Since the days of Plato, philosophers and educators have designed Character Education programs.
Plato believed the key virtues that should center a school were Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. The more individuals focused on eternal values, the more virtuous their souls.
Aristotle held that the essence of Virtue was Moderation; we should choose the middle path between too much and too little. Virtue is a skill which, like the skill of archery or sailing, is perfected by practice.
In Whole Brain Teaching, like the ancients, we do not believe Character Education can be taught as a unit, a subject among other subjects, but must be infused into daily life. If assemblies and mottos perfected students' moral skills, we would have no rude kids. Children bully each other under anti-bullying posters.
As you'll see below, Character Education is the golden thread woven throughout WBT.
Teacher: Look at me, please! (extending her arms to her class) Students: Ok! (mirroring her gesture)
Teacher: Get our your geography folders, please! (extending her arms to her class) Students: Ok! (mirroring her gesture)
Teacher: Please review the classroom rules with a neighbor! (extending her arms to her class) Students: Ok! (mirroring her gesture)
The more pleasantly, warmly, you say 'Please!" the more pleasantly, warmly, your students will respond "Ok!" The brain automatically mirrors the behavior it receives. Repeated doses of politeness will turn children's frowns upside down.
Teacher: Everyone worked hard on that lesson. Thank you! (placing her hands on her heart) Students: You're welcome! (mirroring her gesture)
Teacher: Thank you for lining up quickly. (placing her hands on her heart) Students: You're welcome! (mirroring her gesture)
Teacher: The librarian said you had excellent manners. Thank you! (placing her hands on her heart) Students: You're welcome! (mirroring her gesture)
Insofar as these exchanges sound unusual, to that degree we have departed from classrooms where respectful behavior is the norm. More important than teaching kids how to be good readers or writers, is teaching them how to be good. For special celebrations, the teacher exclaims, "Air Hug!," and flings her arms toward her kids, giving them an imaginary hug. Kids imitate her embrace and everyone murmurs "Ahhh!" The Air Hug is Love's triumph.
The longer a group of students is in your care, the more you discover the obvious; kids treat each other as kindly as you treat them.
Woos!: When a student is successful, in place of applause, say, "Give Juan a 10 finger woo!" Classmates point their fingers at Juan and wiggle them exclaiming, "Woo!" Juan places his hands over his heart and, of course, exclaims, "Thank you!"
Grit: You call on Tasha to talk about an article on polar bears. She begins an answer, makes a mistake, and you prompt the class with “You’re still cool!” Tasha starts over, does better, but, hallway through, draws a blank. She uses “Help me!” and receives useful advice from her classmates. The determined girl moves forward with her polar bear discourse but makes another mistake. At this point, you say, “Tell Tasha, you’ve got grit … you don’t quit!” Kids happily follow your lead, repeating your encouraging words. Prompt the class again, “We’ve got grit … we never, ever quit.” Far more important than a lesson on polar bears, kids learn how to support each other and nourish determination.
Help me!: What to do when a kid, Wild Jack, draws a blank when called on and doesn't know what to say? Teach Jack that he should extend his arms to his classmates, and say, "Help me!" Nearby students rush to Jack's aid, form a ring, and offer suggestions. When Jack is ready and announces, "Class!" his helpers return quickly to their seats. Occasionally in class, pretend to draw a blank, extend your arms to the front row and exclaim "Help me!" You'll be delighted with your kids' eager response.
For example, during Teach-Okay, you hear one student praise another student's reasoning. Stop the train! Go to the Scoreboard, say, "Maria just gave a wonderful compliment to Tom, pointing out how well he was reasoning. That's a point for the whole class! (Mark a point on the Scoreboard)
As kids are standing in line, one student says to the other, "I liked your careful drawing." Stop the train! Go to the Super Improver Team. Say, "Jose just gave Tina a deep compliment ... not, of course, about her shoes, but about her drawing. Jose's really improving in his praise skills. Super Improver star for Jose!"
Say, "If I hear kids giving deep compliments to each other for creative use of Brainy gestures, I might give two Scoreboard stars to the whole class!" Etc.
Veteran WBT educators note a common phenomenon. The school year is going well. Life is roses and sunshine. Then, the class, for what reason?, starts to go downhill. An angelic student incites a rascal who incites another rascal and too soon, kids are bouncing off the walls. What happened? In almost every case, the instructor became complacent and stopped using the Scoreboard, dialed down its powerful motivational powers. Want to keep racing forward? Keep Scoreboarding.
