The U.S. Navy is updating its leadership programs at the Naval War College with a keen focus on character and competence which may have been prompted after a series of embarrassing ship collisions last year.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson announced the changes at the Rhode Island school in early April, when he announced the formation of a new College of Leadership and Ethics to weave lessons on character, self-awareness, leadership and ethics into the curriculum, according to U.S. Naval Institute News.

Trainees at the College of Leadership and Ethics will receive 10 days of devoted class time in each core class, as well as additional military faculty to boost the role of what was formally the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center.

Richardson told the news site the Navy is also working to ensure sailors, both subordinates and those in leadership, get feedback from others about their performance and character development through the service’s assessment system.

“We’re in the final stages of a revision to our FITREPS (officer fitness reports) system, our evaluation system. So in an ideal closed-loop environment you would say at the beginning, this is what we value, this is what we think is important. We’re going to teach you those things (through schools, on-the-job training and self-learning). So that’s how we move you along this road in competence and character,” Richardson said.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture believe that there are five ways that "thick" moral communities can best be formed.  They identify the following in the Institute's latest publication, The Content of Their Character—1) authoritative sources, 2) formal instruction, 3) informal “catching,” 4) routine practices, and 5) surrounding social support—one might want to add evaluation. You become what you measure. Here the Navy is adding character to their FITREP evaluations and thereby highlighting the Navy’s aspiration of a “good person.” This steps makes character real and an essential part of the school’s culture.

The Institute for Advanced Studies' latest book, The Content of Their Character provides findings of the Institute's research into ten sectors of K-12 high school across America regarding moral and citizenship formation of high school students.  The sectors studied were as follows:  urban public high schools, rural public high schools, charters, evangelical schools, Catholic schools, Jewish and Muslim schools, prestigious independent schools, alternative pedagogy schools and homeschooling.

Admiral Richardson said two fatal ship collisions with commercial vessels last year did not prompt the changes, but did provide examples of why leadership and ethics are important.

“When you think about where our commanding officers and leaders fall short, there’s just been too many instances where those shortcomings have had to do with ethical types of issues, in addition to the competence thing. So it’s clearly an area where we needed to make sure we were emphasizing,” he said.

“Perhaps the ultimate expression of trust and confidence is to give that commanding officer that ship and that crew and expect them to go over the horizon on their own and come back stronger than when they left in every respect, both from a warfighting competence standpoint but also I want them to bring our teams back stronger in character,” Richardson continued. “And so there was certainly an element of the [post-collision] investigations that said, hey, we need to really make sure that in each of our communities – and this one focused on the surface community – that our careers, our education, our career path is really focused on developing competent, confident commanding officers with the competence of character.”

Teachers and principals wanting to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students will find information and strategies to do so at the UK's Jubilee Centre.

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