Promising Practices- Past Designees
2023 Promising Practices Designees
Appleton Public Montessori School (Appleton School District) – “Work Journal Virtues Reflection”
This Promising Practice develops students’ understanding and awareness of how they live out virtues in their own lives. This is a vital practice with high consistency in the school.
Students in grades 1-3 must complete their Work Journal Virtues Reflection books weekly. The reflection is designed to help students chart their virtue growth. This reflection activity is done in conjunction with a broader curriculum on virtues and another practice of having students spot virtue in other students (Virtue Vouchers). Staff uses a common language around virtues and practices to provide continuity. The journal practice offers a good communication tool between staff, students, and parents as it is sent home for review. In this practice, character is developed through understanding and helping students realize they can make choices that reflect ethical values.
Eastbrook Academy (Milwaukee Private School) – “Community Days”
This Promising Practice builds a sense of school community. Focusing on reflection activities around character and the emerging development of increased student ownership of planning these days is a good practice.
Community Days bring cross-age groups of students together in various activities centered around character. These days are held multiple times a year. This practice is evolving as staff gathers feedback from students, giving upper-grade students more leadership in planning. Activities vary but include sports-type competitions along with interactive social activities. Guided discussions take place with smaller groups to elicit feedback/reflection on the activity as part of the character learning aspect of this practice. This private school is building on prior character program work to allow the school to come together to create a greater sense of community.
River Falls High School (River Falls School District) – “Wiley’s Common Ground”
This Promising Practice has a schoolwide impact, a high degree of inclusiveness, and builds school community. Other high schools can replicate this to promote character.
This student-run coffee shop brings together students with diverse abilities to learn about business and practice character skills in a very hands-on approach. There are multiple ways Wiley’s Common Ground develops character. First, the mission is to “create an accepting environment that promotes inclusiveness, provides work experience for all, and gives back to our school and community.” Students in the class learn to work with students of varied skills. Students use proceeds from the shop to give back to the community every month, such as providing complimentary beverages to a local nursing home and spending time with those residents. The shop promotes character and school culture by providing a caring place for all students to gather.
River Falls High School (River Falls School District) – “Wiley’s Wardrobe”
This Promising Practice creates a caring, inclusive community, engages the greater community, and is built with student leadership. This exemplary practice is character in action.
Wiley’s Wardrobe began with a student wishing to help other students who might need help meeting basic needs (clothes, hygiene products, etc.). Providing a dignified way for students to access these necessities was the prompt for this practice. Moving clothes from bins to an organized, store-like arrangement was done by students and staff. This store is an inclusive endeavor, with special education students having a role in ensuring clothes are clean and stocked in the store. Students reach out to the greater community to get items to stock the store. Key to the store’s success has been training volunteers via a handbook to respect students’ rights to privacy of their peers both inside and outside of Wiley’s Wardrobe. They are instructed to assist shoppers without judgment. Students develop empathy for fellow students. There is strong leadership by students working with staff to meet quarterly to discuss goals, fundraising, community events, and gathering feedback.
Rockfield Elementary (Germantown School District) – “Peaceful Pathway”
Peaceful Pathway is a concrete practice of restorative justice that promotes student-driven conflict resolution and is a Promising Practice.
This conflict resolution strategy developed by school staff is used by students when resolving a problem. Peaceful Pathway is a framework of sentence stems that guides students, helping them use their voice to solve issues assertively and exhibit empathy for others. This is taught in second through fifth grades, along with other lessons on behavior skills. There are visual reminders of the framework posted on the school walls. This practice reinforces the school’s character values of empathy, respect, and responsibility. Staff education on restorative justice, as opposed to punitive discipline, has been important. Staff supports students as they acquire practice in using Peaceful Pathway. The data indicates that discipline referrals for bullying, harassment, and physical aggression have declined, and adult conflict facilitation needs have decreased.
Tomorrow River School District – “Embedding Character and Social Emotional Learning into District Strategic Plan”
For its strategic goals, this district embeds Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the K-12 curriculum. It is developmental, promotes a common language throughout the school system, and focuses on character traits.
