I was invited to speak to the newly hired teachers in my district on the subject of Character Education yesterday. I know those of you who know me well must be wondering if I was asked to present on how to be a character but my role was to demonstrate how character education can be incorporated into the curriculum.
I have served on my school’s character committee for the last six years. At the time of joining the committee the different grade level teams at my school participated in several community service projects such as Gleaners Community Food Bank, Care Packaging for the Troops, and Forgotten Harvest. We would come together as a whole school community to respond to natural disasters both nationally and globally and while these projects were successful, there was a certain level of frustration amongst both staff and parents that they were scattered, overlapping and lacking in long term significance. We decided to make a concerted effort to integrate service learning into the curriculum.
Service learning is an experiential teaching strategy that intentionally combines academic learning and relevant community service. Key components of service learning include:
- Project has purpose or meaning
- Sharing or demonstration of knowledge gained
There are similarities between service learning and community service. They both foster civic responsibility and an individual’s growth personally and ethically. Both create strong community connections and meet real needs, but there are some significant differences.
I shared with my new colleagues a service learning project that my teaching partner and I collaborated on. We share 54 students, I teach math and science, while he teaches Language Arts and Social Studies and the result was our River Rouge Watershed wiki. Yesterday I asked the teachers to peruse the wiki and try to identify possible learning objectives and character traits that students may have learned about during the course of its creation. I was thrilled with their responses and how much they saw in it but I was also struck by how much unintentional learning took place. It became crystal clear to me that when it comes to the education of a child we cannot separate heart and mind.
At risk of giving away my age, when I was at school students were empty pails waiting to be filled with information, facts and knowledge. I am so fortunate to work in an environment where the teaching of core subjects is seamlessly interwoven with character education and key 21st Century skills. The result of that is that I get to work every day with highly engaged, passionate kids who are teachers and learners and influential global citizens.