Teaching Character

After attending a classroom management seminar at Summer Conference, I made a conscious decision that I needed to teach character to my students. I knew I supposedly had a rough bunch coming though my doors, or so my 6th grade teacher colleagues had told me. Changing character was the only option I had in my mind. I had to start from square one, and I had to have a theme. After hearing that seminar about the Ohana Classroom, Ohana became my theme.

Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, had a philosophy that aligned right with my teaching style. It begins with high expectations. Expect greatness! Every mind can learn, and all students have different strengths. Students will indeed rise to the level of expectation set before them–especially if you believe in them. Ohana likewise preaches a closeness in the classroom. You treat each other like family. Students are less likely to treat a brother or sister with disrespect than a classmate. It is a more intimate relationship. Students are also allowed to redirect one another in a positive way. Get the good kids on your side! Let those role models shine before others so the others on the brink of greatness will follow. In the Ohana classroom students are assigned roles. They have jobs such as the door stopper, department of energy, department of sanitation, kindness committee, and board eraser. This makes them feel important. They crave independence, and this shows you trust them with responsibility. Finally, Ohana preaches kindness. Be kind to your peers, your teachers, and your school. Leave the room better than you see it when you walk in. I encourage students to grab one piece of trash off the floor when they return from lunch.

Every day on my bell work I include an Ohana Thought For the Day. There are times I focus it on a behavior I have seen that needs to be worked on. For example, if my room is littered with trash by the end of the day, my thought for the day might read something like, “How should the room look when you leave it? What does Ohana call you to do in terms of the cleanliness of the room?” Other days my thought centers around the time of year we are encountering. For example, if we are approaching midterms, I will have the kids reflect on their grades and make goals for themselves. The Ohana Thought For the Day likewise can simply focus on a character trait I want my kids to aspire to have. Sample traits might be forgiveness, patience, honesty, self-control, or even respecting your elders.

Sound familiar? If you are a Christian, it should. Pretty much every trait above could be supported with scripture from the Bible. DON’T DO THAT! In a public school setting that would obviously result in a serious reprimand, possibly getting you fired. Although God calls us to spread the Gospel, He likewise calls us to show respect toward our authorities, that being our building administration. If you are teaching character traits like the ones listed above, modeling each of them on a daily basis, AND pointing out successes as the students show them, your classroom will indeed be a kinder, more Christian atmosphere.

I created Ohana passes, little square sheets of paper that say, “Congratulations, (insert student name)! You ARE Ohana!” The kids love them! They recommend them to each other. They will brag about the Ohana they have seen spread outside the classroom. I have had kids go to the extent of e-mailing me about Ohana they have seen at restaurants. The favorite phrase that is repeated over and over again as kids falter here and there is, “That’s not Ohana!” They love calling each other out on it, and they are learning more because of it. This peer pressure they put on themselves–I know that word sounds bad but it really is good!–is changing behavior for the better. When the kids get on your side and buy in, that small chunk of kids that still do their own thing are suddenly on an island. My advice for them? Love on them! Love them no matter what. God calls us to show others love no matter what, and if you epitomize that to the high flyers as I like to call them, they will eventually buy in.

Teaching character has changed the dynamic of everything in my room. It is hands down the best two to three minutes a day I spend. And the coolest thing about this is that these kids will carry these traits with them well beyond your classroom. They are traits they will need later in life, and they should be taught. If you want to change lives, start right at the core of the kids. Start with their hearts. It is not easy, and yes, it will take time, but it is worth every second. As for that “worst class ever” that came through my doors in August, they are harmless now. It is mid-December, and they are the most memorable group of kids I have ever taught. Come May, I might even get a little misty-eyed seeing this group shove on to 8th grade.

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