A few years back, I had the privilege of traveling to Washington D.C. to accept the United States Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools Award on behalf of Espy Elementary School, in Nixa, MO. That award was the result of five years of dedication, commitment, and hard work by a fantastic group of students, teachers and parents.
At the time of our award, Espy prided itself on the climate and culture provided to each student, every day. The learning environment provided at Espy was a direct result of the Character Education Program, called “Caring Kids.” The components, goals, vocabulary, and tenants of this Character Education program were perpetually included throughout the daily teaching and learning activities. The program reached beyond the school walls and engaged parents, grandparents, and the community. Caring Kids traits were regularly identified and discussed throughout classrooms, households, and the greater school community. This climate and culture was the biggest success of the school. And data followed. Five years of increased student attendance, top ten academic results in the state, a Missouri Gold Star Award, and a National Blue Ribbon Award were among many indicators of student success. No doubt, I thought Espy Elementary was a special place. And it was! But we were not alone…
Many criteria are examined, verified, and quantified in the selection process for the National Blue Ribbon Award. Most of those measures focus on academic achievement. However, as I attended the awards ceremony that year in D.C., I heard a resounding theme emerge among the best of the best schools in the nation. In the majority of the schools selected as best of class across every state, a quality and robust Character Education program was an omnipresent characteristic that guided efforts and led to student and school success.
Character Education is not a new concept. It existed as a primary component in the first public schools in the United States, and it continues to exist as an important component today. However, as today’s schools become increasingly complex, as accountability increases, and as the number of bases which must be covered continue to multiply, Character Education can take a back seat. And, with no accountability for Character Education instruction, it often does.
The current overarching goal and measure for the success of PK-12 schools hinges on the phrase, “College and Career Readiness.” College and Career Readiness includes a solid foundation in math, language, science, history, and technology. But more importantly, it includes a solid foundation in Character Education. Without a doubt, the students who will be best prepared for success in college, career, and life are those who graduate with a solid, internalized foundation in Character Education, respect for self and others, compassion, integrity, and ethics.
Character Education has been, and will always be, an important component of my educational leadership philosophy. Many fantastic resources exist to help schools establish or continuously improve the climate, culture, and character of their learning community. I encourage colleagues, parents, and stakeholders to engage with your local schools to promote and strengthen the Character Education program. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your students!