Character Education: Who, What, Why?

by | Oct 5, 2021 | Family, School

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Character Education

Do you want your child to grow up to be a “good person?” Of course you do. The learning of certain character traits benefits children throughout their entire life. Character Education is based on the common attitudes and behaviors that people deem to be important in becoming a responsible and productive member in society. So how does this work in school?

kids on playground, text- all learning has an emotional base

Character Education is taught in school to promote being a good human. Students learn how to interact with society. They learn the importance of virtues like justice, wisdom and courage. Character Education also includes learning to regulate feelings, thoughts and actions. 

Holistic Approach

Schools use a holistic approach to teaching Character Education. While teaching students reading, writing, science and math, teachers also instruct them on positive character traits. Parents recognize the importance in these skills and expect traits to be taught in school. Character education and intellectual development compliment each other. Children need both to be successful in life.

Social Emotional Learning and Character education

The connection between Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Traits is seen and felt in school and outside activities. SEL empowers students to be active learners and helps them become more successful in school. When a student is successful and recognizes how to utilize the character traits it impacts the social emotional learning taking place. Parents especially want their child to have these traits:

Traits for Interacting with Society: Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Honesty, Kindness, Compassion

Traits for Regulating Yourself: Empathy, Self-Control, Compassion, Respect

Character Education

Character is not something you are born with, but is developed throughout life with the support of parents, extended family and in education. There needs to be time for children to learn each trait. This means there needs to be explicit instruction. Then there needs to be role modeling so they see what they look like. Lots of role modeling, and practicing with other students their age.

Children need to have strong social emotional skills to be successful in learning academics. So for example when a student has self-control it helps them to transition from literacy to a brain break or the opposite. The same thing happens when cleaning up the area at their table spot or desk when they are done with an activity. Cleaning up is part of being responsible, but is much easier when a child understands why it is important to be a responsible person.

girl looking left holding out glasses

What do some of these traits mean?

Here are some examples taken from Responsive Classroom© guidance.

  • Cooperation (working smoothly with others)
  • Assertiveness (confidently putting forth your ideas and opinions)
  • Responsibility (taking charge of yourself and working hard at your learning)
  • Self-Control (thinking before acting)
  • Empathy (listening to others and understanding how they might respond to your words or actions)

By focusing on one at a time and modeling with your child what it looks like and sounds like your child will gain the skills to be successful at home, school, and in public. It takes time and patience to develop these skills. These are not skills that just naturally happen. Character education needs to be practiced at home, school and in public.

Social and Emotional Development

What does social and emotional development mean?  There are specific standards or benchmarks that teachers look at and use when implanting these skills at school. They scaffold so that as you get older and are develop mentally ready there are more to learn.

Components of Social Emotional Learning

  • Self-Management
  • Self-Awareness
  • Responsible Decision Making
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness

Teachers Scaffold Character Education Traits


  1. I can demonstrate calming strategies in order to manage emotions, thoughts, impulses and stress with adult support. (Self-Management)
  2. I can consistently transition before and after activities with occasional adult guidance.(Self-Management)
  3. I can recognize and label my emotions and feelings. (Self-Awareness)
  4. I can identify and follow shared bus, classroom, and school norms and expectations. (Responsible Decision Making)
  5. I can take turns and share with others. (Relationship Skills)
  6. I can show care and understanding for others, my environment and myself. (Social Awareness)

First Grade:

  1. Same as kindergarten.
  2. I can identify emotions related to different situations or events. (Self-Awareness)
  3. I can understand that decisions can have positive and negative effects on myself and others. (Responsible Decision Making)
  4. I can listen to others when they are speaking. (Relationship Skills)
  5. I can recognize that others may experience situations differently from them.  (Social Awareness)

Second Grade:

  1. I can recognize that I am in charge of my own behavior. (Self-Management)
  2. I can identify positive and negative emotions within myself. (Self-Awareness)
  3. I can identify and follow shared bus, classroom, and school norms and expectations. (Responsible Decision Making)
  4. I can take turns and share with others. (Relationship Skills)
  5. I can recognize that others may experience situations differently from myself. (Social Awareness)

Third Grade/Fourth Grade/Fifth Grade:

  1. All of the above.
  2. I can independently and consistently apply the skills and strategies taught. (Self-Management)

Who? When?

Who teaches character education and social emotional learning to our children? All of us! It takes a village to meet the needs of our children. Character traits are taught throughout the day at school by teacher, counselors, para professionals and administrators. Traits are used throughout the day during morning meeting, walking in the hallway, transitioning to lunch, playing outside at recess, partner work, on the bus, walking to and from school, and many more times throughout the day. Many of the times character traits are taught are not during the planned instruction, but during the opportune times that are called “this is a teachable moment.” 

girl smiling at adult holding a smiling face drawing, character education


As a parent it is most important to know what traits or verbiage is being used at school so you can use those same words or verbiage at home. Consistency is so important and benefits children in so many ways. There are many ways that parents and educators can work together to support children. The more consistent message the quicker and authentic the learning will be for children.

As you prepare for Parent/Teacher Conferences, be sure you ask the teacher about your child’s character development. The teacher can share topics and activities they use to instruct these skills. You will be able to support the teacher’s learning goals by modeling the character traits at home. Parent/School partnership makes learning more powerful. 


Overall, all of us want our children to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Utilizing the character traits and social emotional learning when children are young will benefit them in being successful in society. These are lifelong skills that ultimately benefit human beings. It takes a village to make it happen.

by Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach

Character Education: Who, What, Why?

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