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Character education has been an integral part of in K-12 curriculum. However, many educators may be in doubt of its effectiveness or whether it should still be integrated into lesson plans. When creating lessons plans, it has been commonplace for teachers to think of fitting character education goals but one often wonders, "Are these strategies still effective today?" 

What are character education programs?

Character education programs are defined as a set curriculum or a teacher-directed set of goals that has the purpose of developing valuable attitudes of the students. When schools pick up a character education program, it is important that each lesson is taught with consistency per developmental level and is applicable to the context of each child. 

What are the present issues in character education programs?

An article in Education Week showed that character education in many schools is found to be ineffective in a federal study. There were 7 programs that were reviewed within 86 schools in various states. During the 3-year period of the study, it was noted that the 3rd-5th grade students have found to develop character during the first two years but fell short in carrying over the same attitudes during the third year of the study. 

Hence, some of the most common issues found in character education are its ability to make a lasting impact on students. During pre-service and in-service training, educators have always been taught to include integrate character education, but they often lack having the right strategies to incorporate these programs. 

However, this does not mean that teachers should just neglect the practice of including character education altogether. The problem doesn't lie in the content, but rather in the implementation of the curriculum being used. Here are some of the ways teachers can implement an effective character education program: 

Characteristics of an effective character education program

1. Character education must be taught directly.

Although modeling good character is a good standard to set by teachers, this does not mean that everything should be observed and implied. They cannot simply assume that the concepts of building character are always taught in homes. Many children do not have the opportunities to learn good attitudes, and some of them even live in troubled homes. 

Thus, it is important for teachers to implement a character education program that is instructed verbally just like it is part of the academic lessons. For example, discussing stories and topics about respect, punctuality, and compassion towards others can inspire students to adapt to these attitudes. Teachers can also ask strategic questions on how students can apply these concepts in their daily lives. 

2. Values must be taught and defined concretely.

In relation to receiving direct instruction, students must also be given opportunities to define these concepts in their own words. It is one thing to hear stories and anecdotes from teachers, but having a language-based curriculum can help students define these concepts based on their developmental level. 

This doesn't mean that children should memorize definitions verbatim. However, the ability to explain the concept in their own words is a gauge of their understanding. For example, abstract ideas such as "tolerance" or "patience" can be defined by students by giving examples that reflect in their daily lives. 

3. Character education must be taught in a positive way.

Gone are the days where character education are taught like a set of rules. Now, research has proven the effectiveness of positive language when it comes to teaching children. Instead of saying "Don't fight with others", or "Don't be late", it can be better to use positive language such as "Have compassion towards others", and "Respect others' time". This way, children don't subconsciously feel or think that there are many prohibitions, but rather they can have a proactive outlook in their character-building. 

Additionally using positive language can also help students understand what exactly you want them to do. Using negative language may appear vague because you only get to understand what you're not supposed to do. Positive language encourages better behavior and clearer objectives. 

4. Teachers must also help students understand the content through a process.

Unlike academic concepts, character education is in a constant battle between negative influences found in the external environment and through the media. There are opinions that can oppose what teachers hope to teach children, and this is why it is important to help children see the whole process of building character. 

For example, students must see the consequences of envy versus contentment. When showcasing the consequences, children must understand how their outlook affects their decisions and the possibilities that could happen if they choose one over the other. The understanding of the content is as important as understanding the process. Helping children understand the process also develops their skill to predict outcomes for other predicaments later on in life. 

5. The school must reflect the values being taught during character education programs.

Character education programs become more effective is the school values also reflect the attitudes being taught within the curriculum. If children see inconsistencies in attitudes they see in teachers and administrators, it can be difficult for them to generalize these character education goals in their personal lives. 

As the saying goes, educators and even the whole school system must "practice what they preach". The lack of integrity in this area may even make character education programs ineffective even with evidence-based research and strong incorporation in academics. 

6. The programs must be easy to implement and have strong student participation.

This characteristic benefits the student and the teacher. When schools choose their character education program, it is important to perform research of the materials are easy to access and there is only minimal preparation. Since teachers also have to prepare for the academic lessons, it can be a big help for the teachers' effectivity in implementation when they have easy and creative materials to work with. 

Additionally, the program must also encourage student participation such as through asking questions, hands-on activities, workbooks, projects, and other processes that students do not receive instruction but also demonstrate their learning. 

Character education can be effective, if implemented well

The bottom line is, character education programs can be highly effective and are a supplemental tool for parents in helping students build good character. Through the use of these simple guidelines, teachers and administrators can evaluate character education programs that they can implement in classrooms effectively.

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