The last 2 days at the Conference on Character, Culture and Values hosted by Character Scotland have been very thought provoking. The focus was around the case for character education and as such mainly around how the appreciation of character can benefit our young people....fascinating stuff and a few more blogs coming around the workshop topics and keynote speeches.
Overall, there was a bit of not quite confusion but certainly a lack of a common understanding of what character actually is - how is it the same or different to values? Does it really matter? I liked the discussion in the open space session at the end of today where a gentleman described the purpose of schools is not 'just' to educate young people with skills and knowledge but also this otherliness...something that to some seems intangible but is the discovery and rounding of ones' character...whatever we choose to call it, and there are many options. From social and emotional well being, personal development, personal and social education, values education, character education...the list was long!
The definition Character Scotland offer is "Character refers to our motivations and capacities to be moral agents and contribute to a better world."
VIA Institute on Character define it as attributes that are "morally and universally valued, encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others and produce positive effects when we express them."
Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz of the Center for Character and Citizenship simply states character is "being a good person" And even perhaps most usefully warns against getting bogged down in detail and disputes over our preferred choice of words.
Whatever our choice of language to describe character education there is certainly, in Scotland, a move toward embracing it on some level within education. The 4 capacities within Curriculum for Excellence (successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors) indicates that education is much more than purely academics. However, it's also clear that we are very much at the beginning of this journey and have a long way still to travel...if there actually can ever be a finite destination when it comes to raising awareness of and forging of young peoples character.
What I do know is that it is vital we collaborate to make this happen. Even using purely my own personal and professional experience it is clear that too many young people leave education without a sense of self or ability to describe who they are and what they can do in a positive light. And indeed this translates to my work with adults some of whom again have a poor sense of self awareness. Which further translates into the sad reality of lost potential.
Scotland is a highly educated population yet it doesn't translate this resource into productivity - why not? I wholeheartedly believe it is because of a lack of individuals self belief and confidence in the genuine impact their contribution makes to their community and country.
Equally, there is more to this than the economic output. What is the culture we want to create? What qualities do we value in people? What kind of person do we want to live or work beside? Of course we want character strengths such as kindness, perseverance, courage, honesty, forgiveness, hope, gratitude, humour.
Character education is, in my view, in line with emotional literacy and there is an enormous body of evidence that supports emotional intelligence being the foundation to success, that people who are flourishing achieve better results than those who are not. So to support someone develop a strong sense of self and confidence in the value of their contribution WILL translate to improved attainment. However, for those who still harbour a seed of cynicism...what's the worst that can happen? Young people leave with with grades they would've achieved anyway but with far greater confidence. I know I'm sold.
But teachers can't do this alone. They can trailblaze and play a vital part as they are every day role models of how to 'be'...authentic, compassionate and resilient humans but they need help. It's true that team work makes the dream work and schools and organisations working with young people need to engage with each other to create solutions that work for their own situation. I don't believe one size can fit all. Geography, school size, needs of pupils, support needs of teachers and local resources to name a few all come into play. I do have a strong sense that adopting a coaching approach is key to truly valuing and embedding personal development within education and related fields.
Character education is an ideal approach to innovate, collaborate and reach into the community to make a real difference both the the young people themselves and through the results of the activities they forge their sense of self through and the peoples' lives they touch in the process.