With thanks to Geoff Smith, headteacher at Kehelland School and member of the Executive Team of the Association for Character Education.
Ever since I started work as a primary teacher in Cornwall in the early 1990s I have been fascinated by the question of how we can develop good character qualities in our children. I would like to share with you an analogy which has helped me in developing the approach used at Kehelland School. We are situated in Cornwall which, as you will know, is renowned for its tin mining industry and many of the old mine buildings are well known iconic images of our landscape. When the miners tunneled down into the ground they would sometimes find more than just tin - precious or semi-precious stones would often be brought back up to the surface where, after cutting and polishing, they would be found to be of great beauty or value. As educators it seems to me that children also possess gems which we may not be aware of at first sight. It is only after working with a child (and digging deep over time) that we become aware of character qualities which they possess and which I feel it is our duty as educators or parents, to nurture and develop. The ancient Greeks referred to these qualities as arête or virtue, and philosophers like Aristotle identified many virtues such as courage, truthfulness and friendliness which he thought essential to living a good life and the development of wisdom or phronesis.
At Kehelland School we try to familiarize the children with virtues or character qualities by integrating them into our daily school life and over time we have developed a character curriculum which aims to nurture and develop virtues such as kindness, honesty and creativity in our children. Every fortnight we focus on a new virtue which is introduced at the start of the week during the whole school-assembly; this is followed up by a lesson for each individual year group which allows the children to further develop their understanding of this quality through a range of activities. Many of the lessons in the Rising Stars Character Education Programme have been developed tried and tested at Kehelland School (and other schools in Cornwall who have adopted our approach).
Over the course of the school term our teaching and support staff will try to spot pupils who are demonstrating good character qualities and will provide praise or acknowledgement which is virtue-specific, e.g:
"I can see the courage you are showing. ", " Thank you for your helpfulness."
“You showed great determination in completing the work today”, “You persevered with the project even though you found it hard going- well done!”
Sometimes, however, a staff member will draw a child’s attention to a behaviour that they may need to change - again mentioning specific virtues:
"That remark was hurtful - how could you say that in a kinder way?”
“What virtue would help you to resolve your problems peacefully", or “ I need someone to be courageous and be truthful about what happened”
The Latin root of the word “virtue” is “Virtus”, meaning strength, power, capacity, and energy. Naming a virtue that we see in a child encourages its mastery and communicates the message: “You have this power. I see it in you.”
In the new Rising Stars Character Education publication I refer to these virtues based on interactions with children as Character Coaching, and examples are included with each lesson for every year group.
At Kehelland (and also at many of the schools who have benefited from the whole-school training delivered by my colleague Shona Pye) the character development programme has been linked to the behaviour code or ethos; when a child needs to change their behaviour we refer them to the virtue they need to practise or develop. As teachers we are always trying to highlight positive behaviour and reward and acknowledge children as they strengthen their characters.
Primary schools are rich in opportunities to develop good character. For example, children will need courage in attempting to solve problems or learn new skills, patience is needed in waiting to take turns or queuing for dinner and determination is vital in finishing a race or completing a homework assignment. Recently one of my support staff members - Bev Bevington - has been exploring the very fertile ground that mathematics can provide for the exploration of virtues, for instance fairness can be explored through equal shares in fractions, probability, or in weighing and balancing. Diligence and orderliness are also vital when laying out our work to ensure accuracy, and curiosity can be encouraged and strengthened through the investigation of real-life problems.
However, in all these scenarios the role of the teacher or educator remains vital in making explicit the connection between learning and character development; this linkage is readily facilitated through the use of a well-planned curriculum and a system of rewards such as those featured in the Rising Stars Character Education Programme. I do hope you will find the programme useful and I look forward to receiving feedback from you!
Interested in exploring this further? Order Geoff's brand new title Character Education: The Star Awards Programme for Primary Schools here.
You can also order a free inspection copy by calling Bookpoint at 01325 400 555. Inspection Copies allow you to review texts for up to 60 days. Purchase 15+ copies and keep the Inspection Copy FREE OF CHARGE.