Recognizing Super Heroic Schools of Character

Editor’s note: Here’s another delightful dispatch from Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach whose boundless super powers are on display throughout the year at Westwood-Bales Elementary in Friendswood, Texas. Scroll to the bottom to see her presentation at this year’s National Forum on Character Education. And check out her blog, The Corner on Character.

“At the 20th annual National Forum on Character Education, held last month in Washington, D.C., the Character Education Partnership honored 29 National Schools of Character (NSOC) for meeting a standard of excellence as laid out in their Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education. What an exciting time in the journey of a school it is to reach that mountaintop experience and be named an NSOC. I know because I have the pleasure of working at an elementary school that received the NSOC distinction in 2009.

I’ve attended 10 of those 20 Forums, and they just keep getting better. In my breakout session, “Character Is Our Super Power” — scroll down for a video of the whole presentation — we had 70 character educators singing, laughing, dancing and connecting with each other. It didn’t hurt that I wore my Queen of Hearts dress as I encouraged them to see life and approach education through the eyes of a child for maximum success with our little leaders.

At this year’s Forum, the keynote speakers, like Michael Josephson and Maurice Elias, inspired us. A teacher band — No Tune Left Behind — entertained us. The vendors informed and enriched us. The networking opportunities over coffee or a Coke energized us. All in all, it was an event to be treasured and remembered for a very long time to come.”

One of the schools that was honored, North Pointe Elementary in Clear Lake, Texas, holds a special place in my heart because we had the opportunity to mentor them on their journey down character road. They sent a group of school leaders to our NSOC Open House in the spring of 2010, sowed many of our ideas from which they grew their initiative, then they harvested bigger and better things than we ever imagined possible. They used the process to strengthen and empower their school family to create, in the words of one of their fifth graders, “a swirling vortex of character.” That’s the power of synergy and collaboration. And now they’re in a position to pay it forward when they hold their outreach event for other upcoming schools of character.

Here are a few of their promising practices:

  • Camp Character: Specials-class teachers and the counselor engage in character-development activities with students while their homeroom teachers meet for Professional Learning Community time.
  • Coke and a Compliment: Staff members enjoy a soda in exchange for an affirmation for a colleague at the beginning of each faculty meeting, creating a win-win because, well, who doesn’t like being appreciated and recognized?
  • Principal’s Book of the Month: The administrative team visits each homeroom class each month to read a book with a character theme and leave a copy with the class family. The day we visited, each class was eager to hear and receive a copy of The Juice Box Bully by Maria Dismondy.
  • The Counselor Cafe: Counselor Jennifer McCaffrey hosts a lunch bunch every day until she’s enjoyed dining with all of her students in small groups of up to six in her office. I’ve adopted this delicious idea and have gotten rave reviews this year. Such a great way to connect with and get to know our students more personally.
  • The Character Cadre: This is the climate committee that meets regularly to initiate ideas, review progress and asses the effectiveness of the school’s character philosophy.
  • Professional Development Character Training: North Pointe Elementary staff members meet regularly to improve on their efforts in all areas. I’ve been there to conduct character-infusion workshops, for example, on three occasions, as they continue to go deeper with their virtues understanding and integration.
  • Character Connections: On the last Friday of every month, this school family gathers to sing character songs and hear their morning announcements together. As a bonus, they get to celebrate the winner of the Spirit Stick at this school-wide assembly. What a heartwarming way to start the day!

This learning community invited me to join them at their NSOC celebration and say a few words, so I put on my Character Cape and took the mic with pride to congratulate them, crown their Counselor Queen of Hearts, give their Assistant Principal a box of Pillar-colored bandages for the bumps along the way, and pass along a magical Star Wand to their Principal. She’ll use that to lead her staff in polishing their little stars before launching them to brighten the future from their places in the sky. After thanking them for being my super heroes, we all danced the Six Pillar Shuffle together.

Congratulations to all of the 2013 National Schools of Character. Keep up the heart work!