Character education is about enhancing virtues and moral decision making to lead to human flourishing. Character education is not a project to work on or something we do in isolation, it guides us in our everyday lives and is what we demonstrate in our beliefs, behaviors and being. It's about knowing, feeling and doing what’s ethically important.
Character education is a comprehensive school-based approach that includes an intentional focus on promoting classroom character and leadership, virtue formation and ethical decision making through school curriculum, ethos, activities and engagement with family and community.
Educators lead, teach, serve and learn with character to promote individual and collective flourishing. Character education aims to develop and strengthen virtues and moral decision making because practical wisdom in self and others cultivates a society where all can live well in a world worth living in. Research shows that schools with character education goals and initiatives have increased academic success, reduced behavioral concerns and overall motivation increases in staff.1 But how do we make this a realization?
In This Article:
- Teaching Character Education in Schools
- Start By Understanding Your Own Character
- Develop Character Education Goals for Your School and Community
- Implementing Character Education in Schools
- Teaching Character Education at GCU
Teaching Character Education in Schools
In action, character education includes all explicit and implicit educational activities that help people develop virtues in others; it’s more than just a subject. There’s no one size fits all approach to teaching character education. Rather, each organization should create their own character education goals by determining the approach and content that will enhance virtue formation and moral decision making based on the needs and culture of their stakeholders and community. As described from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, character is caught through implicit modeling, taught explicitly and hopefully sought.2 When considering how to develop your approach to character education, plan for how it will be caught, taught and sought.
Caught character is what students learn from what they see, hear and experience from others. Their environment should promote good sense and positive virtues, the ethos of the community, relationship building in school and positive interactions with others. Modeling character includes exhibiting positive virtue dispositions, demonstrating moral decision making that considers all stakeholders and the betterment of society and developing a school ethos that embodies the same.
Teaching character is also explicit. Explicit teaching might include focusing on character virtues and decision making and taking the time to teach both across subject areas. Consider the curriculum you want to incorporate, the way character will be taught and learned and what resources you will use. Consider integration across the curriculum and subject areas. Develop character in students and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate character, develop character in others and enhance their character through enrichment, volunteering and service learning.
Start By Understanding Your Own Character
Teaching character education in schools must begin with personal reflection, learning and growth. We cannot impart character on others until we understand and enhance our own. This process can include school leaders, educators and stakeholders. Individual learning about one’s character includes gaining awareness, developing virtue and enhancing practical wisdom. A possible process for individual learning might include:
- Reflecting on biases, virtue strengths and weaknesses, virtue reasoning and virtue definitions. Consider taking the VIA Institute on Character survey.
- Developing a professional growth plan for enhancing individual character.
- Considering a practical wisdom journal for noting virtue reasoning and motivations and reflecting on areas for opportunity.
- Developing a plan for how to apply discernment in ethical decision making and ensuring you are advocating for diversity and inclusion.
This might also be a process you engage in with staff, sharing insights to learn from one another.
Develop Character Education Goals for Your School and Community
Next, determine the path for the school as a community. This is certainly easier said than done and will require time, consideration, input and effort. There are many parts to plan, resources to gather, trainings to develop and more. As a leader developing a plan for implementing character education in schools, it’s important to consider aspects that will impact all stakeholders, including how to make character education equitable for all. Not all staff, students and stakeholders receive character education the same way as cultures, perspectives and experiences differ.
Ensure all stakeholders have input and a shared vision when developing your character education goals. A potential starting point for leading a school with character might include the following:
- Gathering stakeholders
- Determining a shared vision that cultivates human and societal flourishing with virtue formation
- Determining valued virtues and defining virtues as a group: intellectual, moral, civic and performance
- Developing a mission, vision, and framework specific to organizational context
- Developing an action plan for staff training and developing a school ethos for caught character, as well as a plan for making classroom connections through content, materials, activities and more for taught and sought character
Implementing Character Education in Schools
Once school ethos direction and support needed to implement that culture is determined with teacher training underway, a shared vision for virtue formation and classroom connections can occur. Create action plans for integrating character across subject areas and curriculum, making classroom connections, training staff and serving students. As your organization plans for character education to be taught, you might begin by:
- Reviewing all resources available for character education
- Selecting the options that fit your organizational needs and determined school ethos direction
- Coming together as a community to participate in shared planning for content across the curriculum and subject areas
- Integrating opportunities for ethical decision making and planning for how that will be taught
- Integrating content across curriculum and subject areas
- Developing a plan for continued development through assessment, training, and instructional practices
- Considering adding opportunities for service learning and citizenship education integration
Overall, it’s imperative to remember that developing classroom character and leadership includes:
- Modeling positive virtues
- Modeling practical wisdom and moral decision making
- Modeling the balancing of virtues
- Teaching through discussions and developing shared understandings of virtues, virtue reasoning and moral decisions
- Teaching the balancing of virtues to make good decisions for the betterment of society or teaching practical wisdom
- Teaching using literature and assignments to explicitly teach and discuss virtuous actions and moral decisions
Character education in schools is not just another thing to do, it is what we should do. We get into education to make an impact on students. What better impact than to help them become better human beings that contribute to society and lead flourishing lives? Helping students understand what the “good” is and how to enact that in real life is the best education. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”3
Teaching Character Education at GCU
Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s education programs, complete the form on this page or visit the College of Education.
1 Abgoola, A. and Tsai, K. (n.d.). Bring Character Education Into Classrooms. European Journal of Educational Research. Retrieved on August 25, 2023.
2 Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues. (2017). Framework for Character Education in Schools. Retrieved on September 21, 2021.
3 GoodReads. (n.d.). Martin Luther King Jr. Quotable Quote. Retrieved on July 26, 2023.
Approved by the dean of the College of Education on Aug. 21, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.