizations across the United States (and the UK) to discuss how we could intentionally work together to build a dynamic network of networks. 

I dedicated my talk to Sandy McDonnell. Sandy, the former CEO of McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft, co-founded Character.org in 1993. His zeal and commitment to character was unsurpassed. Each year, Character.org recognizes someone with our “Sandy Award” for their steadfast commitment to character education. Every recipient shares with me that they are merely standing on Sandy’s shoulders. His vision was for Character.org to become a “big tent” association, an inclusive “chamber of commerce” for anyone interested in character education. Sandy McDonnell passed away in 2012.

When I returned home from the convening, I was curious to learn more about the power of networks and what else Character.org could do to honor Sandy’s dream. I discovered online a treasure trove of compelling network-related research, data, and best approaches. 

Here are 7 effective practices that help a network to catalyze change:

1. Raise awareness.

The most effective networks find creative ways to communicate their why. These networks also help shape legislation by establishing strong relationships with lawmakers and policymakers (at the national and state levels). 

2. Seek input.

The best networks live by the maxim “feedback is the breakfast of champions.” They constantly seek feedback from their network members, whether through surveys, polls, or other interactive platforms.

3. Serve as a resource bank.

My colleague Melinda Bier at the Center for Character & Citizenship has long suggested that we need to create an interactive, online repository that would provide everyone in our network with easy-to-access research, theory, and best practices related to character development (for parents, schools, sports and after-school programs, even the workplace). 

4. Create cutting-edge initiatives.

Networks bring people together with similar interests. For example, Character.org could create a virtual learning community on service learning and another to examine “what works” during the PreK-K years. The culmination of these learning communities would be a new publication disseminated to everyone in our network. 

5. Form partnerships and alliances with other networks.

Can we imagine a future where Character.org is collaborating with the principal’s association (NASSP) and we’ve developed a strong partnership with the counselor’s association (ASCA)?

6. Empower younger members.

During the Harvard convening, many of us focused on how critical it is for us to mentor new and emerging leaders. Indeed, the best networks have established intentional mentoring strategies to support and empower the next generation. 

7. Celebrate success.

Each year, Character.org recognizes our State and National Schools of Character and schools that have implemented a Promising Practice. We also strive to promote new books and initiatives by individuals and organizations in our network. But what else could we do to ensure that our collective efforts are making a difference?

I left the Harvard convening exhilarated. Everyone in that room was committed to elevating character’s importance in a democratic society. 

I will keep you posted on our efforts to form a dynamic network of networks, one rooted in the universal principles of caring, justice, and humility. I deeply believe this movement is needed to confront our nation’s current crisis of character.


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