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Character Education Partnership Alignment

The eleven principles of effective Character Education and
how Project Wisdom aligns with these principles.

Character Education Partnership (CEP) is one of the world's premier character education organizations. It is recognized as a leader in the field and a leading advocate for developing young people of good character and civic virtue. The following document aligns Project Wisdom with CEP's Eleven Principles of Character Education.

Principle One - Promotes core ethical values as the basis of good character.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these Principles

Character education holds that widely shared, pivotally important, core ethical values such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for self and others form the basis of good character. A school committed to character development stands for these values (sometimes referred to as "virtues" or "character traits"), defines them in terms of behaviors that can be observed in the life of the school, models these values, studies and discusses them, uses them as the basis of human relations in the school, celebrates their manifestations in the school and community, and holds all school members accountable to standards of conduct consistent with the core values.

In a school committed to developing character, these core values are treated as a matter of obligation, as having a claim on the conscience of the individual and community. Character education asserts that the validity of these values, and our responsibility to uphold them, derive from the fact that such values affirm our human dignity, promote the development and welfare of the individual person, serve the common good, meet the classical tests of reversibility (i.e., Would you want to be treated this way?) and universality (i.e., Would you want all persons to act this way in a similar situation?), and inform our rights and responsibilities in a democratic society. The school makes clear that these basic human values transcend religious and cultural differences, and express our common humanity.

Project Wisdom is a simple, but effective character education program. The centerpiece of the program is a collection of thought-provoking messages designed to be read over the PA or in-house television system.

The Project Wisdom daily broadcast messages not only encourage students to reflect upon the meaning of core ethical values, but to apply those same values to their daily lives. The program helps students understand that any true success is rooted in respectful, responsible, and caring behaviors at home, school, in personal and professional relationships, and in their community.

We encourage schools to adopt Project Wisdom as part of their daily routine so as to reach all students and staff on campus each school day. Feedback from educators over the years has repeatedly indicated that the program sets a positive tone for the day and communicates expectations with regard to high standards of behavior.

The values fostered by Project Wisdom include: Caring, Civility, Citizenship, Compassion, Confidence, Cooperation, Courage, Diligence, Education, Empathy, Fairness, Forgiveness, Golden Rule, Gratitude, Honesty, Human Dignity and Worth, Human Excellence, Integrity, Kindness, Love, Love of Learning, Nonviolence, Conflict Resolution, Patience, Patriotism, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Positive Work Ethic, Prudence, Respect, Responsibility, Individual and Social Service to Others, and Tolerance.

Principle 2 - Defines "character" comprehensively to include
thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Good character involves understanding, caring about, and acting upon core ethical values. A holistic approach to character development therefore seeks to develop the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of moral life.

Students grow to understand core values by studying and discussing them, observing behavioral models, and resolving problems involving the values.

Students learn to care about core values by developing empathy skills, forming caring relationships, helping to create community, hearing illustrative and inspirational stories, and reflecting on life experiences. And they learn to act upon core values by developing prosocial behaviors (e.g., communicating feelings, active listening, helping skills) and by repeatedly practicing these behaviors, especially in the context of relationships (e.g., through cross-age tutoring, mediating conflicts, community service).

As children grow in character, they develop an increasingly refined understanding of the core values, a deeper commitment to living according to those values, and a stronger capacity and tendency to behave in accordance with them.

The program's broadcast messages, weekly journals, and lesson plans strive to address the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of moral life by teaching students to understand, care about, and act upon core ethical values.

Students are taught positive character traits and values through the use of quotations, maxims, and proverbs and within the context of the lives of contemporary and historical role models. A white paper titled "The Importance of Role Modeling" is provided with the program.

Students learn to care about core values as they are taught the benefits of developing strong character. Caring and helpful behaviors are fostered through the program. Thought-provoking questions within the broadcast messages themselves, discussion generators, and writing prompts stimulate student conversation about character issues. These discussion generators and writing prompts help students think through the meaning of the message, as well as to consider the everyday applicability. Resulting classroom discussions can help students learn to communicate more effectively and appropriately while using their critical thinking skills. Inspirational vignettes are a part of many of the broadcast messages.

