2018 Education Guide
Character Education: Learning that Goes Beyond Academics
By Daniel Beauregard
For many parents, a good education means much more than academics.For many parents, a good education means much more than academics. While reading, math and science are all important, having their child learn about such values as kindness, respect and empathy for others is just as important, if not more so. Fortunately, most Atlanta-area public and independent schools incorporate some form of character education in their curricula, placing an emphasis on guiding children to become caring, involved members of society.
This is an area in which Georgia has led the way. The state devotes the entire month of September to the importance of character. Several years ago, a group of students and teachers at Cobb County’s Durham Middle School wrote their state senator, proposing a “Georgia Day” to honor character and good choices. Governor Nathan Deal extended the idea to a whole month spotlighting state history and the positive character traits of Georgians past and present. In March, 2012, Georgia became the first state to recognize and dedicate an entire month to history and character.
Georgia maintains this focus throughout the school year in its public-school curriculum. The Georgia Department of Education mandates character education as part of its Georgia Quality Core Curriculum Standards, required in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state. This “character curriculum” focuses on citizenship, respect for others and respect for oneself. The citizenship portion stresses the importance of such values as democracy, respect for authority, equality, justice, liberty, patriotism and respect for the natural environment. Students learn to respect others with an emphasis on altruism, honesty and integrity, and are taught to respect themselves through self-esteem, accountability and a strong work ethic.
The Cobb County School District boasts its own focus on character development, with a calendar that emphasizes different character traits on a rotating basis throughout the school year, including respect, integrity and responsibility, among others. Instead of students receiving a separate lecture on self-respect, that lesson is incorporated into the regular curriculum, across all disciplines. As students reach high school, a leadership development class called Principled Thinking focuses on developing character-driven skills to enable young adults to become positive leaders in their schools and communities.
A Larger Perspective
That approach is similar to the one taken by the Atlanta International School (AIS), an independent school in Buckhead that uses the framework of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to instill positive character traits in its students. At the core of this program is the goal of developing students who will be ready to create a better world through intercultural understanding and respect.
At AIS, the foundation is laid early: The Personal Social Education component of its Early Years program gives young learners models, methods and a vocabulary for handling social and emotional issues in a constructive way. As students continue, each grade’s IB program focuses on several distinct traits such as communication, open-mindedness and risk-taking. At the beginning of each year, teachers work these principles into their lesson plans with an eye to shaping students into ideal global citizens who will use their knowledge to make a difference in the world and in their community.
At the Children’s School, an independent school in Midtown Atlanta for grades 3 to 8, the goal goes beyond knowledge for its own sake. Here, the reason for learning is for students to better understand the world around them so that they can fully engage with and make a positive impact on it. Immersive project-based learning expands their horizons beyond the campus so that they develop a sense of themselves as part of a larger community.
The school’s graduating 8th-graders have a unique opportunity to put their learning into practice in a new capstone experience that empowers them to take action on a social issue from an entrepreneurial perspective. Offered in partnership with Kennesaw State University Shore Entrepreneurship Center, the project lasts the entire school year and partners students with social entrepreneurs from the Atlanta business community. As the project progresses, students explore the issues important to their community, and through self-directed projects, create solutions to benefit those issues and put them into place, right where they live.
Along with thinking for oneself and learning from failure, learning to respect the viewpoints of others is a key component of characterbased education. At AIS, students are exposed to other cultures and different viewpoints, and
A National Perspective
Recognizing the need for character education on a national level, the Character Education Partnership was founded in 1993 in Washington, D.C. The organization provides a framework for implementing and evaluating character education in grades K-12 through its 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, which offers both guidelines for an effective program and a scoring system to help schools measure their success on each point. It recognizes high-achieving schools nationwide as Schools of Character to serve as examples and mentors to other schools. Liberty Elementary in Canton was named a School of Character in 2017, the most recent Atlanta metro school to be so honored.
learn to value others’ opinions, even when they don’t agree with them. Diversity is a core value at The Children’s School, not only as the basis for empowering children to authentically be themselves, but to give them the competence necessary to engage in their community.
Learning From Mistakes
Polly Williams, early learning principal at The Galloway School in Atlanta, says she’s seen a paradigm shift in education over the years, with more and more schools emphasizing project- based learning and collaborative problemsolving— an approach the Galloway School has employed since it was founded in 1969.
Galloway students are encouraged to come up with their own ideas, and to learn from their mistakes. Focusing on process rather than outcomes, Galloway encourages its students to take risks, and provides a safe environment for them to do so.
“They can learn a lot by trying something,” Williams says, “and perhaps not having the outcome they anticipated, but learning from that.” Students are also encouraged to explore their passions and beliefs, to ask questions and speak out on a regular basis in what Williams calls a “lively, discussion-rich environment.” “It’s coming from them . . . instead of somebody telling them what to think or believe,” she says. “We think that’s incredibly important.”
For More Information
For a look at the Georgia Department of Education’s Quality Core Curriculum materials, including information on its Character Education program, visit georgiastandards.org/standards/pages/qcc/aspx. For information on Cobb County’s Character Education program, visit cobbk12.org/centraloffice/communications/ charactereducation. For more information about the Character.org 11 principles and program, visit character.org.