By Teachers, For Teachers
School is the first place where children encounter social structure. Therefore, it’s the perfect opportunity for educators to use classroom activities to teach character-building skills. Character traits like honesty, respect, and kindness are all the foundation of what makes an upstanding citizen. While teachers set the tone and provide a good example of what an upstanding person should act like and look like, character building can also be learned through classroom activities, teaching strategies, and lessons. Here are a few suggestions on how to build students’ character and create a classroom culture that is kind and respectful.
A person’s true character is automatic. It’s how they act or react when no one is looking. To help build students’ overall character, you can teach specific traits that you think your students may be lacking. For example, if you notice that a lot of students aren’t being honest, then you can teach about honesty. If you notice that there’s a lack of respect in the classroom, then you can teach about respect. Once a month, choose a specific character trait to focus on and have students explore it. Assign projects, classroom assignments, or discussions that all revolve around that specific trait. Then at the end of the month, have students vote on the person who they think exemplified this specific trait the best. This is a great way to raise awareness about this trait so students can build it within themselves.
Six Pillars of Character – These are the main characteristics taught in schools to help instill a positive school climate:
While you (as a teacher) are a wonderful role model for students, there are also many positive character role models that students should be aware of. Talk to your students about who their role models are, and ask them what characteristics they think make those individuals a positive role model. Then point out and discuss positive character role models in their history books, in literature, and the community. Talk about role models in your school and at home. Discuss the character traits of world leaders, celebrities, and popular sports figures (for example, President Lincoln was called “Honest Abe” because he was known for his honesty). Then ask students to pick one character role model that they think exemplifies what an upstanding citizen and overall good person should look like and why. They can write a brief essay or give an oral report of their decision.
Volunteering is one of the best ways to build character. It teaches important lessons like compassion, responsibility, respect, and teamwork. It shows students how to listen, communicate with others, and be kind. It’s an opportunity for students to learn and grow from each experience. Whether students are helping to feed or clothe the homeless, spending time in a nursing home, or helping out their community, volunteer work is teaching students some valuable lifelong skills that will definitely build their character.
One of the best ways to help build students’ character is to ensure that you’ve built a caring classroom community: An atmosphere where all students are respected and encouraged to be their best self. The key to creating an optimal learning environment is by building relationships within the classroom, both between students and among yourself and the students. Building a sense of community helps to create a stronger bond within the classroom -- the safer and comfortable students feel, the more optimal your learning environment will be. Implement a morning meeting where students are welcome to share their thoughts and opinions. This is a great way to build positive relationships within the classroom as well as get to know one another.
Another essential key to a successful classroom community is to ensure you have a zero tolerance policy on being unkind and disrespectful. Negative abuse of any kind should never be tolerated. Insist on respect and instill positive classroom rules and anti-bullying campaigns to ensure students are treating everyone with respect and kindness.
As the teacher, your rules set the tone for how students should and should not behave in the classroom. From the moment your students enter the door, make sure they are very clear on what is tolerated and what is not in your classroom. Discuss each character trait that embodies each rule that you have set for the classroom. This will help clarify any misunderstandings students may have. And always remember to praise students for displaying good character when they abide by your rules.
Character building is a lifelong process, and by starting to educate children when they are young, you’re giving them the opportunity to learn and grow from all of their experiences. Research shows that teachers who infuse character education into their classrooms will have more parental involvement, less behavior issues, and improved academic performance. With this knowledge, it’s essential that whenever you find an opportunity throughout the day to teach or reinforce character education, then take it. Your students will thank you for it in the future.
How do you build character in your classroom? Do you have any classroom activities or tips that you found worked well? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you on this topic.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.