Considering Character

For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking an online course about Teaching Character. Throughout the course, I’ve been reflecting on what I already do to work on building character with my students and how I can make those practices even better.

One thing that I have decided is that I want to become more intentional with my use of language around character. I think that, often, when I am giving character-related feedback, I often describe what my students have done, but don’t tie it to a specific word or set of words that would be meaningful for my students and which would be frequently discussed and used over and over again. For example, I’ll usually say, “Wow, you really stuck with that task” or “you didn’t quit” without mentioning the words “perseverance” or “grit.” After taking this course, I think it would be so wonderful to teach my students this vocabulary and then have them be able to apply it in our classroom to describe their own or other students’ actions on a routine basis.

So, this week, I am going to be working on coming up with a list of the eight or nine most essential character traits that I hope to cultivate in my students. I had done this, to some extent, when designing my own version of a character-education curriculum called “Things Curious Questioners Do,” but I think that I can be much more specific and intentional in my use of language.

As someone who believes that developing character in my young students is at least, if not more important, than developing academic skills and knowledge, I am both daunted and invigorated by the task of trying to pin down just what it is that I hope my students will do and what type of people they might practice being while in my classroom. Defining what character strengths I most desire to cultivate in my students seems like a logical jumping-off point for developing character activities, but too often it is easy to overlook this defining step in favor of specific lessons and activities that sound interesting and worth exploring.

I’ll let you know what character traits I settle on in my post next week. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

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Finally, as an unrelated side note, I added Alan Turing’s name to my list of “under-appreciated heroes” to introduce my students to during our biographies unit after seeing The Imitation Game last night. It was a fantastic film and I especially appreciated what felt like an honest and authentic portrayal of someone human, with flaws and strengths, rather than the whitewashed, heroic representations we often get of prolific film protagonists in biopics.

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3 thoughts on “Considering Character

  1. Developing character is very important and I think it is a very valuable exercise for you to write a list of the traits you consider important. I have done that before.
    In my last school we used a program called “You can do it” that I thought was excellent. Here is a link: http://www.youcandoiteducation.com.au/AboutYouCanDoIt
    It started off with 5 capabilities: Confidence, Persistence, Organisation, Getting along and Resilience; and then developed habits of mind in relation to those. As a year one teacher I found it very effective as there were puppets, stories (scenarios to discuss and role play) and songs to sing; with a character related to each capability: Connie Confidence, Pete Peristence etc. This helped the children identify with the characters and provided a starting point for discussion e.g. What would Connie do. The words of the songs explained the traits in ways the children could understand. Best of all children and teachers throughout the school had a shared language for discussing the types of behaviours that were admired.

    • Thanks for sharing this resource, Norah. I took at look at it and incorporated some of it into the traits that I devised. It’s so great that your school was using a character program — that’s one thing that is sorely missing in my own school. I am also going to be trying to incorporate mixed media in my character lessons — I am amazed at how songs stick with my young people. It’s astounding!

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