Students are exposed to a wide and diverse selection of inspiring role models, quotations, adages, and anecdotes that inspire them toward more caring and responsible behaviors. Key findings from a third-party evaluation indicate reduced incidents of teasing and bullying, and discipline referrals in general.

Principle 3 - Uses a comprehensive, intentional, proactive, and effective
approach to character development.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Schools committed to character development look at themselves through a moral lens to assess how virtually everything that goes on in school affects the character of students.

A comprehensive approach uses all aspects of schooling as opportunities for character development. This includes what is sometimes called the hidden curriculum (e.g., school ceremonies and procedures; the teacher's example; students relationships with teachers, other school staff, and each other; the instructional process; how student diversity is addressed; the assessment of learning; the management of the school environment; the discipline policy); the academic curriculum (i.e., core subjects, including the health curriculum); and extracurricular programs (i.e., sports teams, clubs, service projects, after-school care).  

"Stand alone" character education programs can be useful first steps or helpful elements of an ongoing effort but are not an adequate substitute for a holistic approach that integrates character development into every aspect of school life.

Finally, rather than simply waiting for opportunities to arise, with an intentional and proactive approach, the school staff takes deliberate steps for developing character, drawing wherever possible on practices shown by research to be effective.

Schools are encouraged to use Project Wisdom as a springboard for a more comprehensive approach by 1) examining the concepts and rationale of character education; 2) forming a character education SDMC; 3) creating a vision statement; 4) examining and discussing the values presented in Project Wisdom and how those values align with values the school and community agree to foster; 5) examining the need for moral leadership on campus and the importance of role modeling caring and ethical behaviors; 6) examining the school ethos, including rituals, rules, procedures; 7) involving the community; 8) integrating values into the classroom; 9) creating service-learning projects; 10) establishing a baseline of social behaviors and academic performance for assessment purposes; and 11) recognizing and rewarding honorable behaviors.

Project Wisdom is intended to be part of a more comprehensive initiative. All licensed schools are provided with a tool titled "Wise Choices for a Comprehensive Character Education Initiative," which aligns well with CEP's 11 Principles of Effective Character Education.

A third-party evaluation shows Project Wisdom to be effective. By implementing this research-based program, along with the steps recommended for a more comprehensive initiative, an intentional and proactive approach to character education is taken.

Principle 4 - Creates a caring school community.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

A school committed to character strives to become a microcosm of a civil, caring, and just society. It does this by creating a community that helps all its members form caring attachments to one another. This involves developing caring relationships among students (within and across grade levels), among staff, between students and staff, and between staff and families.

These caring relationships foster both the desire to learn and the desire to be a good person. All children and adolescents have needs for safety, belonging, and the experience of contributing, and they are more likely to internalize the values and expectations of groups that meet these needs.

Likewise, if staff members and parents experience mutual respect, fairness, and cooperation in their relationships with each other, they are more likely to develop the capacity to promote those values in students. In a caring school community, the daily life of classrooms and all other parts of the school environment (e.g., the corridors, cafeteria, playground, school bus, front office, and teachers' lounge) are imbued with a climate of concern and respect for others.

The Project Wisdom program reaches every student and every staff member every day, creating a feeling of unity among everyone on campus as they stop together and ponder the message for the day. An expectation of respectful, responsible, and caring behavior is established.

On many Project Wisdom campuses, the principal narrates these character-building messages and clearly establishes his or her role in terms of ethical and caring leadership. Counselors and administrators also report that these messages open doors of communication between them and the student body. This communicates to students that adults on campus care about the values fostered while generating meaningful conversation between them and students. Students have repeatedly reported feeling "cared about" when listening to these daily inspirational broadcast messages.

Project Wisdom fosters a more caring school climate by encouraging respectful behaviors and acts of kindness and by decreasing incidents of bullying, teasing, and other disruptive behaviors.

