The development of students depends upon their perception and experience, combined with guidance from theory and knowledge. This article outlines some of the important ideas that have been researched over many generations.
We often refer to a person being of good character. That is an attribution, which can mean the person is honest, works hard, has not been in trouble with the law, is helpful to others and is recognized in the community as someone who makes a contribution to others over time.
Is that what character education in schools should be about?
Others may say that character education is about identifying and developing one’s strengths, and using those to the best advantage to be a winner, rather than a loser, in the competitive battlefield of life.
Darwin said that those who survive are effective at adapting to circumstances. Can that be a basis for character education?
Education and Training
Many studies have been made to identify key aspects of character with the aim of designing training and education to enable students to develop those attributes. In addition, religious groups have defined behaviours they regard as essential to living a virtuous life.
Organizations like the Scouts develop criteria and practical exercises to guide their members. Military units around the world focus on character training by conditioning their troops to fight the enemy.
So, these religious, military and social organizations have developed structured experiences for socializing and controlling their members. But, what should schools do? One approach that we have tried with success is called Amazing People Interviews.
The process works as follows –
Character education requires a different approach from normal teaching. Indeed, the word teacher needs to be reviewed. You can teach someone mathematics or science, where you are imparting specific knowledge and techniques. But, character education requires the skills of a facilitator, where the issues are more open ended.
It is best to refer to members of the profession as Educators. Their roles can be defined in two key areas of teaching/training and facilitating/coaching.
Character education focuses more on the psychology needs of the students, in terms of their personalities and helping them make the best of their opportunities. It deals with the issues of growing up, attitudes, ambitions, relationships and the building of confidence.
Learning From Amazing People
My research has focused on the important issues that we can learn from amazing people who made major contributions. People like Mozart dealt with such issues from a young age. A question he faced was how to make the most of his talent? That is a question every student can ask as part of character development.
Another example is that of a person who did not receive a formal education. It took Harriet Tubman a long time to escape from slavery, where her role and life was dominated and defined by the slave masters.
The essence of character education is to enable students to become both independent and interdependent, so they can flourish.
Learning with and from people who triumphed over adversity is a way to inspire students. They can then realize how others overcame problems. Elvis Presley, for example, had few friends at school because he had a stammer. Thomas Edison, who founded the General Electric Company, and registered 1093 patents, left formal schooling at the age of seven because he was profoundly deaf. He continued his schooling at home, where he was taught by his mother until he went to work at the age of thirteen. Students can learn from people who overcame substantial difficulties.
Theory & Evidence for Character Development
Robert Merton developed the self-fulfilling prophecy theory. In essence, he argued in order to succeed, on a regular basis, we need to have a firm belief in both the process and the result. In effect, people who write a positive script for their self, and follow it, are more likely to succeed.
Albert Bandura added to this with his research, which says that self-efficacy is belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations to accomplish a task.
John Dewey, the education philosopher emphasized the importance of living an experience and reflecting on the learning gained.
David McLelland showed that people have different needs for achievement levels, but our performance can be improved by guided training in self-belief as well as practice.
Dr Reg Revans showed that action learning in groups had a higher impact when people learnt, with and from each other, by sharing and comparing the action they took.
These and other studies have now led to behaviour development measures. Social cognitive theory and practice is now used by leading sports people, who are guided by psychologists and improved performances are measured.
In schools, the importance of psychology in character education is being increasingly recognized, but there is a long way to go.
Key issues require that students can observe and model their behaviour on exemplars, such as amazing people. Next, the students need to have opportunities to practice those behaviours, and be rewarded when they improve.
After that, they need to have regular applications and feedback to enhance self-development, and a positive self-image.
Amazing People Exemplars
Amazing people provide examples and evidence to assist students. The message is to discuss not what they did, but how they did it. That moves Social Cognitive Theory into the realm of application based on real cases.
Amazing people like Shakespeare and Dr Marie Curie developed processes that enabled them to self-develop and achieve. For example, they used their time well. They realized they needed teams and worked to build supportive relationships. They converted opportunities into achievement.
That is what students can learn from conducting virtual interviews with amazing people.
Teamwork is an essential aspect of character education. Throughout life, we need to work with others to achieve goals. Amazing people, such as Mozart, Dr Marie Curie, Maria Montessori, Dr Louis Pasteur, Andrew Carnegie, Gandhi, and many others, only succeeded because they had the support of people working in teams.
The essence of teamwork is the ability to co-operate with others, while at the same time exercising leadership within one’s own area of special talent. People who have succeeded through the ages, such as Amelia Earhart, Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, Dr Alexander Fleming and other high achievers, all recognized the importance of developing their ideas through effective teamwork.
Character education today needs to provide practical opportunities, such as useful projects, where students can learn with and from each other, by taking action and making contributions that enhance their abilities.
Those who adapt well are open to new learning and change their approach to fit the circumstances. Migrant students face the challenges of adaptation more so than those born into the local school environment.
However, it is important to develop adaptation skills for all students. They will all be faced with many changes in their lives, particularly when they start work.
Character education should include opportunities to gain experience in unusual situations. In particular, students should develop the skills of learning with and from each other in situations where they have little experience. Projects that encourage students to go beyond their normal routines will test their ability to adapt. Becoming effective in teamwork is vital, and also, the ability to establish relations with those from other groups and cultures who can help them.
Those who can develop their character are recognized as characters who contribute. To assist students, to develop their character, we can help them develop important categories to guide their thinking on issues such as justice, and other aspects of social contributions rather than just career issues.
For each category the students can be guided on how to develop checklists for action with regard to the six key questions of:
This will help them to contribute effectively in meetings and to use their time well.
Elements Of Character Education
Therefore, the following five C’s are vital:
Character is recognized by Contributions, based on one’s Competence.
Every meeting you have with another person, whether it be in the classroom or business, or social life, either raises or lowers your confidence. Character education should help you meet the challenges and maintain your confidence, even in difficult situations.
Character Thoughts in Action
Our character is tested and formed by our experiences at school, at work and social life.
In these situations, you will hear many comments, which move between general and specific statements. Likewise, there are general and specific questions. People who are successful at problem solving use both effectively. In addition, they focus on both reasons and emotions.
Our character reflects our values and applications in day-to-day life. Amazing people showed how they confronted many challenges and succeeded despite difficulties. They are exemplars to students, as well as their teachers and parents, providing action is taken on the key points. Effective action defines the essence of all amazing people –