Our school started something new this year to help create a culture of caring kids. We had previously focused on “life skills” and had posters in every classroom displaying traits like cooperation, responsibility, respect, perseverance, etc. Students who showed those traits were nominated by their teachers every Friday and had their names read on the announcements. They also had their pictures taken and displayed all year on a board outside of the office.
This was a great way to recognize those students who did kind things for others, went above and beyond, and truly stood out as great citizens in our school. However, we weren’t really teaching students those traits. Sure, I’d brag on someone, “Oh, I love the way Suzy just picked up the book Joey dropped without being asked” or “Wow, Jamie completed all of his homework early this week!” But then students thought the only way to show caring was by picking up books or turning homework in early to show responsibility. It wasn’t generalizing.
This year, our school became a More Than Words school. This is actually a local initiative that came out of a neighboring district. Each month we focus on one aspect of being a good citizen– forgiveness, obedience, respect, humility, etc. Each morning on the announcements, the word of the month is discussed through examples and quotes.
We have posters hanging in each classroom that also highlight the trait of the month. We’re emailed activities and lessons to support our students throughout the month as well. Then at the end of the month, students who especially stood out for that month’s focus are recognized on the announcements and have their pictures taken for our wall.
We’ve also started doing a school motto that everyone chants at the end of the announcements. It matches our school tshirts too.
I think we talk about common language a lot in our curriculum. We use the same academic language in reading, writing, and math. But when it comes to teaching character, we definitely weren’t. We all know there are a million things to teach every day and two million standards to pack in the year. But, these simple More Than Words activities and announcements are a step in the right direction.
I did some research and found that our local initiative came out of the larger Core Essentials framework. You can check them out if you’re looking for a way to teach character in your school too.