Last week I participated in the Ohio Schools of Character Summit at the Fawcett Center on the campus of Ohio State University. As part of my keynote address I was sharing how our evolving theory and tools for building the culture of excellence and ethics can move character education from “nice to necessary.” This is especially important for those educators who struggle to justify a focus on character education when they are faced with new and increasingly rigorous state and national standards, and other programmatic initiatives like Response to Intervention, 21st C Skills, dropout prevention and post-secondary success.
As part of the conference, the Ohio Partners in Character Education and the Better Business Bureau’s Center for Character Ethics recognized their EUREKA educator of the year. The award annually recognizes an Ohio educator (preK-16) who embodies both the highest level of teaching competency and character development in their classroom pedagogy, management and relations with their students and peers. EUREKA teachers strive to help their students and themselves “be their best self and do their best work.”
In our words, we would say, “these EUREKA educators intentionally build the culture of excellence and ethics NEEDED FOR learning.” They understand that if you want to teach math, you must first reach students. And the way to reach them is to intentionally create a culture of hard work, personal and collective responsibility; a culture where it’s safe to share your work; a culture where classmates treat each other with respect and care; a culture where you’re challenged to get outside your comfort zone; a culture defined by perseverance, work ethic, positive attitude, and grit.
For the second year in a row, the EUREKA Educator of the year was a math educator (last year was Mark Schumacker, a middle school math teacher featured in the Spring, 2009 issue of Excellence & Ethics; this year’s recipient was Sue Thuma a 30-year veteran math educator from West Muskingum High School). Permit us to pound our chest with pride for just a moment: the growth and recognition of math educators as exemplars in helping students do their best work and be their best self is a HUGE leap forward for the field. In the past character education was something that people said was “a better fit for English or Social Studies,” or “better experienced through service learning.”
With the paradigm shift we have been promoting, educators now see that building the culture of excellence and ethics is possible—and necessary—in every classroom. And that in this new way of thinking, getting good at math presents for students all the authentic challenges and engagement of a ropes course experience. Only you don’t have to go to a ropes course to feel nervous, to be challenged, to need trust and teamwork from your classmates; you can create that intentionally in your own math class today. We support learning by supporting learners. No matter how naturally talented a student may be, or what the developmental level, educators must intentionally build the culture of excellence and ethics needed for learning. We shape the culture for learning; the culture for learning shapes the character of students. It is in and through the educational experience is where the real action of character development takes place.
In a breakout session on alignment of character education to state standards and pressing educational reform issues, this year’s EUREKA educator, Sue Thuma, said the following (I’m paraphrasing): “I have no problem with the curricular changes that have been passed requiring all students to meet higher Math standards. But the only way we’re going to meet those standards s by concentrating even more on developing the moral and performance character needed to support student learning. EUREKA!