Infusing Character Into Everyday Teaching & Learning

by Dave Keller

Outstanding educators consistently look for ways to infuse character lessons into everyday teaching and learning. When teachers do this consistently, students are far more likely to view character as an integral part of learning and life — rather than simply another “topic” to learn alongside reading, science, math and many others.

Character.org designed the 11 Principles of Effective Character to be a framework and critical reference guide for educators everywhere. No single script exists for effective character education exists, but the 11 Principles serve as guideposts to use to plan and evaluate their programs. 

Within these 11 Principles, Principle 6 represents the glue that connects outstanding classroom learning and fundamental character concepts. Effective character educators model persistence, responsibility, and caring as they differentiate instruction, employ a variety of active teaching and learning strategies, and look for ways that character is potentially developed in and through everyday teaching and learning.

I thought I’d share a few Promising Practices that exemplify Principle 6 in action:

Monthly Character Essay Contests (Imagine Columbia Leadership Academy, Columbia, SC)

In an effort to connect academics to character education and to motivate students to write, a monthly theme and quotes were chosen. In January, students wrote about the Great Kindness Challenge. In February, students completed the National Character Essays, with themes revolving around responsibility and curiosity. In March, students focused on curiosity with a Dr. Seuss spin. In April, the focus was SC authors; May focused on everyday heroes and the responsibility of leadership.

APA Letter Writing Campaign (Washington Middle School, St Louis, MO)

Students partnered with the Animal Protective Association (APA) to seek donations for abandoned and homeless animals. A volunteer from the organization educated 7th graders about the needs of these vulnerable cats and dogs and discussed how the kids could advocate on their behalf. Through a letter writing campaign, students wrote to local businesses and family members to ask for donations. The students also shared what they had learned about the APA and puppy mills. Following academic curriculum standards, the 7th graders produced professional business letters. This campaign resulted in an increased awareness of the needs of the APA and a heightened engagement between our school and our community.

Student-led Service Learning Projects (Imagine South Lake, Clermont, FL)

Students in the 8th Grade Critical Thinking Class were tasked with designing and implementing their own service learning projects. One group came up with the idea to visit one of the local nursing homes. Before visiting, the students contacted the nursing home, established a time frame to go, and collected socks, blankets, and sweaters to hand out while they were there. The students were greatly impacted by doing this project. Most of the students have gone back during their own free time to visit with the patients.

Principle 6 represents the glue that connects outstanding classroom learning and fundamental character concepts. Effective character educators model persistence, responsibility, and caring as they differentiate instruction, employ a variety of active teaching and learning strategies, and look for ways that character is potentially developed in and through everyday teaching and learning.

Specifically, Principle 6 is: “The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.”

Key indicators of success for Principle 6 are:

6.1 The academic curriculum provides meaningful and appropriate challenges to all students.

6.2 The school staff identifies, understands, and accommodates the diverse interests, cultures, and learning needs of all students.

6.3 Teachers promote the development of performance character traits that support students’ intellectual growth, academic performance, and capacity for both self-direction and teamwork.

Dave Keller

Dr. David Keller is the Director of the Hollingsworth Center for Ethical Leadership for the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University. Prior to that, he completed a noteworthy 20+ year career in the U.S. Air Force and worked as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Character.org.

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