Friday, 04 November 2011 21:50

Promoting Important Habits of Character (Part 9 of New "Establishing a Sense of Purpose" Blog Series)

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Introduction to This Blog Series:  Establishing a sense of purpose is one of the most important responsibilities teachers face at the beginning of each new school year. Throughout this blog series I will share a variety of ideas that I have used to help students better understand why it is important to come to school every day, work hard, and learn as much as possible.

This week:  Promoting Important Habits of Character (Part 9 of the Series)   

Over the past few weeks I have described three main benefits of having a class mission statement: 1) its ability to help teachers connect daily learning activities to important future purposes, 2)  a mission statement enables teachers to establish an expectation level for student work, effort, and behavior, 3) a mission statement helps teachers build a confident mindset in our students. This week I wrap up my paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of this year’s class mssion statement by highlighting a fourth benefit: a mission statement enables teachers to emphasize valuable habits of character.


Teaching the whole child means that we don’t focus solely on academic matters. We also promote indispensable work habits, attitudes, and social skills. I use the umbrella term “habits of character” to describe these desired attributes. One way to ensure that these habits of character occupy a prominent position in class conversations throughout the year is to mention them in our mission statement. The fifth and final paragraph (shown below) does just that.

As a group of helpful, thoughtful battery-chargers, we care about one another and treat everyone as a trusted friend. We care about being proud, honorable people who act with character and integrity. We are active and positive, friendly and kind, honest and respectful, fair and giving, organized and responsible.

In my teaching I focus on 13 habits of character. This list includes Cooperation, Courage, Fairness, Honesty, Kindness, Patience, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Pride, Respect, Responsibility, Self-discipline, and Service. Most of these habits are mentioned in this paragraph, either explicitly or implicitly, along with the more general emphasis on acting with character and integrity.

By including the habits in the mission statement, I can refer to these ideas throughout the year. The primary way I do this is by taking advantage of teachable (and learnable) moments. For example, imagine it is Friday, and we are having our weekly mission statement discussion as part of our morning routine. Yesterday, Natalie went out of her way to help Susan with her math homework. Natalie stayed after school to talk with Susan to help her solve a difficult problem. Now, as part of our Friday morning discussion, I can mention Natalie’s act of service and connect it to the phrase in our mission statement “friendly and kind.”

A mission statement is designed to be a permanent reference point in the classroom, and by connecting student behaviors to the larger ideas the statement contains, we accomplish two important goals: 1) we increase the likelihood that such behavior will increase in the future, and 2) we help the mission statement carry greater weight in our students’ eyes.
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