A third-party evaluation indicates that Project Wisdom affects the school climate in a positive way.

Principle 5 - Provides students with opportunities for moral action.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

In the ethical as in the intellectual domain, students are constructive learners; they learn best by doing. To develop good character, they need many and varied opportunities to apply values such as compassion, responsibility, and fairness in everyday interactions and discussions as well as through community service.

  By grappling with real-life challenges (e.g., how to divide the labor in a cooperative learning group, how to reach consensus in a class meeting, how to reduce fights on the playground, how to carry out a service learning project) and reflecting on these experiences, students develop practical understanding of the requirements of cooperating with others and giving of oneself.

Through repeated moral experiences, students develop and practice the skills and behavioral habits that make up the action side of character.

Students are encouraged to apply to their daily lives the character lesson presented in each Project Wisdom message and lesson plan. Helpful behaviors and service to others is stressed throughout the program, providing students with inspiration and encouragement to "do the right thing" in all their interactions with others.

The Project Wisdom lesson plans include thought-provoking worksheets and discussion generators which provide students with an opportunity to reflect on and discuss real-life challenges and opportunities to apply positive character traits at school, at home, and in the community.

Principle 6 - Includes a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

When students succeed at the work of school and feel a sense of competence and autonomy, they are more likely to feel valued and cared about as persons.

Because students come to school with diverse skills, interests, and needs, an academic program that helps all students succeed will be one in which the content and pedagogy are sophisticated enough to engage all learners.

This means providing a curriculum that is inherently interesting and meaningful to students. A meaningful curriculum includes active teaching and learning methods such as cooperative learning, problem-solving approaches, and experience-based projects.

These approaches increase student autonomy by appealing to students' interests, providing them with opportunities to think creatively and test their ideas, and fostering a sense of "voice and choice" having a say in decisions and plans that affect them.

In addition, effective character educators look for the natural intersections between the academic content they wish to teach and the character qualities they wish to develop. These "character connections" can take many forms, such as addressing current ethical issues in science, debating historical practices and decisions, and discussing character traits and ethical dilemmas in literature.

When teachers bring to the fore the character dimension of the curriculum, they enhance the relevance of subject matter to students' natural interests and questions, and in the process, increase student engagement and achievement.

An abundance of qualitative data gathered over the past decade indicates that many students find encouragement from the program to do their personal best at school. Many report an improvement in grades.

The Project Wisdom Educator Resource Site lesson plans deal with engaging issues relevant to students, such as substance abuse, bullying, health and well-being, media literacy, relationship skills, etc. These lesson plans support the academic program by integrating character education into academic areas such as language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Through writing prompts and classroom discussion generators that deal with meaningful topics, students are encouraged to think through common challenges and explore both the costs and benefits of principle-based decision making. Service learning is encouraged.

Students are given voice in classroom discussions. Writing prompts and discussion generators encourage creative and independent thinking. The concept of choice and personal responsibility are fundamental to the program.

Teachers, staff, and service workers are encouraged to seize teachable moments by referring to the weekly themes or daily broadcast messages in conversations with students. The lesson plans provided are specifically designed to make character connections to academic content.

Secondary-level lesson plans include follow-up activities that integrate with academic areas such as language arts, science, math, art, social studies, and computer science. Elementary-level content includes follow-up activities written by a language arts specialist and draws heavily on children's literature.

Principle 7 - Strives to foster students' self motivation.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Character is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is looking." The best underlying ethical reason for following rules, for example, is respect for the rights and needs of others, not fear of punishment or desire for a reward. Similarly, we want students to be kind to others because of an inner belief that kindness is good and a desire to be a kind person.

Growing in self-motivation is a developmental process that schools of character are careful not to undermine by excessive emphasis on extrinsic incentives. When such schools give appropriate social recognition for students' prosocial actions (e.g., "Thank you for holding the door; that was a thoughtful thing to do.") or celebrate character through special awards (e.g., for outstanding school or community service), they keep the focus on character.