In setting District strategic goals, one was to ensure that young people attain a positive mental health mindset that will maximize their social and emotional potential through the support and resources of caring adults. Utilizing a mental health grant from DPI, the District hired an SEL Coordinator and allocated staff development time for SEL training. The SEL efforts focused on character as integral to SEL and chose a curriculum focusing on character lessons such as Integrity, Empathy, and Conflict Resolution. Time is scheduled with frequency (weekly) for Elementary and Middle School, and semester/course basis for High School students. Qualitative data shows that students are more capable of expressing their emotions and sharing strategies they use to manage these emotions, and also observed a growing use of conflict resolution skills in attempts to resolve conflicts peacefully.
2022 Promising Practices Designees
Rocky Branch Elementary (River Falls School District) – “Monthly Character Education Groups”
A focus on a caring community following pandemic disruptions was the impetus behind this practice of monthly buddy groups. Staff prioritized school culture and relationship building using monthly cross-grade level buddy groups. Students and teaching staff participated, providing an opportunity for students to get to know one another. They used this innovative approach to expand shared moral leadership and student voices. Groups were enhanced by fifth-grade students collaborating to create monthly videos to introduce the character trait. Survey data shows 95% of students like the buddy groups, and 90% said they learned about the character traits.
Meyer Middle School (River Falls School District) – “Connect: A Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Course”
An intense belief that social-emotional learning and character education are connected led to the development of this best practice. Using Meyer’s character education program as a foundation, the staff wanted to increase SEL student skills as key to student success and promote overall well-being. School climate would also be enhanced. Using research-based approaches, every student takes the 7.5-week class each year with content/skills at each grade level. Student survey data is collected, determining effectiveness, and learning growth. Students are also asked to reflect on the impact their moral and performance character has had on them and their school, family, and community.
Edgewood Elementary School (Greenfield School District) – “Morning Announcements: A Fresh Look”
Pandemic school closures created a challenge for all schools to keep the school community connected. Edgewood’s approach provided an expected school announcement through YouTube medium. Once back in school, logistics and preferences made us continue Morning Announcements through this media platform. An added enhancement has allowed for greater school participation and connection to character education. Students contribute by writing scripts, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, or making commercials for character-based problems they see in school and how to resolve them. The weekly schedule of topics such as Motivational Monday, Thankful Thursday, and “Apaws” (a character shout-out to students and staff caught showing a character trait). This creates a routine that school staff reports have substantially impacted school culture and reinforces character traits.
Westside Elementary School (River Falls School District) – “Westside Elementary Character Council”
Westside Elementary shifted its student council to an inclusive council focused on character and service learning. All students in grades 4 and 5 can participate. The goal is to embrace and live out the school’s character traits in service to others to make their school and community a better place. To be an inclusive and equitable group, the school devoted time during midday leading to a 50% increase in participation. Students are now the voice for character growth, selecting projects, and sharing with the entire classroom. The character-focused council’s essential mission is to help students reflect on the connection between the service projects and their intrinsic understanding of the character. Every two months, the students are asked to reflect on their participation in the service project, including how it relates to character traits, what they learned and how it benefits others.
2021 Promising Practices Designees
This private academy has worked to blend an existing leadership curriculum based on military academy focus with one that encompassed a broader perspective as they expanded their school. The newly developed four-year curriculum focuses on a sequence of character-based leadership development. It begins with developing/defining personal core values and supporting school core values. The curriculum then follows a continuum to a focus on moral imperatives for leadership, and a capstone leadership project for seniors. The school integrates this curriculum and character expectation in all areas of academy life- classroom, dorms and in extracurricular activities. The intentional development and teaching of character, and the transferability to other high schools is why this is a best/promising practice.
Carmen Schools of Science and Technology-Carmen South Middle School Campus (Milwaukee)-“Circles”
“Circles” is a practice this school has committed to weekly during the advisory time and continued during the pandemic. This practice, adapted from another institution, seeks to invite students and staff to be transparent and in relationships with each other. Circle time is for listening, learning, respecting individuals and understanding their stories. Students work on earning badges that help them understand who they are with a focus on identity and diversity. There is involvement from the families in special sharing at Circle time. Professional development for staff to run the circles is rich and on-going. Creating a caring community and nurturing respect is evident in this practice.
