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Modeling Character

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012
2012 Ethics Campers
2012 Ethics Campers

"Character is who I am today as a result of everything I have become and overcome in my life so far, plus what I become and overcome today." That was the definition of character Steve Johnson, director of character education at the Ethics Center, offered on the opening day of Ethics Camp 2012, a program for teachers on how to integrate character education into the school curriculum. The August 7-10 camp was a special session for new teachers in Catholic elementary and high schools.

Johnson pointed out that a person's character plays a major role in his or her success, and that schools can inculcate the habits of good character that will serve their students well, not only academically but in their everyday lives. He cited a study of basic habits that increased people's odds of being successful in the workplace. They included:

• Show up
• On time
• Start promptly
• Follow directions
• Finish tasks
• Get along with others

When the these good habits--accountability and responsibility, for example--become ingrained, they make up our virtues.

Ethics Camp focuses on showing teachers how to foster the virtues. Where do children learn virtues (or, for that matter, vices)? From role models, legends and heroes, family stories, literature, and other sources, Johnson said. "Whoever spends the most time with a child has the greatest influence on his or her values," he added, warning that today's young people often spend more time with peers and the mass media than they do with parents or other adults.

In this context, teachers are especially important role models. "The job of a teacher is often counter-cultural," Johnson observed. Insisting on respect, kindness, and honesty in the classroom provides a crucial counterweight to the values children may encounter in the media or on the playground.

This modeling is not just about teaching a particular content, he went on. "There's an old saying: 'The Catholic school teacher teaches in every breath and glance and move." Johnson stressed that teachers convey their values through how they set up their classrooms. "How can you make sure," he asked the participants, "that what pays off in your classroom are actually the values and behaviors you say are important?"

Ethics Camp was developed by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in collaboration with the Diocese of San Jose.

Tags: character education, values, virtues