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How to Incorporate Character Development in the Classroom

Mar 10, 2022

How to Incorporate Character Development in the Classroom

While we most commonly associate school with learning "hard skills" like math and science, it's also an incubator for "soft skills" like compassion and integrity. These attributes (among many others) are the building blocks of character development--arguably one of the most formative aspects of education.

By nurturing these positive qualities, students and educators alike can integrate character development into classrooms of all levels--from preschool to higher education. To help you bring personal growth into your classroom, we'll be covering five core development strategies.

what is character building and development?

The teaching of character development refers to educating a student on "core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility to self and others" according to the U.S. Department of Education. There are numerous ways to look at these values as they appear in the classroom, but the Jubilee Center for Character & Virtues, a research center for character development, helpfully separates the concept into four categories:

  • Intellectual Virtues--These attributes promote critical thinking and a quest for understanding. Think of character traits like autonomy, curiosity, resourcefulness, and reflection.
  • Moral Virtues--These characteristics center around ethics. This might encompass traits like honesty, integrity, compassion, and respect. 
  • Civic Virtues--These qualities make someone an engaged, contributing member of society. Consider traits that are rooted in community awareness, civility, and neighborliness.
  • Performance Values--These virtues help us carry out those in the other three categories. They may manifest in the form of motivation, confidence, teamwork, or perseverance. 

5 ways to promote social emotional, and character development

Students can benefit from these virtues in their personal and professional lives, and their understanding of these ideas begins with in-school character development. So, how do you incorporate character development in the classroom?

There are numerous ways to introduce these vital skills to students of all ages; here, we'll touch on some of the most common methods.

1. Act as a Role Model

Perhaps most importantly, a teacher needs to lead by example. Students--especially at a young age--will often copy the traits they see in their educator. When you act as a positive role model by exemplifying virtuous characteristics, you provide a consistent blueprint for younger students to replicate.

When teaching older students, leading by example is less about hoping for imitation and more about practicing what you preach. If you teach a lesson on respect but don't act respectfully, you're sending mixed signals about moral virtues. 

Ultimately, your responsibility is to demonstrate that character development applies to everyone. You can achieve this goal by pointing to other role models within the community or celebrating students who display these positive traits.

2. Facilitate Goal Setting

As an intangible quality, personal change can be difficult to measure. Instead of expecting students to work toward some nebulous objective, draft a set of concrete goals together. Here are some examples:

  • I will take a theater class to build my confidence.
  • I will volunteer in my community for 10 hours every month as a way to do good for others.
  • I will journal every day to encourage deeper self-reflection. 

By setting realistic character development goals as a class at the beginning of the year and revisiting them regularly, you can help students assess their progress, guiding changes in their behavior as needed. 

3. Communicate Clearly

To ensure everyone is on the same page, set transparent expectations around character development at the beginning of the year. When students exhibit positive character traits, congratulate and encourage them. Similarly, highlight opportunities where they could have demonstrated greater responsibility.

By creating an environment of clear communication, all parties can recognize where their character development is strong and where it can improve. And remember: healthy communication needs to move in both directions. Try creating an "open-door policy" that gives each student a chance to provide feedback. 

4. Encouraging Volunteering

As one of the primary examples of the "Civic Virtues" pillar, volunteering is often overlooked. Community involvement is an excellent way for students to make a difference and practice a wide range of character skills, including:

  • Citizenship
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Service

As an educator, you can leverage your connections to organize volunteering opportunities for students in both your local community and school community. 

5. Assign Relevant Readings

If the idea of teaching character development all by yourself concerns you, that's okay--you don't have to do it alone. In fact, you couldn't even if you tried. Holistic character development requires input from multiple diverse perspectives. 

With that in mind, look for ways to incorporate growth-oriented literature into your curriculum. Look for books and articles relevant to both the course and character development. Leaning on literary sources from diverse voices is a terrific way to eschew the one-size-fits-all approach to personal development. 

The Importance of Teaching Character Development

Character development is a critical skill for students of all ages and concentrations. While the importance of strong character education has been touted for decades, some institutions are truly outstanding when it comes to recognizing this need. Those are the schools you should look to for guidance and training. 

Take North Central College, for example. The College has partnered with the Kern Family Foundation to foster social, emotional, and ethical competencies in staff, students, and community members. Their joint mission is to inspire a new generation of students to embrace curiosity and growth in all contexts. 

Request information to learn how character development initiatives are one of the many ways North Central College creates a flourishing network of learners and leaders.

Questions for educators: 

  • How do you encourage character development in the classroom?
  • What is the most important character trait for students to develop?
  • How does character development help students in the classroom?
  • How does character development help students after graduation?
  • What does character development mean to you? 



The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. (2017) A Framework for Character Education in Schools. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/527/character-education/framework 

Character Education... Our Shared Responsibility. (2005, December 20). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/character/brochure.html