Greenwood Elementary School (School District of River Falls) – “Podcasting “Some Good News” at Greenwood Elementary
Greenwood Elementary had a character podcast project designed to empower students in 4th and 5th grade to creatively discuss current events and opinions related to their character education learning. The podcast had to be discontinued during the pandemic; however, students approached their facilitator with a desire to continue the Good News by creating a YouTube series. Students could do this from home and submit to the school to share. Their focus was on finding good news stories to brighten peoples’ days and showcase leaders of character in the news- reaching the school community and beyond. This practice is strong in promoting student voice and choice and is recognized as an adaptive adjustment to continue character education activities.
Walker Elementary (West Allis West Milwaukee School District) – “Virtual All School Assemblies”
All school assemblies were a vital part of this school’s character education effort and were not possible this year. In response to the pandemic, the school team worked to adapt and provide a Virtual All School Assembly that maintains the integrity of their commitment to building community, sharing character skills and continued focus on student voice. In these bi-weekly assemblies, classroom teams provide content and sharing on character skills for the whole school community- whether in person or attending virtually. Parents are partners as they support their students from home, with feedback that the virtual assemblies have been a high point for their children. Building community while developing character has made this a strong adaptive practice during the pandemic.
College Park Elementary (Greendale School District) – “We Are Stronger Together”
This practice, as the name implies, is an effort to build connections and relationships between the students who were attending in person and those who were attending virtually. The commitment to have all students feel welcome, accepted as a part of the whole school community and to continue to build relationships between students is at the core of this practice. Intentional efforts were made to modify existing activities, especially ones that were character focused, to be done using technology to create and extend opportunities for shared learning experiences. This has been positive for students in all settings and has also engaged more parents in the character education efforts. This practice is a strong adaptation that enhanced relationships, community and parent involvement during the pandemic.
Alverno College (Milwaukee) – “Thea Bowman Institute: Racial Identity Development Seminar”
Character education initiatives can/should be extended beyond the K-12 setting. As such, this college, through their Thea Bowman Institute, developed a strong character education initiative. In response to racial justice concerns and wanting to support Black students at Alverno (especially new students), a core group of Black Alverno employees developed a leadership/mentoring program. This mentoring program provides students with a dedicated advisor, alumna mentor, exclusive networking opportunities and guaranteed internship opportunities. This effort builds trust and relationships between student and faculty, providing support to further a safe space for learning and to promote successful outcomes. This practice is an excellent example of shared leadership, caring community, and opportunity for moral action. It is a practice that can be adapted at a high school level or other post-secondary institutions/organizations.
2020 Promising Practices Designees
The Secret Agents Kindness Club had its genesis from the book, Secret Kindness Agents by Ferial Pearson. All 5th graders can participate in this club initiated to teach kindness. Meeting weekly, students plan and create things that will spread kindness throughout the school and community. They have made fuzzies for student cubbies, posters with positive messages, written notes to custodians, and also made kindness rocks to spread around the community. At meetings there is time for reflection by writing in journals of the impact of their “missions”. At the end of each meeting, students grab a secret mission envelope with a task that needs to be accomplished before the next meeting. A ripple effect has 2nd graders doing kindness posters.
Edgewood Elementary School (Greenfield School District/Greenfield) – Boys in Flight
Boys in Flight is an afterschool program offered to interested boys through a lottery system developed in collaboration with the PE department and the 4th and 5th-grade teachers and principal. It is designed to seek individuals who may need skill development in the focus areas of physical activity, self-confidence, friendship, etiquette, hygiene, and growth in character traits. The commitment to meet after school for 90 minutes weekly over 9 weeks is a significant contribution by these boys. They set goals, have homework assigned to develop skills, and have cooperative physical activity at the end of each session. Feedback on sportsmanship is a component. This program is a counterbalance to the school’s Girls on the Run program.
