Character, Char-ACT-er and Care-Actor

How to deliberately cultivate character in our students through a redesigned pedagogical approach

Photo of Garth Nichols
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There has always been a moral imperative to teaching and learning; however, this has been drowned out more and more by rigorous, standardized testing and a drive to be defined by a grade. Can this change? Absolutely. Can we create rigorous academic standards and build character. 100%.

Metacognition, reflection and mentoring are all parts of excellent education - regardless of age and stage - and can be integrated into existing educational institutions. In Tony Wagner's book "Creating Innovators", he tells story upon story of innovative students who were inspired by teachers that challenged them in these ways and/or took on the role of mentoring.

Thus, what I propose is a deliberate program that enables and supports teachers to act on their intrinsic motivation that got them into teaching in the first place: to support students personally to define success and achieve it.

Developing environments and context that allows students to ACT on character, and not just learn or be scolded on it. Students need to be given the opportunity to grow their patience, their ability to empathize, and their ability to show kindness in the face of defeat and victory, as Jessica Lura shared in THIS video. We can't lecture this into students, or discuss this into students. However, we can develop moments and provide reflective moments in our students that authentically develops their capability to understand their own capacity in the many different elements contained in "Character".

Optional: What are some character strengths you’ve worked on with students in the past? Why did you focus on these?

I've supported students through outdoor experiences, dramatic/stage experiences and through athletic endeavors to develop their capacity in patience and kindness to themselves and others. As well, I supported their development of empathy through story telling and restorative justice experiences.

Optional: How comfortable do you feel incorporating character education in your curriculum? (1-10, where 10 = very comfortable!)


Optional: Tell us more! What's one thing you wish there was more of / less of when it comes to character learning in schools?

The development of interdisciplinary, authentic experiences that provide the context and environment to act on these different elements of character, not just talk about them and expect students to have and use these different elements.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kim Vinh

Hi Garth, I want to hear more about the different environments in which your students have gotten to act on character. Can you name some outdoor, athletic, dramatic or stage experiences that are easily replicable for any classroom? I'd love a list of ideas I can do as an English teacher (because even though I'd love to take students on a camping trip or coach a sports team over a season, are there smaller endeavors I can create within my class in a day or so?). I think a lot of teachers would love to read these ideas and would have more to add if you start a post in the next phase, Ideate!

Photo of Garth Nichols

Hey there, thanks for the question. Check out my IDEATE pitch. What I have in mind are more immersive experiences that are held over a longer period of time. Perhaps, though, you might be interested in the "Take-a-Stand" piece, where students have to explore, research and take action on an issue. Afterwards, they have to 'take a stand' on that issue which ultimately reveals character.