School is not just about learning concepts; it is also a place where a foundation can be built for becoming upstanding adults. Every school 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 character every day in the classroom. Students notice what teachers, do, say, tolerate, and how they handle challenges. Here are some ways to help build character within the classroom:
Pillars of character
It has been said 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. Courage, diligence, and integrity are also sometimes included.
Your rules set the tone
It is your responsibility as the teacher to set appropriate rules for classroom behavior. Be clear about the ground rules. Specify what you expect to see from your students, and what is unacceptable. Discuss the rules with the students, as well as the character traits that are embodied and built by each rule. Be sure to be a good example yourself as well. Complete your own work on time, be neat and punctual, and always show respect for others.
Encourage good role models
Students choose role models whether a teacher or adult helps or not. 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. Talk about the behavior of current world leaders, sports figures and celebrities as well.
Build a caring community
A caring attitude can be encouraged by having a zero-tolerance policy on name-calling and character assaults or bullying. Make sure that all students are included in activities. Describe the “random acts of kindness” concept and reward students when they demonstrate it.