Necedah Elementary School (Necedah School District, Necedah)- Cardinal Classrooms
Integrating character values throughout the school day is key to the Cardinal Classrooms. The school values, or Cardinal REDS (Respectful, Engaged, Dependable, and Self-controlled), is the way of doing things in this school- even in the encore classes of Art, Music, and PE. To reinforce this, each month the encore teacher selects the homeroom class that best demonstrated their Cardinal REDS in class for the month. Understanding the “why” of the class selected is important, so time is spent explaining the specific actions the homeroom class demonstrated. This practice has received positive survey feedback from staff and students
Necedah High School (Necedah School District, Necedah) – Opportunity over Outcome
This practice contains several activities/initiatives that- taken together- recognizes and rewards the positive contributions of all who make school athletic contests enjoyable and educational experiences. Students in the WON80 Sportsmanship Club prepare Appreciation Bags (snack bags) that they distribute to all student-athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, managers, athletic trainers, video workers, bus drivers, event workers, press and game officials before games. Better with a Letter extends appreciation to game officials with written thank-you notes included in these bags. At the end of the game and after team handshakes, players are asked to meet within their team to select a Sport of the Game from the opposing team. This athlete should be an opponent who competed hard and exhibited character traits of positive attitude, respect towards opponents and officials, and was a positive role model. Positive role modeling and promoting good sportsmanship is strong in this practice.
Oconomowoc High School (Oconomowoc School District, Oconomowoc )- Rebuilding Ocon Pride by Reshaping the School Culture
Tackling school culture in a high school is a challenge. With new leadership at this school, a staff team was empowered to reshape this school’s culture. First, they identified and prioritized cultural issues that were negatively impacting their school culture (cell phones, structure of advisory period, etc.). Next, all staff participated in a summer visioning retreat, working in small groups to revisit their core values (Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Extraordinary) and defining what these values looked like in order to practice them. This process led to revising their core values to Grounded (in our values), Committed (to our goals), and Accountable (to ourselves and each other). The revised core values led to changes, including the development of Community Commitments lessons for all classes, revising the disciplinary system to be more restorative, and increased data sharing with parents/students/staff. Students are now creating weekly video lessons grounded in the core values. The visioning retreat will be an annual event.
St John’s Northwestern Academies (Delafield) – Peer Tutoring Program
Peer tutoring is a good practice that builds character for the volunteer tutor – leadership, empathy, and responsibility- while developing the academic skills of the student being helped. When student leadership at this school discovered a significant increase in the number of students placed on academic warning, they decided to revamp unstructured time after school into an organized intentional period of one-on-one academic assistance. The tutoring program is structured, having a teacher advisor and a training component for the volunteer tutors. This program has made students aware of the power of student voice and the ability to impact their school community. Data reveals that over the several years this has been in place, the number of students on academic warning has been reduced by two-thirds.
Swallow Elementary School (Swallow School District/Hartland) – Connecting Hearts and Hands
Through Connecting Hearts and Hands, students as young as kindergartners gain social emotional competencies through a real life inter-generational sharing. Partnering with a local nursing home, the Director comes to the school to share information about the residents and what it means to be elderly. Students also spend time learning about themselves. In this practice, unlike other community outreach, the senior citizens visit the school and meet with students. Students demonstrate empathy by helping them off the bus, pushing wheel chairs and then spend time in art projects and reading. Senior citizens share stories of their youth and things they have experienced in life. The school reports that many families take their children to the local nursing home to see their elderly friends during the summer. This practice builds social and emotional learning for students and engages their families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
Swallow Middle School (Swallow School District/Hartland)-Middle School Students Lead the Way
In Students Lead the Way, Middle School students spend class time reflecting on six topics they feel are relevant to students in our society. Students also reflect on what they feel they can teach younger children that might help them develop strong character. After one year of weekly character education lessons, the middle school students are asked to plan and implement a character lesson for a grade level of their choice (K-5). The lessons they plan must be age appropriate, engaging and well designed. They are provided classroom time for developing their lesson plans and are responsible for coordinating schedules with the classroom teacher. Developing students learning around character education and then giving them the opportunity for moral action through teaching younger students has shown to be a positive practice- and younger students look forward to their turn to do this when they reach Middle School.