Schools of character work with students to develop their understanding of rules, their awareness of how their behavior affects others, and the character strengths such as self-control, perspective taking, and conflict-resolution skills needed to act responsibly in the future.

Rather than settle for mere compliance, these schools seek to help students benefit from their mistakes by providing meaningful opportunities for reflection, problem solving, and restitution.

The meaning and application of core ethical values is explored throughout the program, encouraging students to do and be their personal best. Students hear daily reminders of what it means to be a caring and responsible human being. Choosing caring and responsible behaviors is not only the right thing to do, it helps them build a more successful life.

Through discussion generators and writing prompts, students are encouraged to evaluate their own character and to carefully consider how their choices impact those around them. They explore natural consequences and the benefits of principle-based decision making. Key findings of the program evaluation indicate that students become internally motivated to make wiser choices.

Project Wisdom provides content that fosters an understanding of rules, how one's behavior impacts others, as well as character strengths such as self-management, conflict resolution, and perspective taking. A third-party evaluation indicates that Project Wisdom increases students' self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Weekly journals and worksheets are provided that allow students to reflect on poor choices and explore ways of making wiser choices in the future.

Principle 8 - Engages the school staff as a learning and moral community that shares responsibility for character education and attempts to adhere to the same core values that guide the education of students.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

All school staff — teachers, administrators, counselors, school psychologists, coaches, secretaries, cafeteria workers, playground aides, and bus drivers — need to be involved in learning about, discussing, and taking ownership of the character education effort. First and foremost, staff members assume this responsibility by modeling the core values in their own behavior and taking advantage of other opportunities to influence the students with whom they interact.

Second, the same values and norms that govern the life of students serve to govern the collective life of adult members in the school community. Like students, adults grow in character by working collaboratively with each other and participating in decision-making that improves classrooms and school. They also benefit from extended staff development and opportunities to observe colleagues and then apply character-development strategies in their own work with students.

Third, a school that devotes time to staff reflection on moral matters helps to ensure that it operates with integrity. Through faculty meetings and smaller support groups, a reflective staff regularly asks questions such as:

  • What character-building experiences is the school already providing for its students?
  • What negative moral experiences (e.g., peer cruelty, student cheating, adult disrespect of students, littering of the grounds) is the school currently failing to address?
  • And what important moral experiences (e.g., cooperative learning; school and community service; opportunities to learn about and interact with people from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds) is the school now omitting?
  • What school practices are at odds with its professed core values and desire to develop a caring school community?

Reflection of this nature is an indispensable condition for developing the moral life of a school.

The Project Wisdom broadcast messages provide an excellent opportunity for all adults on campus to be directly involved in the character education effort. Staff members frequently serve as narrators sending the message to students that the entire school community cares about character development. Educators report that because the Project Wisdom broadcast messages are heard schoolwide, they set the tone for the day and express a high level of expectation with regard to behaviors, for both students and adults.

One key finding from the program evaluation indicates that adult members in the school community are positively impacted by the program and that teacher morale is boosted. Weekly morale boosters written for educators are delivered via email to every registered Project Wisdom Educator Resource Site user, and motivational teacher stories are posted to the site. These provide a means of sharing successful strategies and powerful classroom experiences.

Assessment tools developed by the International Center for Character Education at the University of San Diego are provided. These tools can provide a springboard for reflection and discussion to ensure that the school operates with integrity. One of these tools is designed to gather information about the faculty's perceptions of the character education initiative, and another provides an opportunity to take an inventory of school problems.

Group discussions provide a meaningful experience that promotes consideration of various perspectives. Tolerance and understanding of the different races, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds is promoted.

Schools are then encouraged to examine the school's ethos, its hidden curriculum, its rituals and celebrations, its rules and procedures, its buildings and grounds.

Principle 9 - Fosters shared moral leadership and long-range support
of the character education initiative.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Schools that are engaged in effective character education have leaders (e.g., the principal, a lead teacher or counselor, a district administrator, or preferably a small group of such individuals) who champion the effort.

