What is character? Where does it come from? The term character and personality are always used interchangeably and used to describe someone’s behaviour. Character is defined as a combination of qualities in a person that makes them different from others, such as being honest or polite.
Character traits are based on beliefs and can be developed. The positive values, beliefs, principals, one is taught during one’s formative years as a child has a large bearing to one’s character. These values are exemplified by people who we have relationships with such as our parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings, friends – essentially the people who we spend most time with. Similarly, experiencing challenging situations such as crucible episodes during one’s childhood will also shape one’s character. Whilst personality may be easier to decipher, character takes longer to figure out. It requires time and engagement through various circumstances before a character of a person is known. It is for this reason, future employers reach out to referees for character inquiries.
How can we develop character in students
Building positive character is a process and it is shared responsibility between parents, teachers and the community. Horace Mann, a lawyer and an American education reformer, in the 1840s advocated equal importance to academics and character development. Martin Lurther King also said
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”
Character development can be taught in schools through structured syllabuses. Character development syllabuses can be drawn to encompass the core pillars of character such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. It is imperative that schools integrate these programs early in the schooling years. The effectiveness of these syllabus can be enhanced with follow-through by parents at home or get professional help from speech writer online, to help develop public speaking that directly affects character. As far as it is known, public speaking directly depends on the character type of the individual. Commitment by teachers and parents is integral in ensuring development of character. Discover below some of the ways we can teach universally ethical values at an early age in schools.
Lead by example
Students learn by examples displayed by the people around them, be it teachers or parents. Teachers shape minds and mould characters - they are seen as leaders in a community. Teachers play a pivotal role in character development due to the hours spent with students in schools. Parents at home must practise what they preach. So if the goal is to teach students responsibility, discipline, honesty, fairness, compassion - then the adults must display them by actions! Get that task completed on time when you say you will, be fair in delegating duties to students, speak the truth although telling a lie is an easier alternative. Show courage and execute difficult tasks even when no one is watching. Share your meal with your co-teacher who is sitting alone with no snack at breaktime.
Encourage to help others
Getting kids involved in selfless activities (volunteerism) is another way we can develop character. Perhaps spend a Saturday afternoon at an old folks home - cleaning up their space, reading books to the old folks, making them a snack or even just talking to the old folks is just one of the ways you can teach students about helping. Students gain value and develop a sense of pride. Upon completion of the activity, students will experience uplifting of moods and share “feel good” responses. This is simply because of the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine by the brains.
We see so often today the lack of accountability amongst adults and leaders. Accountability is not something that can be developed and perfected overnight. Teachers and parents must police this. Students need to know that if rules are not followed or homework is not completed, they must own up and take responsibility. Owning up and taking responsibility also teaches them about integrity, another core value.
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Acts of kindness
“Our characters are the result of our conduct” – Aristotle
Students must also be taught how to discriminate between doing the right thing from the wrong thing. This takes practise (you need knowledge too) but over time with guidance, these students will grow up to be wise. Discussing with students or children at home about how they behaved at the end of the day is one way of ensuring there is progress in character development. Have a reward system in place and give recognition for doing the right action.
Engaging children to clean up their space is imperative in building character. Take lead from the Japanese education system - where students sweep, mop, dust, clean windows in the classroom, serve lunch and clean toilets. During cleaning, older kids help and teach younger kids. The concept of teamwork is also harnessed. But why cleaning? Their reasoning is simple – students have to respect their surroundings. It’s about developing character.
Importance of Developing Character
Character is the cornerstone of one’s personality. A person with good character will always be respected. Here are more reasons why character development is important.
Students with character are akin to us human taking vaccines and developing antibodies. Like a vaccine that protects us from a disease, character helps us face and overcome adversities and challenges. Character developed from experience and values keep students grounded and will help them manage difficult situations appropriately. In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
A good and structured character development programme (including a supportive system at home) will help students discover who they are, their strengths and self-worth. A childhood with good bonding between students and their role models (ie. teachers, parents) imparts valuable lessons, provides a sense of protection, gives comfort and inspire them to explore risks. These students will grow up to be confident leaders and change-makers. Case on point is Anne Mulcahy.
Teachers and parents impart moral values as they desire their students and children to be people with good judgement, honourable, and upstanding when they are adults. The hope is that students become trustworthy, caring, respectful, responsible, accountable citizens. Better people make better communities. Research has also found that with good character development programmes, there is a drop in alcohol and drug abuse, discipline and vandalism, decrease in bullying, rudeness and unacceptable behaviour and increase in school attendance, discipline, student morale and student responsibility when they are still in school.
Another interesting read: Leadership in Volunteering
A student that is equipt (by way of continuous practise and experience) with good values such as team work, kindness, integrity, fairness, respect and accountability will make good leaders. Exposure to good strong characters around them such as their teachers or parents, would teach them how to communicate effectively (and this includes listening and being visible), be respectful, resilient and honest - which are pre-requisites to be a great leader. Students who receive good leadership lessons at home or in school, will take on responsibilities and become leaders themselves. Any leader who is armed with good communicating skills is always appreciated by employees as that builds trust and keeps employees engaged.
“In the end, it is our character that makes us or breaks us” – Michael S. Hyatt
Giving creates a warm and positive feeling. Watch this Leaderonomics video and see how a little kindness has a ripple effect.