Author Bio: Dr. Christopher Jones is an Assistant Principal at Seekonk High School. He writes a blog called Dr. Jones’ Office and connects with others on twitter @SeekonkAP_Jones. Prior to his current position, he taught American History and Law. He holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, but continues to learn every day from the teachers and students. He is motivated by a belief in strong character and the limitless potential of human beings with passion, drive, and support.
Character is the most overlooked, under explained crucial ingredient for a successful life. Therein lies the answer to why it’s important. If a person wants to have lasting success in life, they must make a conscious decision to work on and improve their character. Character isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about how you move forward after either occurs.
This is why character education should be every school’s top priority when it comes to curriculum. If schools are to prepare responsible, creative, and productive citizens of the 21st Century, they need to show students how to achieve success that is born of hard word; perseveres in the face of defeat; and thrives upon itself. These abilities are only possible through a well-developed and maintained character.
Character is not easy to teach or learn. There are many detractors and distractions along the way. It is a hard, but rewarding path for multiple reasons. For example:
Character must be revealed before you understand where to must start. The only way character is revealed is through hardship and loss. Conversely, these are the times it is most important. The closest education (as a whole) has come to discussing it is labeled as grit. It takes grit to build and maintain good character, but you only discover if you have grit when it is needed.
Integrity is not character. It is essential to good character, but it is a piece of the larger picture. Integrity is how you act based on a set of moral principles. It is that inner set of guidelines by which you live. Character is your overall behavior comprised of many different components. They are often confused. This is because they are both a choice; part of an ongoing struggle that gets easier with each difficult decision. Simply put; you act with integrity, but possess character.
Building character requires one of the most difficult things for individuals to do; be completely honest with themselves about who they are; who or what they want to be; and how they are going to get there. You need to examine your life and determine if you are happy. If not, you must discover why and determine what needs to change. That is where the work begins.
It is difficult, but not impossible to change your character. A person just needs to realize that it is constantly shaped by every decision you make. Therefore, it takes two ingredients; purposeful action towards changing your behaviors and a commitment to continue the process. This is also known as mental toughness. (Moore, 2014)
So how do educators and parents help current and future students learn to build good character?
Model behaviors: Students, in fact many of us, do not do as we hear, but as we see. How can we expect students to develop good character if we do not exhibit that which we ask?
Have clear expectations: Clarity is key. Do not mince words. Be clear about the behavior you expect and why. Do not address the student’s success or failure; rather talk about their actions and decisions. The less personalized the feedback, the easier those first few steps are to take. They didn’t fail that course because they are not good at that subject. They failed because of actions they took and decisions they made. The same holds true for behavior, sports, etc.
Be tenacious: Building character takes time, failures, and patience. Help examine those decisions that resulted in the outcome. Character isn’t a battle, it’s a war. There will be great victories and awful defeats over the course of time, but the ultimate goal is attainable with help. Whenever I get impatient with the progress I am making, I remember the face of my son looking up at me saying; “I’m not a man yet daddy, but I will be some day. I have more stuff to learn.”
Do not overprotect: This is simple. Adults are not meant to be kids’ friends. They are meant to be the leaders who guide students through life. Losing that dynamic affects the ability to make tough decisions that, as adults, we realize build character. Friends do not do that. Too often friends console, make excuses, and let the little things that could make a difference slide. Friends are important support structures, but adults are often called to make a decision as to whether or not a student suffers a setback. Remember that character is formed by accepting hardship and continually working to improve. There can be no learning without failure. There can be no excellence without hardship.
Remember, achievement in life is always birthed from effort and discipline. The same is true of character. Success has very little to do with luck or ability. Luck is for those who want to explain why they lost, character and mental toughness are for those who say I can win and I will win. If not this time; then next time. If not today; then tomorrow. Put much simpler by someone more famous; “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” – John Wooden
This is why teaching character is important. Not just for success now, but in the future. Our world, especially our children’s’ future, grows more uncertain every day. We must realize and in turn teach that we cannot guarantee success or failure, only how we respond to it. The measure of our character determines that response, which is why we must remember Anne Frank’s words; “The formation of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Every moment, every day counts. Which begs the question; what effort are you making today?