We suggest that every level of the Scoreboard is accompanied by a Character Education bonus. On Monday, you are looking for Glorious Kindness; on Tuesday, the target is Leadership and so forth. Even more intoxicating, link the bonus to a dice roll (a big, round cornered dice ... that rolls forever). "Maria, you were so courageously loud and proud addressing the class, you get to roll the Bonus Dice!" Maria picks High (5-6), Middle (3-4) or Low (1-2) and rolls the ever rolling cube. If she is correct, the class exclaims "Oh Yeah" as you mark a Scoreboard point. It's not education, it's Kid Vegas.
As a general rule, we suggest that half the Scoreboard points be awarded for virtuous behavior.
As you examine the Super Improver, you’ll see a multi-level game that rewards academic and social growth. So far as Character Education is concerned, the key is not to reward your most respectful students, but the kids whose respectful behavior shows growth.
Some teachers worry that they have kids who are so morally excellent that no virtuous growth is possible. Terrible problem. For these guiding lights, reward them for growth in Courage, delivering ever longer and more complex lesson summaries to their classmates. Here is a video of a second grader leading a lesson on brain structure.
As a general strategy, don’t try to track every student’s moral (or academic) improvement on the Super Improver. Select a few kids every week using the Student Engagement Average and give them clear, simple targets. Say something like, “Juan, if I hear you saying ‘Please’ more often, even throwing in a ‘Thank you’ once in awhile, that would be a clear improvement. Who knows you might earn a whole Super Improver Star!’” There are only two reasons you won’t see Juan’s manners improve. You set too high a target or you didn’t give him enough coaching. To improve your students, improve yourself.
Award approximately half your Super Improver stars for Character Education, focusing on Please-Thank you-You’re welcome and the Five Virtues: Glorious Kindness, Leadership, Courage, Invincible Grit, and Creativity.
- Follow directions quickly!
- Raise your hand for permission to speak.
- Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.
- Make smart choices: Glorious Kindness (M), Leadership (T), Courage (W), Invincible Grit (Th), Creativity (F).
- Keep your dear teacher happy!
Monday Glorious Kindness: Teach Glorious Kindness by frequently using the Please-Okay, Thank You-You're Welcome-Air Hug routine. Frequently point out to your kids that Kindness is Glorious because someone could be a Leader with Courage, Invincible Grit, and Creativity and be a crook. With the addition of Glorious Kindness, all other talents become Golden Virtues.
Tuesday Leadership: Teach Leadership by praising kids in your class who perform like student leaders two grades higher. Frequently discussing the characteristics of mature student leaders and immature Beloved Rascals is an excellent critical thinking exercise.
Wednesday Courage: Teach Courage with anti-Bullying routines and by encouraging students to address the class loudly and proudly when called on with Class-Yes and Mirror Words. Overcoming the fear of public speaking is an important courageous act in the daily life of students. Perhaps even better, point out that one of the most courageous and rarest acts for kids is admitting they didn’t understand a teacher’s point. (How seldom do we ever have a student raise a hand and say, “I don’t understand that.”) Admitting you need help is a precious act of courage. Model this for your kids as follows. On Wednesdays, say something like, “Maria, please tell me about your favorite animal.” After she follows your directions say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that. Could you go over it again?” Students need to see a pattern for the behavior you expect … and receive a reward for following that behavior. Frequently show them what admitting ignorance looks like and then dramatically point to the Scoreboard and Super Improvers as sources of their Courage prizes.
Thursday Invincible Grit: Teach Invincible Grit by assigning difficult tasks and then using the chant "We've got Grit! We don't Quit!." On the reliable assumption that your students will endure failure many times, Grit will be their most valuable assets. We urge kids not to stumble on life’s path; more important is to teach how to recover from a fall.
Friday Creativity: Teach Creativity by asking students to use new Brainies during Teach-Okay. Even better, ask kids to create their own explanatory gestures as they teach a neighbor your lesson. Explore Magic Mirror to find an excellent tool for teaching creative, explanatory gestures. Put each day's Character Education goal on the board. For virtuous behavior, use the Scoreboard to reward the class as a whole and Super Improvers to reward individuals.
Employ Classroom Rules, especially the Five Virtues in Rule 4, to daily focus your class on a moral skill.
Scoreboard bonuses linked to dice rolls reward the class for virtuous behavior.
The Super Improver Team is ideal to set small, clear goals for individual moral growth.
Create a continuously rewarding, no failure classroom with Woos and You’re still cool.
Roll out the Character Education strategies in any order you wish with the Character Education Scorecard.
Every morning look in the mirror and exercise your grin muscles. We don’t want you worn out from excessive happiness.
Click here to see the free eBook with a description of how our Character Education program extends into reading, writing, math, and critical thinking.