Modeling is central to character education. That’s because we’re born imitators. Babies just a few minutes old will stick out their tongues at adults doing the same thing. We often mimic behavior without even realizing it. How does it happen?
In a finding with enormous implications across many fields, scientists have discovered that we all have brain cells called mirror neurons. Here’s how the remarkable process works: Certain brain cells fire when we perform goal-related movements like grasping, holding and tearing. The mirror neurons lie next-door and fire when we see other people doing these things, forging a kind of muscle memory. Even more amazing, mirror neurons also code the intention of the person viewed.
“When you see me perform an action — such as picking up a baseball — you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,” Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA, told the New York Times. “And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.”
Since mirror neurons are somewhat out of our control, we can pick up good or bad habits by association with good or bad people, and Dr. Iacoboni worries that kids are growing more violent from seeing endless brutalities in movies and TV shows.
As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Whether you like it or not, you’re a role model.
In a recent poll of newsletter subscribers, we learned that about 40 percent of our readers did not know that the Josephson Institute of Ethics (including its CHARACTER COUNTS! initiative) is a nonprofit organization that depends on donations from people like you. We hope you will make a tax-deductible donation this year to support character education in schools and communities across the country.
We have accomplished a great deal this year (browse around charactercounts.org) and, with your help, we hope to have an even greater impact in 2014. Please include us in your year-end giving. Whether it’s $10 or $1,000, we promise to put every cent to work helping improve the ethical quality of society.
CC! President Michael Josephson will be hosting a thank-you reception for donors of $100 or more. He would love to meet you.
Most people know the President officially pardons one turkey each Thanksgiving. But do you know when this fowl discrimination began?
Each year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a bird to the White House. But in 1989, President George H.W. Bush let the gobbler go ungobbled. He felt it was only fair that at least one bird should receive a stay of execution.
Since then, two birds each year — the National Thanksgiving Turkey and the Alternate National Thanksgiving Turkey (in case the National Turkey cannot fulfill its duties) — got to turkey trot off to a Virginia farm to spend the rest of their days in peace. The name of that farm? Frying Pan Park.
In 2005, feeling that the spared turkeys may be “a little skeptical” going to such a place, President George W. Bush flew them (in a plane dubbed Turkey One) to Disneyland to join the theme park’s other exotic species. Disney spokesman Duncan Wardle (yes, that’s his real name) announced that the plump birds would serve as honorary grand marshals of Disney Thanksgiving Day parades. And that’s what they did each year until 2010, when the tradition changed and the pardoned birds were sent to waddle around President George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
How not to get into college: Attend a university’s campus information session for prospective students and, during the presentation, tweet disparaging and expletive-laden comments about your fellow attendees.
Another bad idea: Load up your Facebook profile with nasty messages about one of your high school teachers.
These are a couple examples reported in a recent New York Times article (“They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets.”) on social media and self-sabotage among young people. The Times article cites new research from Kaplan Test Prep suggesting that online scrutiny of college hopefuls is growing:
“Of 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan telephone questionnaire this year, 31 percent said they had visited an applicant’s Facebook or other personal social media page to learn more about them — a five-percentage-point increase from last year. More crucially for those trying to get into college, 30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant’s prospects.”
But despite the growth in online checking, says the Kaplan report, there are fewer cases this year — 30 percent, as opposed to 35 percent last year — in the number of admissions officers who say they found something that negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances.
This may be because high school students are getting wise to this and (sometimes with the help of guidance counselors) scrambling to sanitize their social media accounts before admissions officers see them.
Our recommendation: Keep it clean from the start. Teach students to use good judgment online so they can be proud (and safe) digital citizens.
Editor’s note: Here’s another delightful dispatch from Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach whose boundless super powers are on display throughout the year at Westwood-Bales Elementary in Friendswood, Texas. Scroll to the bottom to see her presentation at this year’s National Forum on Character Education. And check out her blog, The Corner on Character.