Swallow School District (Hartland) – Engaging Parents in Character Education and Social Emotional Learning
To strengthen relationships between school and families along with partnering with parents and the community in the character education process, Swallow School District has implemented a professional reading group for parents/community members. The Article of the Month Discussion Group reads articles/books that have been intentionally selected for their social and emotional learning focus with varying themes. The district hosts an evening discussion event for the families/community members to discuss and share their thoughts and reflections. The reading group goes from February through May. The shared reading has created a common language and understanding around social and emotional learning and has a significant impact on developing character both at home and school. Participation in this reading group is growing.
Walker Elementary School (West Allis-West Milwaukee School District/West Allis)- Success Skills
As a Trauma-Informed School, building relationships and growing student confidence was seen as key to helping all of their students. “Who you are is better than what you know” was the guiding belief as staff participated in professional development around promoting a growth mindset in students and the benefits of restorative practices. After a book study of The Formative Five by Thomas R. Hoerr, staff realized they wanted to embed character core values into their school- in classrooms, the school, and community culture. Success Skills has seven core character traits: sportsmanship, self-control, embracing diversity, grit, empathy and integrity. The whole school focuses on each trait for two consecutive months- providing classroom lessons and other activities to build knowledge of the character trait. Members of the community are invited to share how these core character values are crucial to being a successful citizen. Family engagement nights bring families into the schools to learn about these core traits. Data collected shows a positive impact with decreasing office referrals and their state report card shows evidence of increased academic success.
2019 Promising Practices Winners
Columbus Elementary School (Columbus)– Virtual All School Meeting- Sharing a common character education message by introducing the character trait of the day via a virtual all school meeting ensures this school finds time to work on character education. Their staff team collaborates on strategies and activities to support the daily character trait presented in the morning meeting. Students are invited to be involved in presenting information to their peers, along with the Principal- who leads the virtual meeting. This approach becomes embedded as the language/trait introduced is then a part of the classroom in activities/discussions. The staff uses reflection and feedback to strengthen this practice.
Edgewood Elementary School (Greenfield) – Inter-generational Buddy Bonding- Creating a caring community is the foundation of this practice. Within the school, fifth grade students are paired with kindergarten students. Monthly, they work together on projects (ornaments, cards, door hangers) and then go with their buddy to the nearby Senior Citizen center to visit their Senior Buddies. Teachers spend time preparing students by asking about their experiences with the elderly and then follow up with post visit feedback and reflection. These students and seniors bond over time and the activities become more interactive. The students have a chance to be a part of building a caring community.
Necedah Elementary School (Necedah) – Cardinals Care Capsules- Catching other students displaying the schools core values –known as the Cardinal REDs (Respectful, Engaged, Dependable and Self- controlled) helps students see what the character traits look like. The After School Program students built the physical structure that represents the Cardinals Care Capsules. These free-standing capsules, placed around the school, encourage students to look for students acting out the core values. They write down and describe who they saw and what trait they saw and place it in the capsule. This practice continues into the After School Program- a reminder that Cardinal REDS are the norm in the building at all times. The collaboration with the After School Program strengthens this practice.
Rockfield Elementary School (Germantown) – The Rockfield News- The Rockfield News- a weekly video announcement- is how this school works collaboratively to share what is happening in the school and embed their core values into their school culture. Two staff committees plan, survey, write and prepare for the weekly videos, aligned with the character value being taught each month. Students deliver the news and are encouraged to share their ideas and thematic inputs when they are working on the recording. The information shared on the videos is then reinforced in classroom discussions. Surveys are used to provide feedback on the value and topics for future videos. Students are given a “voice” and leadership opportunities “teaching” the character value.
South Milwaukee High School (South Milwaukee) – Veteran’s Day Program- This Veteran’s Day program culminates in a one-time per year event, but the planning and level of student voice and choice provides an ongoing opportunity for students for moral action and leadership. This program has grown from involving 75 students to now well over 200 students who work to make this day special to honor veterans. Students reach out to local business to donate food for the reception and they also get support to provide gifts for the veterans through their fundraisers. Initially adult run, this event is now student led. Recently, they honored 100 veterans from across the globe.
