The narrative of education in the 21st century has often been driven by buzzwords. Research-based practices meant to uplift and empower the development of the whole person become overused terms and misunderstood pedagogy. Educational institutions are left scurrying to find ways to check the proverbial box when it comes to character education, values, and social emotional learning.
At Brilla Public Charter Schools, when we speak of character education, we speak of an overarching philosophy that does more than check a box. In the same way that we put time and resources into ensuring high-quality academic instruction, we likewise strive to provide high-quality formation with a focus on the development of the whole person.
Our Character Initiatives work is critical to achieving our mission of educating young men and women of good character and spirit. Our goal is to develop and nurture the virtues necessary for human flourishing. Character Initiatives at Brilla is based on the conviction that each and every person has innate dignity and free will. Moreover, we believe there are moral truths that can be taught through intentional facilitation. These are the driving forces underpinning our Character Initiatives philosophy.
A Sampling: How We Ensure We’re Not Simply Checking Boxes
Central to the Brilla model is the understanding that parents and families are the primary educators of their children. The many components of Character Initiatives scholars encounter during the day are designed to complement formation at home. In order to support parents and families in their role as primary educators of their children, Brilla offers Coffee & Conversations. This monthly gathering gives families and administrators the opportunity to interact and discuss how best to model and teach the core virtues and sub-virtues at home. Families explore topics like: what courage looks like at home, where to implement accountability techniques grounded in empathy, and how to build confidence through justice.
Another intentional example of Character Initiatives is “Quietest Moment of the Day.” The last three minutes of our school day are spent in a time of quiet, guided reflection. This time of mental solitude offers great benefits by allowing participants to step away from the day’s rush. Pausing after each question, teachers invite students to reflect on their day: what are they grateful for? What moment brought them joy? When did they model self-control? How can they strive to be their best self tomorrow? Before launching into the flurry of after-school activity, scholars have the opportunity to find inner calm and to grow in self-awareness which facilitates growth in character.
In order to facilitate authentic character formation with children, it’s necessary for professionals to own, explore, and invest in personal growth and development. Every few weeks, staff gathers to engage in personal and professional development through character formation. These sessions take the form of exploring our own life stories and trajectories, building our knowledge of the transcendentals, or digging deep into core and sub-virtues like mercy, self-control, and integrity. This formation ensures we as educators first model what we aim to instill in our scholars: a spirit of collaboration and a willingness to learn, grow, and develop—no matter our age.
Equipping scholars with the virtues and habits necessary to lead flourishing lives requires more than implementing programs. To impact individuals, character education must be holistic. It must influence every aspect of the educational and community experience. It is our vision our scholars will shine as beacons of hope both within and beyond our school walls. We are keenly aware that for this to take fruition, we must not check boxes and instead we must strive to be our best selves and beacons of hope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jolleen Wagner is Senior Director of Character Initiatives of the Brilla Schools Network. In her role, she develops, facilitates, and assesses scholar, staff, and family character education approach across Brilla Public Charter Schools. Jolleen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Siena College in 2004, is currently pursuing an MA in Character Education through the University of Birmingham and has worked in education for 15+ years. She is an avid reader, a life-long NY Mets fan, and can often be found walking the city.
Categories: Feature Story