At the 20th annual National Forum on Character Education, held last month in Washington, D.C., the Character Education Partnership honored 29 National Schools of Character (NSOC) for meeting a standard of excellence as laid out in their Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education. What an exciting time in the journey of a school it is to reach that mountaintop experience and be named an NSOC. I know because I have the pleasure of working at an elementary school that received the NSOC distinction in 2009.
I’ve attended 10 of those 20 Forums, and they just keep getting better. In my breakout session, “Character Is Our Super Power” — scroll down for a video of the whole presentation — we had 70 character educators singing, laughing, dancing and connecting with each other. It didn’t hurt that I wore my Queen of Hearts dress as I encouraged them to see life and approach education through the eyes of a child for maximum success with our little leaders.
At this year’s Forum, the keynote speakers, like Michael Josephson and Maurice Elias, inspired us. A teacher band — No Tune Left Behind — entertained us. The vendors informed and enriched us. The networking opportunities over coffee or a Coke energized us. All in all, it was an event to be treasured and remembered for a very long time to come.
One of the schools that was honored, North Pointe Elementary in Clear Lake, Texas, holds a special place in my heart because we had the opportunity to mentor them on their journey down character road. They sent a group of school leaders to our NSOC Open House in the spring of 2010, sowed many of our ideas from which they grew their initiative, then they harvested bigger and better things than we ever imagined possible. They used the process to strengthen and empower their school family to create, in the words of one of their fifth graders, “a swirling vortex of character.” That’s the power of synergy and collaboration. And now they’re in a position to pay it forward when they hold their outreach event for other upcoming schools of character.
Here are a few of their promising practices:
- Camp Character: Specials-class teachers and the counselor engage in character-development activities with students while their homeroom teachers meet for Professional Learning Community time.
- Coke and a Compliment: Staff members enjoy a soda in exchange for an affirmation for a colleague at the beginning of each faculty meeting, creating a win-win because, well, who doesn’t like being appreciated and recognized?
- Principal’s Book of the Month: The administrative team visits each homeroom class each month to read a book with a character theme and leave a copy with the class family. The day we visited, each class was eager to hear and receive a copy of The Juice Box Bully by Maria Dismondy.
- The Counselor Cafe: Counselor Jennifer McCaffrey hosts a lunch bunch every day until she’s enjoyed dining with all of her students in small groups of up to six in her office. I’ve adopted this delicious idea and have gotten rave reviews this year. Such a great way to connect with and get to know our students more personally.
- The Character Cadre: This is the climate committee that meets regularly to initiate ideas, review progress and asses the effectiveness of the school’s character philosophy.
- Professional Development Character Training: North Pointe Elementary staff members meet regularly to improve on their efforts in all areas. I’ve been there to conduct character-infusion workshops, for example, on three occasions, as they continue to go deeper with their virtues understanding and integration.
- Character Connections: On the last Friday of every month, this school family gathers to sing character songs and hear their morning announcements together. As a bonus, they get to celebrate the winner of the Spirit Stick at this school-wide assembly. What a heartwarming way to start the day!
This learning community invited me to join them at their NSOC celebration and say a few words, so I put on my Character Cape and took the mic with pride to congratulate them, crown their Counselor Queen of Hearts, give their Assistant Principal a box of Pillar-colored bandages for the bumps along the way, and pass along a magical Star Wand to their Principal. She’ll use that to lead her staff in polishing their little stars before launching them to brighten the future from their places in the sky. After thanking them for being my super heroes, we all danced the Six Pillar Shuffle together.
Congratulations to all of the 2013 National Schools of Character. Keep up the heart work!
CHARACTER COUNTS! founder and president Michael Josephson delivered the closing keynote speech at the 2013 National Forum on Character Education in Washington, D.C., on October 26. In his speech on “Character Education and Beyond,” he discussed the importance of helping young people develop ethical values and what the latest research shows on the most effective ways to do this. CHARACTER COUNTS! trainers also led several breakout sessions during the conference.