How do we build character at a learning center?

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Dear teachers,

At an after school learning center, finding time to cultivate the students’ characters can be a luxury.  However, we cannot deny the fact that our classrooms also provide a social structure that the child encounters and an excellent opportunity for character-building.

Classroom is not just about learning concepts; it is also a place where a foundation can be built for becoming upstanding person. We should set a tone of respect, honesty and genuine kindness for all students. Whether they like it or not, teachers are role models for students and can provide examples of good characters every day in the classroom. Students notice what teachers, do, say, tolerate, and how they handle challenges.

However, character building can also be done proactively through planned actions and activities within the classroom. These classroom activities will encourage students to develop and adopt quality ethical principles and behaviors that can last far beyond the classroom.

I came across many blogs that share their methods of building characters for students. Let me share with you five ways that we can apply in our classroom at E2:

Focusing on the pillars of character

Some people say that character can be measured by what one would do if no one were looking. True character is instilled at a deep level so that positive behavior is automatic. The Josephson Institute of Ethics defines the main pillars of character to include trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, caring, fairness and citizenship. Besides, to refine the list, we should also teach kids about courage, diligence, and integrity.

One teacher suggests that we can choose one pillar to highlight at a time. Create an interactive collage on a bulletin board in the classroom, for example. Focusing on one pillar per month is a great way to raise awareness of the character traits they can strive to build in themselves. We can also choose books and lesson materials that embody the trait to implement into the lessons. Assign creative writing projects on the topic, encouraging students to explore it. How would they define trustworthiness, respect, or integrity?

Discussing the rules

It is our responsibility as teachers to set appropriate rules for classroom behavior. Be clear and specific about the ground rules. Specify what you expect to see from your students, and what is unacceptable. Instead of enforcing the rules, I’ve learned that discussing them with the students, as well as the character traits that are embodied and built by each rule help creating a more positive environment for the classroom. And, remember that we should always hold ourselves up to the standards that we set out. Complete your own work on time, be neat and punctual, and always show respect for others.

Complete your own work on time, be neat and punctual, and always show respect for others. Try and stay positive; praise students who exhibit good behavior and good character. Make them positive role models for the class. You can employ a reward system for good behavior such as points or gold stars. Credits earned could be exchanged for classroom privileges.

Setting up role models

Students tends to choose role models for themselves whether they realize it or not. We should make an effort to point out positive character role models in history, literature, science and the arts. Deliberately teach about people that your students can emulate. Ask students to describe, assess and match the traits and behaviors of these people or commendable characters within a fiction story. They could even dramatize some of the story elements or change them to allow a character to make better choices. Talk about the behavior of current world leaders, sports figures and celebrities as well. Ask students if a person’s words match their actions. Discuss how life is improved with good character traits.

Centering the value of respect

Your classroom should be firmly established on a foundation of respect. Self-respect and respect for others are the basis of all other positive character traits. Negativity and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated and met with appropriate consequences. Create anti-bullying campaigns and extol the virtues of treating all classmates with respect and dignity.

Building a community

As a teacher, no matter how chaotic our classroom might get, we should make sure that all students are included in activities. Besides, we should focus on implementing the “random acts of kindness” concept and reward students when they demonstrate it.

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