Grade 6 teacher and Head of Curriculum for Lower School, Hudson College
Trustworthiness, integrity, self-discipline, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship, compassion, honesty and perseverance are characteristics that we want our leaders, our life partners and our friends to posses. More importantly, we want our children to develop these characteristics so that they will be good friends, leaders and partners.
Making “good people” is not the only benefit of character education. Research demonstrates that students who attend schools that practice character education programs have higher academic achievements. There appears to be a strong correlation between the virtues of good character and being a good academic student. Rutgers University, Professor of Clinical Psychology Maurice Elias, has researched the effects of character education extensively. His research concludes that successful academic schools are those that have a focus on the moral character of its students.
How does an emphasis on character education in the classroom, and the school as whole, help students succeed academically?
Most schools incorporate collaborative learning in their academic programs. Working in groups to complete projects and assignments helps students learn and practice the skills required to work together, take turns and appreciate other people’s contribution to the goal. Character education makes collaborative skills explicate by emphasizing the importance of specific behaviours such as honesty, fairness and responsibility. When student leaders allocate responsibility fairly when working in groups, all students are able to contribute and take pride in the end result.
A focus on responsibility helps students realize the importance of doing homework and handing it on time. When students do not take responsibility for their homework they often struggle academically.
A focus on respect means that students will take assignments seriously and submit their best work possible – showing respect for their own abilities as well as the teacher that assigned the project.
Character education explores feelings and the motivations behind behaviour. The ability to reflect on ones own behaviour, an important component of character education, helps students think about how they can improve their study skills in all subjects, particularly those subjects that they struggle with. Reflective students are able to be honest when asked if they are putting forth their best effort. These students are also able to take the responsibility of asking for additional assistance and show respect by showing up for appointments they have made with their teachers for the additional help.
Perseverance is also a necessary characteristic of academic success. Working through a difficult math problem without giving up, memorizing those tedious multiplication tables and sometimes just getting the homework done after an evening of hockey practice, makes for successful academic students. Perseverance helps students overcome academic challenges. For students who are involved in extra curricula programs, it enables them to keep up with homework and assignments so that they continue to perform well academically.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” I think he would agree that developing good character is fundamental to creating intelligent students.