Teaching Tuesday: What Are Good Character Traits?

Dr. Ashley Betkowski, and Emily Farkas, Canyon Center for Character Education, College of Education

Friends supporting each other through good character traits

Have you ever thought about how others describe you or your character? Consider how you think others describe you and how you wish to be described. Now, take a moment to think of someone close to you. How do you describe them?

When describing someone, we often describe the virtues or values they exhibit, which are aligned to their character. Virtues are positive personal strengths and behaviors that demonstrate an individual’s moral standards. Virtues can be considered the foundation of character and can be categorized as moral virtues, civic virtues, intellectual virtues, or performance virtues. Usually, people we admire or consider role models exhibit good character traits. There are many moral exemplars that are leaders throughout history (i.e. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Good character traits typically align to what we all want to be known for one day — who we are, what our actions show. Innately, most of us want to be good humans and want to be known for being one! 

In This Article: 

Types of Character Traits 

By understanding the different virtue types, or types of virtues linked to positive character traits, we are able see how the significance of each virtue type influences overall individual virtuous behavior and growth. To begin, the intellectual virtues can be considered habits of mind, enabling individuals to become critical thinkers who ask the right questions and seek answers from evidence-based resources. These virtues support discernment, right action and the pursuit of knowledge while enabling problem-solving.

Think of moral virtues as habits of the heart. Moral character guides decision making from multiple perspectives allowing individuals to evaluate situations and respond in a meaningful and responsible manner that keeps the betterment of society and all stakeholders in the forefront. These virtues guide social connections and ethical decision making.

Civic virtues can be considered habits of service. Civic character supports a collaborative approach to solving systemic problems to contribute to the well-being of others and serve the public good. These virtues ultimately support citizenship and community.

Performance virtues can be known as habits of action and will, enabling us to marry the quality of our actions to the strength of our convictions. These virtues equip and enable one to navigate life and uncertainty for success. Performance virtues are informed by intellectual, moral, and civic virtues.

In collaboration, the virtue types allow individuals space to develop a deeper sense of virtuous behavior and growth through personal experiences and reflection when the virtues collide, known as practical wisdom, furthering our good sense. Practical wisdom, also known as phronesis, is the meta-virtue that guides individuals in making decisions when two or more virtues collide. This helps us determine what is morally right in a given situation so we can discern which virtue to put into action.

Reflecting on Our Character Traits 

Reflecting on our personal experience allows us the space to understand why and how we act the way we do. To begin your own reflective journey, think through the following virtue related questions and examples. Reflect and identify where you have personal strengths in each virtue category, as well as areas of which you can grow.

Intellectual Virtues: Are my actions in pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding?
Intellectual virtue examples:

  • Reflection
  • Resourcefulness
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Curiosity
  • Reasoning

Moral Virtues: Do I respond ethically and with heart?
Moral virtue examples:

  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Compassion
  • Integrity
  • Kindness
  • Empathy

Civic Virtues: Do I engage in responsible citizenship?
Civic virtue examples:

  • Service
  • Citizenship
  • Community Awareness
  • Neighborliness
  • Civility

Performance Virtues: Do I have the tools to navigate life and uncertainty?
Performance virtue examples:

  • Resilience
  • Determination
  • Perseverance
  • Leadership
  • Self-discipline
  • Motivation

Additional questions to consider that may help you to deeply reflect about your character include: Do you surround yourself with virtuous exemplars? Do your friendships and relationships include mutual accountability? What are your personal biases? Have you confronted these biases with open-mindedness? What areas can you grow in professionally and personally? If you were to reflect and positively grow, who would be impacted?

Developing our character is a lifelong pursuit and being reflective in nature helps us in our pursuit for being the best versions of ourselves. We can enhance our character through regular practice and habituation. Reflecting on your virtue strengths and times you practice these traits, or do not, will be key.

Think about who you want to be in this world and what traits you need to achieve that. When you think about your next milestone birthday, consider what your guests might say about you. What do you hope they say? Will what they say be reflective of who you want to be? The way others describe you relates to your character. So, do you want these descriptions to be tied to positive characteristics? We are all constant works in progress and each of us deserves to flourish! When one of us flourishes, we all do, and society is better for it. 

Learn more about developing character education in your school and community with an education degree from Grand Canyon University. To get started on your journey, complete the form on this page or visit the College of Education to see how we are preparing educators for the classroom and beyond.

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.