Character building: a key ingredient of 21st century education?

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

Follow @HVF_Values

Website: www.humanvaluesfoundation.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What do we mean by character building and why is there ever greater emphasis on it as a necessary part of a child’s development and education?

A dictionary definition of ‘character’ is “the collective qualities or characteristics, especially mental and moral that distinguish a person or thing”. What are those qualities and why are they important?

Consider for a moment, what we look for when choosing our friends and our partners, be they ones with whom we wish to share our lives or different ventures, work-related or otherwise - and people we elect to represent us in public office. While academic or formal qualifications may be a part of the equation, personal attributes and attractive qualities are likely to be the differentiating and deciding factors. Good, strong characters can enrich our lives enormously whilst weak or bad characters can have devastating effects on them.

Powerful influences and repercussions from an early age

When a baby comes into the world, what do we hope for him or her? Health? Happiness? Success? We each have our own interpretation of what these mean but if we aspire to creating and nurturing positive life chances and opportunities for desirable outcomes, then it’s important that we strive to ensure the child is continuously experiencing supportive, good quality influences, especially during the tender, pre-school years.

Naturally, the development of a child’s character is profoundly shaped by his or her parents or other early carers and hence the increasingly recognised imperative for skilful, informed, confident parenting and, if a child is at risk, early intervention to prevent long-term damage. As time goes by, teachers and other influential adults play significant parts in the process of children developing positive character traits.

Are we being sufficiently prepared and trained to undertake these roles well? Some of the young winners of the Princess Diana Awards exhibit just what can be achieved with inspired character development.

August 2011 riots - the importance of character

In March 2012 a final report was issued with the findings of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel that investigated various aspects of the disturbances, which took place in several pockets in England in August 2011. The panelists consider that one of the essential requirements to avoiding future riots is to have communities that work, one feature of which is that the parents and schools ensure children develop the values, skills and character to make the right choices at crucial moments.

The panel members describe how they met people who had been convicted of various riot-related offences and several people who had suffered considerable disadvantage but who chose not to get involved last August. When ascertaining what led those young people to making the right choice in the heat of the moment, the significance of character emerged. The report outlines a number of attributes that together form character, including self-discipline, application, the ability to defer gratification and resilience in recovering from setbacks and commented that young people, who consciously work on developing character, will be best placed to make the most of their lives, including their employment prospects.

The role of schools in character building

The Riots Communities and Victims Panel’s recommendations include a new approach to building character as an integral part of school life. In respect of personal resilience, there is a call for schools to publish policies for building the character of their pupils and regularly assessing pupils’ strength of character. Also advocated is character building as a central part of the review of Personal, Social and Economic education and for Ofsted to undertake, from October 2013, a thorough thematic review into how primary and secondary schools build character in their pupils.

Character capabilities developed during values education

Values-based schools, already living and breathing a values consciousness that permeates the whole school and all that takes place within it, know the uplifting, transformative effects not only on their pupils and their characters but also their achievements, inter-personal relationships and acceptance of responsibility for their behaviour. Additionally, they appreciate the favourable impacts experienced on the quality of teaching, learning and leadership – with the benefits felt by all school staff, whatever their role, along with parents and carers in the home environment.

Evidence from around the world shows that good, explicit values education provides a rewarding approach to character development as it engages individuals in an holistic way, gradually equipping participants with the understanding, confidence and skills to enable them to live as empowered, resilient, informed members of society. It leads to a greater understanding of oneself and others as it embraces the emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical and social aspects of our makeup. With teachers’ appropriate professional learning and application, including consistent, congruent modelling of positive values and providing safe, supportive classroom environments, pupils have the opportunity of exploring and reflecting upon a wide range of important and relevant issues in local, national and global contexts. From an early age, children can begin to consider real-life situations and realise the potential ramifications of choices they make on a day-to-day basis or may make later on, at different stages in their lives.

Managing the values education journey

For both facilitators and pupils, the process can sometimes uncover fears and matters that need sensitive handling and may take time and understanding to resolve. However, as with other areas of growth and learning, participants often express their delight at obstacles they have overcome and the changes they observe in themselves, their relationships and performance. Often not only pupils but teachers and other members of staff, along with parents and carers, are elated by the sense of wellbeing derived from the values education guidance and practices and the beneficial changes they feel empowered to make to strengthen and improve different areas of their lives.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"