I am the father of four grown sons and I have six grandchildren. About half of my life, I have been intensely committed to character education in private, public, and faith-based schools. Growing character is my life’s work. Here is what I have learned about how character is acquired, how parents and other adults shape the character of their children, and how school-based, personalized learning technologies advance intentional character growth.
People may wonder whether digital learning can have an impact on character growth. I think the answer is yes. My organization is currently designing a digital learning system using advances in platform design to deliver a character program. This program is based on how character is acquired instead of behavior modification.
The Role of Parents & Teachers
Parents are the most powerful influencers of their children’s character growth. Whether parents are present, hovering, or uninvolved, have good character or bad character, parents are a touchstone in the psyche and hearts of their children. Without realizing it, children watch the way their parents live their lives and learn from what they see. The big lesson for parents, from my experience, is that the best thing parents can do to influence the character of their children is to intentionally and openly grow their own character.
Other adults in children’s lives matter greatly. The most prominent group is teachers who spend collectively about 17,000 hours with our children from kindergarten to high school graduation. All adults and most kids have stories of teachers or coaches who positively influenced their lives. Stories of those character heroes flow easily once the topic is broached.
So what if we could connect the influence of parents and teachers simultaneously around the character growth of children? What if we could do this in a way that flows seamlessly in real time?
Suppose that we create a character program that teachers, parents, and students participate in simultaneously using a digital platform. In school, the students are given a short, engaging lesson on a person in history about the virtue of self-sacrifice. The lesson is brought to life using engagement technology and lively classroom discussion. It is possible to use the powerful engagement technology that drives the booming video game business to draw students into the development of their own character (No kidding. That can be done. The technology is happening right now in your home!)
Virtual chats among schoolmates and mentors happen and are prompted by the lesson from the classroom. Children can add their ideas to the digital curriculum just like they can co-create most popular video games. In between the lessons, parents, teachers and students receive messages, prompts, or questions on their mobile devices or iPads. Each is invited to write responses on their own private page and to share responses on the class character page.
In this paradigm, teachers, parents, and students are all learners. Each person is inspired by the efforts of the others. Rather than being the object of a one-way lesson, students are co-learners with their adult influencers.
Everyone is intentionally growing in their character and, in appropriate ways, bringing others in on that growth.
The Role of the Protagonists
This character platform will help students build their intrinsic selves. For example, we encourage students to read literature or learn from history. When a student reads about a strong protagonist, they could ask themselves:
- What is this person’s purpose?
- How does this connect to my own life?
We encourage students to read and investigate powerful protagonists- and ask themselves what their identity and purpose was, and how this connects and relates to their own lives.
Every component we need to create this character learning design already exists. We are putting this platform together. There are two crucial points to remember. First, teachers and parents need to be willing to be co-learners about their own character along with the students which will take some courage. This is a ‘lead by doing’ character growth model. Second, technology exists that can be used to create engagement, communication, and co-creation of the curriculum for character education.
This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. We would love to have your voice in the Smart Parents conversations. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email Bonnie Lathram with the subject “Smart Parents.” For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:
- What if We Replaced Family (and Classroom) Rules with Core Beliefs?
- If Ever There was a Kid Born to Read
- Parental Involvement in Schools Matter: A Teacher’s Perspective
- Never The First to Finish: Why Pace Matters
- Why We Need Students to Be Self-Advocates
Duncan McCrann is the Chief Administrative Officer at Educational Enterprises, where they are currently designing a digital character education platform.