As the roles of educators continue to expand, we are seeing that now more than ever, need to help our students develop character skills that will help them be successful in life.
Research has pointed out to us that explicit instruction, modeling and encouragement, instead of praise, are key to developing long-lasting habits. The question is, how do we, teachers, put this research into practice?
A quick search on Pinterest, shows that many educators are flying in masses to use Brag tags. Brag tags are meant to be used as classroom incentives to encourage, promote, and celebrate positive behavior. A great yet simple Utopian idea. When a student engages in a desired behavior, the teacher awards them a little brag tag. This tag is then added to a necklace as a reward. Thus creating a positive reward system.
The problem with brag tags is that behaviors are too specific and limited. Character tags, on the other hand, encompass a broad range of behaviors. Behaviors that cultivate interpersonal, intrapersonal, and/or intellectual strengths that have long lasting effects on students’ character. These tags become the tangible reminders of the areas of strength and areas of growth.
How do I promote character growth in my classroom?
I start by introducing one character strength at a time. I share the definition of the strength and give examples of behaviors that exemplify this strength.
Then I narrate (NEVER praise) the behaviors I observe throughout the week. For example; if my focus is on self-control, I might say, “I see Nate is keeping his hands to himself when he walks down the hallway.” Or “I see Mia is ignoring distractions on the carpet.” I always start with “I SEE” because that frames the behavior and not my feelings about it. This is the most important step.
At the end of the week, during our community circle, I ask students if they had noticed anyone in class who has consistently demonstrated the character strength that we had focused on during the week. At first, students might have difficulties identifying a student. In this case, I will point out a student or two. This is when I give a character tag to those students.
During this time, I tell students, “Next week, we will focus on another character strength. You will have a very important job, to help me find other students who are also showing (e.g. self-control) . Then, you will pass on the character tag to a new classmate and will need to tell us what they did to show (e.g. self-control).”
Each week, or every 2 weeks, we add on a new character strength and the cycle continues. I don’t rush into getting through all of the strengths. It is important that students learn to evaluate others as well as themselves during this process. This process helps students develop a growth mindset with specific behaviors tied to the character strengths that they are learning in class.