First as a principal and later as a superintendent of a school district of 82,000 students, I view character formation as a process of instilling habits in both students and staff. It involves behaviors that students use both in the school and outside the school. In this way, students embody the highest goal of education: to become responsible people who are accountable to themselves and to others for their actions and behaviors.
When I, with other staff, began the work of character formation, our work was to address concerns we had regarding bullying, cheating, and racism. We wanted to overcome these and other behaviors that were self-serving, including short-term behaviors which negated the growth and development of self and others. This was seen by many colleagues as hard work done at the expense of more important priorities such as test scores and public confidence.
Ultimately we prevailed as we showed that we could not achieve the desired academic results if we failed to faithfully and successfully pursue character formation.
To legitimate the work of character formation, we continually worked with faculty and staff. We trained them to see how character formation would make their work more fulfilling. It was essential to help them see how character formation could be done in their classrooms and schools as part of their everyday work.
Successful character formation at the district level required us to innovate in four areas. First, we had to provide curriculum and teaching support to faculty. Second, we had to develop measures of success so that administrators could develop the necessary metrics to determine student success in each of the crucial areas of character formation. Third, results of character formation had to be communicated to the parents and the community to ensure that all stakeholders had a clear sense of our accomplishments. Finally, it was crucial that targets were set to ensure that better results were achieved each year.
I came to value character formation in staff and students as the essential hallmark of the work we did in schools and the district in order to achieve superb results in all areas from students, faculty, and staff. Failure to take character formation seriously, failure to train teachers and administrators about this work, and failure to measure our accomplishments in this area meant that we would fail to faithfully serve our students and community.