Character education boosts academic achievement

Published: Sunday, March 10 2013 12:24 a.m. MST

Most would agree that our educational establishments, in addition to teaching academic skills and imparting intellectual information, have a responsibility to teach social principles and impart practical life skills.

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Character education at school is often touted as a way to help students become better citizens. But teaching kids skills and values like respect, honesty and persistence improves their academic success, too, said a February story in Education Week magazine.

That could mean that the time it takes to teach values at school — often viewed as an intrusion on busy school schedules — might be worth spending. Discussions about teaching character at school have a couple of friction points, though.

"Some challenge the notion of the public schools, rather than families, being charged with teaching values," the story said. "They are concerned about whose values will be taught. Others, however, maintain that schools and families should share the job of nurturing character."

Data analysis conducted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning showed that students who receive instruction in "social and emotional learning" had more positive attitudes about school and improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students who didn't receive such instruction.

"Social and emotional learning helps students become good communicators, cooperative members of a team, effective leaders, and caring, concerned members of their communities," according to CASEL. "It teaches them how to set and achieve goals and how to persist in the face of challenges. These are precisely the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future."

The popularity of trying to teach values at school waxes and wanes, but the pendulum might be swinging in favor of character education because of concern over sexting, bullying and the need to prepare students with skills they need to succeed at college, the Education Week story said. The recent killings of 26 students and adults in Newtown, Conn., have further increased interest, it said.

Child Trends, a clearinghouse for research about improving children's lives, includes a paper about how teens can develop resilience, a key value in many character education programs. Developing resilience gives teens advantages in meeting future challenges and responsibilities, even if they experience poverty, health problems or difficult family relationships, the paper said.

The suggestions can guide educators and parents in helping students learn resilience, and teens can use them on their own. Child Trends suggests that to develop resilience, teens should:

Get regular exercise (yoga, running, martial arts, team or individual sports)

Eat regular meals

Avoid using excessive caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks)

Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco

Learn relaxation techniques (deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation)

Develop assertiveness skills (how politely but firmly to say “no,” or to state one’s feelings)

Rehearse and practice responses to stressful situations

Break down large tasks into smaller, more attainable tasks

Learn to recognize and reduce negative self-talk. Challenge negative thoughts about oneself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts

Avoid demanding perfection from self or others; instead, learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job

Take a break from stressful activities or situations. Engage in a hobby, listen to music, or spend time with a pet

Build a network of friends who can help with coping in positive ways.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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