As we draw closer to the Character Education Partnership’s annual conference (Oct. 30 – Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C.), we’re featuring guest posts from educators who represent a CEP-designated National School of Character. In today’s post, Principal Kelly Mooney of North Pointe Elementary School in Houston, Texas, discusses the importance of her school’s character education program.
At North Pointe Elementary, the Character Education Program is the foundation of our school. From the moment you set foot on our campus, you can see that character development is an integral part of our everyday lives.
As I reflect on the “work” that has gone into creating and maintaining a culture of caring citizens, I always come back to the hard working teaching staff that has continually made the commitment to our students and community that character is not just one more item on an already full plate — it is the plate.
It starts with our belief that all students can learn and add great value to the learning community in both academics and behavior. At North Pointe, we believe that, as a community of learners, we must support one another not only in academics, but also behaviorally and socially.
We have a diverse population (over 800 students with over 30 different languages spoken), so how did we establish a common vision with so many differences? We began by discussing how to educate students to be productive citizens. That led to a discussion of how to develop compassionate citizens who will contribute to society in a positive, supportive and service-oriented way.
Our school district identified six character traits (the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship), and we now incorporate those into our daily activities and procedures.
Once we had agreed upon our core values and shared them with all stakeholders, we created a common vision and used the CEP’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education to guide work. Our counselor formed a “character cadre,” a group of leaders that included not only staff members but also parents and community members.
This is where the real work began! A few character activities, such as CAMP character and class meetings (devoted to the core principles of character education) helped each of us design intentional lessons and engaging activities that supported our shared beliefs. Additionally, we created a way for students to reflect on their choices, to discuss consequences through a love and logic approach and to come up with a resolution that supported a change for the better.
“Think Papers” were one way we started addressing office discipline referrals so students could reflect on the choices they had made. If necessary, they would also receive instruction on how to change unwanted behaviors.
The teachers, on their own, started using a version of the “think paper” in their classrooms, which gave them ownership and opened opportunities for wonderful teachable moments. What this turned into was the child hearing and seeing that: “What you do and say matters and can either make a positive or negative impact on our community (class) and school. We will take time out when necessary to ensure you understand so you feel part of the group and contribute to your education. We care about all of you!”
As a result, students wanted to be in class because they felt accepted, they felt that they mattered and lastly, they wanted to contribute. And what happened? We cut our office referrals in half after one year!
We make a concerted effort to foster positive social interactions in our school and community — interactions that promote and demonstrate good character. For instance, we have monthly “character books” that are read in classrooms by support staff, teachers and administration — even our superintendent! Conversations with students emphasize character as well as their unique learning goals, which helps students connect academics with behavior.
As educators, we feel compelled to teach students the importance of making good choices and resolving conflicts peacefully and respectfully. Again, we tie this to academic learning opportunities. Through our monthly Character Connections, we celebrate our students and highlight “character in action” — not by giving out extrinsic rewards, but rather by developing intrinsic motivation that drives our students, staff and community to want to do more for others.
Students are the true inspiration, and our hope is that our collaborative character education efforts at NPE will be a kind of synergy that has the ability to combat negative behaviors, inspire and encourage students and build a strong, caring community that will ultimately impact humankind for generations to come.
Most recently, we have partnered with our feeder schools to create the PK-12 communities where our schools can serve as the “hub of the community” and where school pride flourishes.
Our National School of Character Award would not be possible without the tireless dedication of the entire North Pointe community, including teachers, parents and students. The school PTA has partnered with us every step of the way through educating and funding and through sharing heartfelt stories of good character.
Our students know that it is easy to have good character when things go your way, but a true test of one’s character is when we are facing challenges. That’s when it’s important to remember to “use our caring words” and “treat others like you would want to be treated.” We all will continue to experience challenges, even schools like us who have received the NSOC recognition. But I am so proud of how we handle missteps and turn problems into learning opportunities to do better. And I am eternally grateful for the hard work of my school community, which helps our students grow and be successful.
A big thanks to everyone who has supported us along the way. Go Rockets!