When it comes to improving your students’ academic achievement, there’s an arsenal of theories, strategies, lesson plans, assessments, and more at your fingertips, from tech tools and manipulatives to cooperative learning and peer teaching. Why then are so many students continuing to struggle in the classroom and at testing time? According to Character.org, students first need the strong foundation that comes from character education: “It’s not just about teaching kids to be good. It’s teaching them to be their best.”
How does character education impact students’ academic achievement?
Character education involves teaching students traits such as responsibility, perseverance, honesty, cooperation, and excellence, among many others. Unless students have a true foundation built on positive character traits such as these, even the best lessons plans and teaching strategies won’t make a significant difference. Students must intrinsically desire to do their best as well as understand why striving to do well in school is important — evident results of character education.
When students are responsible, they take ownership over their academic tasks, such as homework, tests, and projects, and complete them on time. When they persevere, they push through challenges until they’ve found a solution and succeed. When they’re honest, they own up to their downfalls and learn from their mistakes. When they’re cooperative, they strive to work well alongside their peers, an important life skill for the future workplace. And perhaps most important of all, when they desire excellence, everything else just seems to fall into place; they naturally develop other positive character traits because they want to be their best version.
Have any schools seen results?
Thousands of schools with character education programs have seen firsthand the benefits to atudents’ academic achievement. Dr. Timothy Jenney, superintendent for the Fort Bend Independent School District (home to a 2011 National School of Character), said, “Our students made substantial gains on the state assessments at every grade level assessed and in comparison to our regional district cohort and the state as a whole. What is even more encouraging is that the gap between white, African-American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged student groups is shrinking on all assessments.”
In fact, Dr. Jenney’s National School of Character (NSOC) was not the only one that received this honor in 2011 to experience substantial learning gains. With the exception of one school, over half of all students at a 2011 NSOC performed at or above proficiency on their standardized tests.
In another case, a 2003 study of nearly 700 California schools found a positive correlation between character education and academic performance. And in a 2005-2008 study at a midwest rural middle school with a character education implementation, academic scores improved and student absences and instances of discipline decreased.
How can my school get started in character education?
There are many character education programs to choose from, so be sure to do your research before diving into one headfirst. Read reviews of programs from school administrators and teachers, and don’t forget to consider how you will fund your character education efforts.
If you’re not ready to invest completely in a large-scale program, a simple and affordable way to begin implementing character education at your school is through hallway banners, such as those offered by Prosign Design. Prosign’s character trait hallway banners are colorful and eye-catching as well as feature words and phrases such as “Courage,” “Leadership,” “Be Respectful,” and many more (see the complete list here). They are a great way to keep desired character traits top of mind as students go from class to class each day.
And depending on the number of character trait banners purchased, teachers can extend the banners’ impact by highlighting a character trait each week or month in their classrooms. There are plenty of free lesson plans available online for teaching students desired character traits, such as this one focusing on gratitude.