What do you want from your character-building efforts? When will you know you have attained that?
Some might answer, “My students will always act as I always act,” but would you?
Would you claim a goal like that without stipulations? Maybe you would choose to add a provision such as “…on my good days” or “…when someone’s watching.”
Few of us would choose to emblazon on our walls:
My goal is to develop in students character
that mirrors perfectly my own consistent character.
You can never reach that standard, of course, but you can diminish the gap by setting your mind to put more of you in your character-building work.
Think about that for a minute. What could we possibly mean by advising that you put more of you in your character-building efforts? Look at three possible meanings:
- The dog pictured above is putting himself into retrieving a downed duck from the shallow water. He is likely to succeed, but does such effervescence fulfill what we mean by putting more of you into character building?
- Jonathan, normally a boring CEO, packs a big serving of himself into today’s vital presentation. Pleasantly surprised, everyone around the conference table sits up and pays attention. Has Jonathan’s improved speaking skill fulfilled what we mean by putting more of you into character building?
- Jillene pours herself into a heart-felt plea for teachers to organize against bullying, and gets a standing ovation from her audience. Did Jillene’s emotional plea fulfill what we mean by putting more of you into character building?
The answer to each of the three is a simple “No.”
Putting more of you into your character-building efforts is not a matter of acting excited, of implementing some magical teaching skill, or of packing emotion into character education.
You put more of you into character building when you build your own personal character first. Effervescence, teaching skill, and emotional involvement are great, but students learn more visually than aurally.
You have heard that you should “practice what you preach”. Francis of Assisi put it this way: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
It is no use walking before a group of students to teach character unless your walking (your consistent, everyday life) is your teaching. You must practice character before you can teach it in a way that will change behavior.
- Integrity brings about great behavioral change – but you can put you into teaching integrity only after you possess it. Until you “cut from the same cloth” all of your actions, living consistent with what you believe, you cannot put the you of integrity into teaching the trait.
- Respect can revolutionize young lives – but you can gain good results from teaching the trait only after you yourself have learned and practice it daily. Until you consistently, no matter what the situation, act with respect to others, you cannot put the you of respect into teaching this trait.
Students hear what you say in class, but they act on it when they see you putting your personal character into practice. Build courage into you – practice daily – and then teach courage. Build responsibility into you – practice daily – and then teach responsibility.
You may never feel comfortable with a goal that says you will develop in students character that mirrors perfectly your own character. However, you should be content with a goal that says you will develop in students the same kind of character by which you strive to live daily in your own personal life.
Put more of you in your character building and enjoy better results.