At least initially, many schools and districts establish a character education committee often composed of staff, students, parents, and possibly community members that takes responsibility for planning, implementation, and support.

Over time, the regular governing bodies of the school or district may take on the functions of this committee. The leadership also takes steps to provide for the long-range support (e.g., adequate staff development, time to plan) of the character education initiative, including, ideally, support at the district and state levels.

In addition, within the school, students assume developmentally appropriate roles in leading the character education effort through class meetings, student government, peer mediation, cross-age tutoring, service clubs, task forces, and student-led initiatives.

The daily Project Wisdom broadcast messages is most frequently narrated by principals, assistant principals, and counselors, enhancing their roles as moral leaders.

Schools are encouraged to form a character education team by enrolling the support of teachers, students, administrators, office staff, cafeteria workers, parents, and neighborhood businesspeople.

Schools are encouraged to form a character education team that includes students. On many campuses, students and student organizations serve as Project Wisdom narrators.

Principle 10 - Engages families and community members as
partners in the character-building effort.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Schools that reach out to families and include them in character-building efforts greatly enhance their chances for success with students. They take pains at every stage to communicate with families via newsletters, e-mails, family nights, and parent conferences about goals and activities regarding character education. To build greater trust between home and school, parents are represented on the character education committee. These schools also make a special effort to reach out to subgroups of parents who may not feel part of the school community. Finally, schools and families enhance the effectiveness of their partnership by recruiting the help of the wider community (i.e., businesses, youth organizations, religious institutions, the government, and the media) in promoting character development.

Many schools invite parents, grandparents, and community members to campus to narrate the messages. Some schools send students out into the community to prerecord community members. This is a great way to involve the community in their character education initiative while sending a clear signal to students that the community cares about the education of their hearts as well as their minds.

A Community Involvement Inventory, written by the International Center for Character Education at the University of San Diego, is provided. This tool encourages local companies, faith organizations, parent groups, civic groups, law-enforcement agencies, and youth services agencies to get involved.

Principle 11 - Evaluates the character of the school, the school staff's functioning as character educators, and the extent to which students manifest good character.
Principles of Effective Character Education How Project Wisdom aligns with these requirements

Effective character education must include an effort to assess progress. Three broad kinds of outcomes merit attention:

(a) The character of the school: To what extent is the school becoming a more caring community? This can be assessed, for example, with surveys that ask students to indicate the extent to which they agree with statements such as "Students in this school (classroom) respect and care about each other" and "This school (classroom) is like a family."

(b) The school staff's growth as character educators: To what extent have adult staff--teaching faculty, administrators, and support personnel--developed understandings of what they can do to foster character development? Personal commitment to doing so? Skills to carry it out? Consistent habits of acting upon their developing capacities as character educators?

(c) Student character: To what extent do students manifest understanding of, commitment to, and action upon the core ethical values? Schools can, for example, gather data on various character-related behaviors: Has student attendance gone up? Fights and suspensions gone down? Vandalism declined? Drug incidents diminished? Schools can also assess the three domains of character (knowing, feeling, and behaving) through anonymous questionnaires that measure student moral judgment (for example, "Is it wrong to cheat on a test?"), moral commitment ("Would you cheat if you were sure you wouldn't get caught?"), and self-reported moral behavior ("How many times have you cheated on a test or major assignment in the past year?"). Such questionnaires can be administered at the beginning of a school's character initiative to get a baseline and again at later points to assess progress.

Project Wisdom provides a practical assessment tool to be completed after the first year of the school's character education initiative that assesses the school personnel's perceptions of the character education initiative.

In addition, there are several other practical assessment tools provided:

  • A School Problems Inventory establishes baseline data before the implementation of the initiative and compares that to data collected one, two, and three years into the program. Data points include truancy, absenteeism, incidents of cheating, theft, teacher absentees, and student suspensions among others.
  • A Student Survey provides a means for understanding how well students are manifesting an understanding of core ethical values.
  • A Parent Opinionnaire collects the opinions of parents regarding the school's character education initiative and how student behavior at home may have improved.
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