University of Illinois Extension
Urban Programs Resource Network

Character Education:
Creating A Framework for Excellence

When schools become the framework for constructing meaning for living and a bridge to understanding the value of a fulfilled life, students become proactive achievers discovering what it means to develop the potential for themselves and the world around them.

Education is one of our most precious resources. As we continue to evaluate our goals, it is important to set forth curriculum standards and reform designs that clearly include character education and the conative domain of learning.

During our tenure as educators, we must thoughtfully reassess the reality of our direction so we won't one day ironically discover that we were a generation of educators who were caretakers of the wrong details!

What Is Character Education?

Character education is the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable the learner to make informed and responsible choices. It involves a shared educational commitment that emphasizes the responsibilities and rewards of productive living in a global a diverse society. Character education enables students to come face to face with the realities of life. It encourages them to think critically and then act responsibly. Instructional materials, methods, and strategies, when developed into interdisciplinary curricular themes, empower teachers to create meaning while allowing students time for purposeful exploration and self-reflection. Character development provides a foundation upon which we can build respect for human dignity and create twenty-first-century schools that will empower students to achieve excellence.

Character Education and the School Curriculum

Character education is not an "add on" to the existing curriculum. To be effective, it should be integrated across the curriculum, thus promoting high self-esteem and the acquisition of school success.

Instructional Model: An Experiential Approach

The basic tenets of thought in the character education curriculum center around the development of the whole child in an educational climate that nurtures academic success through building self-esteem. It is an innovative approach that seeks to strengthen both the affective and cognitive areas of learning by integrating the teaching of values, character building, self-awareness, positive self-esteem, and critical thinking skills into language arts and throughout the curriculum. Students are encouraged to use their metacognitive skills to learn and internalize newly acquired knowledge and information. This curriculum also engages students in a variety of experiential learning activities that include cooperative learning, role playing, creative thinking, problem solving, and conflict resolution strategies. The framework for implementing the character education curriculum is designed to enable teachers to achieve the goals of the curriculum while effectively meeting state goals and systemwide objectives.

Expectations

In schools implementing the character education curriculum, students become the focal point. For one or two periods a week, language arts and other curricular areas become the vehicles by which students discover their individual potential and strategies for successfully creating "win-win" situations. They are given the opportunity to more clearly understand the meaning of success and what will be expected from them as they mature and become responsible citizens. Students explore and analyze a variety of approaches to problem solving that are appropriate for their age level. By gathering available information and considering possible choices as well as the benefits and consequences of those choices, students make informed decisions. Authentic learning can be observed as positive interactions and pro-social behavior increase. The result is a wealth of collaborative learning that enables teachers to expand students' thinking about conflict resolution and the best possible options.

Which Students Benefit Most from Character Education?

All students benefit. Students in regular, gifted, and special education programs, when given the opportunity to explore practical strategies and innovative ways to set and achieve goals, can apply concepts taught in character education to situations in real life.

Leadership and Character Education

When the human infrastructure of a system is strengthened by the shared goals of individuals who are committed to quality and excellence, the goals of the system can be achieved in a more effective and timely manner. Student performance and outcomes are driven by the human side of the school curriculum. It is important that administrators and teachers revisit their mission and examine school climate to ensure that instructional practices contribute to the ethical growth of the entire student body. Clear expectations should be conveyed to educators concerning their role and responsibility in teaching character education.

Professional Renewal and Self-Esteem

Building self-esteem is not only important for students. Professionals also periodically need to be recharged, reassured, and revitalized. Before we can empower students for excellence in character and academic pursuits, we must reexamine the examples we set, establishing a clear perspective of where we are in relationship to out professional goals. Ask yourself the following questions:

Teacher's Role in Character Education

Your role is that of a facilitator, one who assists and helps to make the discussions run smoothly.

  1. Introduce the lesson/topic.
  2. Don't indicate any persons bias concerning the topic under discussion.
  3. Try to include every member of the group in the discussion.
  4. Try to prevent any one member of the group from dominating the discussion.
  5. Ask questions to stimulate group members to explore other points of view.
  6. At the conclusion of the discussion, review the various points of view contributed by group members.
  7. Assist students in understanding more clearly the benefits of making informed and responsible choices.
  8. Encourage students to explore a variety of problem-solving techniques as alternatives to antisocial behavior.

Character Education Resources on the Urban Programs Resource Network

Beyond Rhetoric and Rainbows
A new resource for teachers designed as an educational tool that can help you explore and celebrate what is truly valuable and effective in education.

Strategies for Empowering Students is collection of classroom activities that will challenge students' minds, empower their senses of well-being, and rekindle their hearts with a commitment to values and beliefs essential to becoming and being whole individuals.

The University of Illinois Extension Character Education Program was developed by Cheryl Gholar, former Extension Educator, Community Leadership & Volunteerism.

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