Today, I want to talk about the behavioral outcome. How do we teach kids to do the right thing? It’s one thing to know what you should do, it’s another to actually do it. The flesh is weak and all, right?
When I was teaching elementary school, I sent home graded papers in a weekly folder. I passed out the Friday Folders just before dismissal on Friday afternoons. After grabbing their folder, the kids went stampeding out of the room to carpool line. One afternoon, about 10 minutes after dismissal, I heard some rustling in the hallway- footsteps approached and then silence. Then some more rustling and the sounds of a backpack being adjusted. After about 5 minutes, one of my students peeked around the door and into the room.
“Hey Zach- what’s up?”
“Well…” He sighed in resignation. “I was going through my Friday Folder and on my spelling test I got one of the words wrong but you didn’t mark it wrong and my grade is too high.”
The honesty and conscientiousness here is so endearing. This 8-year-old was giving up his perfect spelling score, because he knew he hadn’t really earned it. Talk about acting in accordance with your conscience. He was a stellar role model for acting with honesty and integrity.
1. Once you’ve defined a particular virtue and given kids examples, it’s time to identify some role models. You’ve probably already done some of this when you were teaching the meaning of the virtue itself, but it’s important to bring the focus of character education back to role models here, especially role models they can relate to, like my friend Zach. How have other people their own age lived out this virtue? How have other people living in the same time and place lived out this virtue? Not to say that historical examples aren’t valid—they definitely are! But they often aren’t great examples of how your child or students will be living out a given virtue in their lives.
2. Kids and teens love to act things out. Role playing a variety of situations and letting them explore how they can and should respond to a variety of realistic situations that they’re likely to encounter gives them practice before having to deal with the real thing.
3. Speaking of practice, Aristotle defined virtue as the habit of behaving the right way. It takes practice to form any habit, including those around acting virtuously. Kids need opportunities to practice virtue. Plenty of them will arise naturally; we just need to avoid prematurely rushing in to give directions and control behavior.
4. If we are going to give our children the space to practice virtue, that necessarily means giving them space in which they will sometimes fail. It’s our job to provide correction, but I try to remember to set an example in my correction. I try to correct virtuously by asking myself, “Am I being patient and kind in correction, or am I yelling and rolling my eyes? Am I being just in my correction, or am I overreacting out of frustration or under reacting because this is inconvenient for me?” When I correct, I need to remember that I’m not correcting to tell my child he is wrong. I’m correcting to show him what is right.
I let Zach keep the higher spelling score, by the way. We called it an integrity bonus.