Our character program is not one that was purchased...it evolved. We were witnessing the difference in children's and parent's attitudes toward the school and educators. It was obvious that discipline was taking more and more of our time and the infractions were more serious. Language being used by the children and parents was oftentimes rude or vulgar; said without any shame. We knew something needed to be done to improve our situation.
Martha Walker, a teacher on staff years ago, shared a copy with the Principal at the time of the book Silver Boxes by Florence Littauer. Reading it had a profound affect. It is about the power of the spoken word and what an influence our words can have on someone's life, either positive or negative. Our words should be kind and encouraging to others...a gift...a silver box, with a bow on top.
It was decided that this could be a beginning...teaching the children to speak only kind words to each other. We did a front hall bulletin board displaying wrapped silver boxes with beautiful silver bows on top...gifts. Examples of kind words or phrases were written and placed around the gifts. Small, magnetic, mirrored boxes with bows were given to each teacher at school during an assembly, where I explained to the children about our theme for the semester...kind words...gifts to each other. The teachers were told to put the "silver box" in full view to everyone who entered their classroom. This would be a daily reminder to speak only kind, encouraging words to each other throughout the day.
We were amazed at the difference this made in our school. You could just feel the difference. Now the question was..."What else can we do?" A first grade teacher, Brenda Russell, shared that at a Christian school where she previously worked they had taught "character words". We asked her to bring her material and sure enough here were all these wonderful character words with their definitions and a scripture verse to support them. We knew that since we were a public school we could not use the scripture, but that did not keep us from teaching the character word and the principle behind it.
During teacher in-service days at the beginning of the next school year, we shared with the teachers the idea of teaching good character, much the same as "words of kindness". The staff was very interested. We gave them a long list of words to choose from and asked them to prioritize them in the order of greatest importance to the school setting. We decided to do one word a month, because with young children we needed to emphasize and teach the definition so the children would truly understand and internalize its meaning. We told the teachers that this was just a beginning...we would all learn together. We asked them to teach the word and definition and whatever else they did was up to them. As the year went on we began to see wonderful bulletin board ideas, lessons, and stories being shared that supported the teaching of good character. Each year we learn more ways to integrate teaching character throughout the curriculum and discipline of our school. Our character program is now our "school culture" and supports everything we do. We believe teaching true character can impact a child for the good for the rest of their life!
Educating children in today's society is a greater challenge than ever before. As educators we are constantly facing issues such as: our mobile society, peer pressure, the media and the change in the make-up of our families. It is imperative that we form a partnership with our parents to help our young people develop positive social behaviors, such as: self-discipline, responsibility, good judgment, and the ability to get along with others. In order to ensure our children's success, we must do more than just fill their minds with knowledge. Every day we have opportunities to encourage and influence the lives of children, their parents, those we work with and the members of our families. If the citizens of our nation would believe in and practice good character, it would counteract the ills of our nation.
It is our goal at John Tyson Elementary to instill in our students the importance of being children of good character. Our staff has developed a program that involves the entire school and enlists the support of our parents. We call our program, "Tyson Tigers...Children of Character." Each month a character trait is presented and incorporated into the curriculum, daily activities and discipline. A parent made large, beautiful banners for each character trait that the students have learned. These hang from the ceiling in our lunchroom/auditorium. She also creates a front hall bulletin board that portrays the character trait of the month. The banners and bulletin board serve as constant reminders to the staff, children and parents to practice the character traits. A list of character traits and their definitions are sent home with the children. We encourage the parents to reinforce and teach them by example.
The questions arise..."Should the public schools be teaching 'values' to our children? Doesn't this responsibility rest in the home? What if our values are different?" We believe we need to take on this challenge as educators because we are living in a different society today. What children see and hear on TV, at the movies and on videos is very different than what was allowed even 15 or 20 years ago. Some parents fear that the values taught at school may differ from what they believe. Therefore, they do not want someone else teaching their children "values". To explain the difference between "values" and "character". Values are what are believe and would like you to believe too, because I think I'm right. Character is the internal substance of the person!!! So at John Tyson we teach character, not values.
Each year we learn more ways to integrate teaching character throughout the curriculum and discipline of our school. We decided to do one word a month because with young children we needed to emphasize and teach the definition so the children would truly understand and internalize its meaning. We settled on 30 words and definitions. We teach one word a month and rotate them every three years. Our character program is now our "school culture" and supports everything we do.
Character Word List.......
Attentiveness - Paying heed or care.
Work - Not being lazy in the tasks given to me.
Dependability - Trustworthy to do what I say I will do.
Thankfulness - Being grateful and saying so.
Kindness - A friendly, good-natured attitude toward others.
Manners - Ways of behaving which show good character.
Compassion - Feeling for another's need and helping that one without expecting anything in return.
Friendliness - Knowing, liking, and accepting other people just the way they are.
Optimism - A positive outlook that everything will turn out for the best.
Contentment - Being happy with what I have.
Self Control - Doing something even when I do not feel like it.
Generosity - An unselfish attitude, willing to share with others.
Determination - To continue on, regardless of the circumstances.
Obedience - Doing what you are told to do with a happy, submissive spirit.
Forgiveness - Treating someone as though they never hurt you.
Honesty - Truthful words and ways.
Love - A great affection of the mind and heart.
Orderliness - Neatness; tidiness; proper behavior; lawfulness.
Patience - Waiting with a happy spirit.
Thoughtfulness - Consideration for others; courtesy.
Tolerance - Accepting others and their beliefs even when you do not agree.
Courage - Standing up for what you believe in; bravery.
Respect - A high or special regard; honor one another.
Enthusiasm - Strong excitement or feeling.
Humility - Absence of pride or self-assertion; modesty.
Punctuality - Being on time for the requirements of life.
Joyfulness - Delight; happiness; gladness.
Confidence - Trust; a feeling of assurance or certainty.
Responsibility - To be accountable for your behavior.
Perseverance - Continuing to do something in spite of difficulties or obstacles.
Good character is that quality which makes one dependable whether being watched or not, which makes one truthful when it is to one's advantage to be a little less than truthful, which makes one courageous when faced with great obstacles, which endows one with the firmness of wise self-discipline.
-- Arthur S. Adams