What is Character Education?

What is Character Education?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, character education is defined as “a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values.” To put it simply, the definition for character education can be found in its name—it is the idea that education can not simply teach the mind, but it must also help to develop a student’s overall character. 

Schools with programs and specific lessons focused on guiding students to develop their character help them become better stewards for themselves and their community at large. As a result, this type of learning influences a generation of compassionate leaders and members of society. At Canterbury, we recognize the importance of this kind of education and that success in adulthood cannot solely be achieved through academic perfection – instead, students can find success by learning how to be well-rounded and morally responsible people. 

Two young, male Canterbury students in a friendly embrace

Why is Character Education Important?

By the time they reach adulthood, students have spent most of their childhood and adolescence in a school environment, where often academics is at the forefront of the classroom’s goals. However, with an education centered around character, the idea of community and personal integrity becomes part of their day-to-day studies as students work in group settings or are introduced to real-world experiences and problems. This allows students to not only learn the subject or lesson at hand, but also to practice and hone important life skills, such as leadership, communication, and how to effectively work in a team. 

These skills are incredibly important for young students to learn, especially as they figure out their place in a larger community outside of school one day. As we discussed in a previous blog post, character education encourages students to be prepared to navigate the hardships and challenges they will face in the real world, while also learning personal accountability, and compassion and respect for others. 

Benefits of Character Education

There are numerous studies that outline the benefits of character education on the whole student. According to a report from The Pennsylvania State University, students who are taught social-emotional skills through character education do better in school, are more likely to graduate from college and get a well-paying job, and can maintain healthy relationships. In adulthood, these benefits can be seen even more in better physical and mental health, more employment opportunities, less interest in engaging in substance abuse, and fewer relationship problems. 

The same study also found that students taught within a character education learning style or program tend to have more success in a future workplace. This is due to a well-built foundation of interpersonal skills, like social skills, communication, and teamwork, and intrapersonal skills, such as higher-order thinking skills, self-control, and positive self-concept. 

How is “Character” Taught?

At a young age, students can be taught how to navigate social interactions within their personal environments and peer communities where they begin to recognize behaviors in others and in themselves when working in a team and also when positive character traits are modeled by teachers and staff. As students grow, they can also learn to build character by developing practical skills related to social responsibility, such as examining implicit biases, their complex relationships with others, real-world issues, and dedicating time to community service. 

Character can also be taught through other practical skills relating to personal responsibility, like how to develop healthy lifestyles and decision-making, uphold positive self-image by learning positive self-talk, and how to maintain a home and property through financial literacy and smart money practices. 

As a result, character cannot be taught in only one setting like the classroom. Instead, it has to be embodied in a schools’ overall core values. At Canterbury, character education is at the center of all learning due to our clearly defined values in our honor code and also in our character education program, known as LEADS

Character at Canterbury: LEADS

The Canterbury LEADS (Leadership • Ethics • Advocacy • Dignity • Service) program is designed to teach and develop character and leadership skills and instill an understanding of the critical role that service must play in the life of a responsible global citizen. Canterbury students are taught these five core ideas at every step of their academic journey, whether that is in learning the importance of showing love and respect to those around them for younger students, or spending time in workshops discussing complex issues and volunteering in the community for older students. 

As a result of this education centered around building character, all Canterbury students are expected to learn the following by the time they graduate: 

  • Leadership and how to identify their own strengths and gaps in their skills

  • Ethics by identifying good, desirable, and acceptable conduct and behavior in school and their community

  • Advocacy by learning how to speak up for themselves and turn bad situations good, and good situations even better

  • Dignity through Canterbury’s honor code

  • Service by understanding that helping others should not always be about personal gain

Jeff Donnelly, Canterbury’s Director of LEADS Character Education, Knowlton Campus, said the following about the program, “Through LEADS, Canterbury students are always in learning mode, getting to know their strengths and skills. They're developing the abilities to communicate vision clearly and listen effectively, and are burgeoning advocates who speak up for themselves and others.”

Want to learn more about Canterbury’s character education program? Read a first-hand testimonial from one of our alumni students, Kai Tomalin, and his mother and Deputy Mayor and City Administrator of St. Petersburg, Dr. Kanika Tomalin, on our blog here.