2018 Promising Practices Winners
College Park Elementary School (Greendale) – Building a Community of Learners- “Community of Learners” is a practice that promotes shared leadership and learning among staff and students. A committee of teachers, staff and students is charged with selecting and developing yearly themes centered around the broad concept of being good people and taking responsibility for choices made. Teachers develop activities that are accessible to all of their learners. Activities include assemblies featuring student leadership and participation, interactive bulletin boards, cross grade level activities and school wide book of the month selections. Concepts are reinforced in daily classroom meetings, announcements and classroom conversations. Families are involved in the implementation of the themes. This practice emphasizes character attributes rather than a focus on rules and engages students by providing an opportunity for student voice in selecting and developing the themes.
Greenwood Elementary School (River Falls)- Pride Groups- Two tandem goals – creating a school where every student has an advocate outside of their classroom teacher and building inter-grade relationships -underpin the establishment of Pride Groups. Pride groups (advisory groups) are common school practices, but this stands out because every certified staff in the school has a Pride Group (not organized by classrooms) of approximately fifteen students from every grade level. These groups stay together for the duration of their time at Greenwood. The monthly Pride meetings have become a cornerstone of their character education program- filled with discussing, learning and practicing character. Unlike many advisory groups, Pride activities have transitioned from teacher driven to student created, which promotes student leadership, responsibility and voice.
Greenwood Elementary School (River Falls)- Greenwood Yearly Character Themes- Making character education something students want to learn while developing their intrinsic motivation to be good citizens motivates Greenwood staff to create character education lessons that are engaging, fun and creative for students. They determined that setting a yearly Character Theme has proven to be a good tool for accomplishing this. Creating a yearly theme has led to more programming and involvement in character education from staff, students, families and community. This practice relies on strong themes, incorporates a daily reflection (using a Character Reflection Journal given to all students and staff), and activities that reach out to families. Data has been collected over five years to confirm the effectiveness of this practice.
Honor Elementary School (Neosho) – Elders Program- In this practice, students are given a chance to interact with senior community members on a monthly basis. This promotes multi-generational relationships and develops a caring community. When they meet, time is spent on activities such as crafts, student presentations, elders’ show and tell, technology and also music performed by elders. Conversations among students and adults are encouraged and continue to develop over time. The Elders Program develops awareness and appreciation of others, brings students and elders together in a nurturing, educational environment, and taps the valuable resources and the time and patience that the older generation offers. Reflection is incorporated into this practice.
Necedah High School (Necedah) – WON80 Club- Developing character through sportsmanship is the focus of WON80. Open to all students, the club meets twice a month during school advisory time. Club members attend a workshop on the importance of positive sportsmanship with an emphasis on self- growth and self- improvement as the primary means of becoming a “difference maker” in their school and community. They plan activities to raise awareness of the issues of good vs. poor sportsmanship, including valuing the contributions of others. Activities are assessed upon conclusion for their effectiveness. This approach has received positive feedback from the community and athletic conference schools. The sportsmanship approach to character is a leverage to improving school culture.
Rockfield Elementary School (Germantown) – Game Leaders- Game Leaders are trained 4th and 5th graders who are given the responsibility to help foster a positive play experience for fellow students during recess. Students receive training during the summer. Skills taught in the training include: communication, leadership responsibilities, cooperative team-building, problem-solving, good sportsmanship, specific recess games and safety. During the school year, Game Leaders are assigned a few days each month to lead at recess. The program provides safe and exciting play for the primary-aged students and builds leadership skills in the student Game Leaders. Feedback shares these positive attributes of the practice- it builds friendships across grade levels, supports our youngest learners, and most importantly, it creates opportunity for fun.
2017 Promising Practices Winners
Capitol West Academy (Milwaukee Charter School) – Process of Reviewing & Rekindling Core Values- The process of revisiting core values with existing stakeholders is being recognized as a way to rejuvenate an existing character education program. After several years, this National/State School of Character believed it was important to review their core values and include all current stakeholders – community members, parents, students and staff- to ensure the focus was on those ideas that best represented their school community and its members. The resulting four core values were then translated from abstract values into clear definitions and
Kewaskum School District (Kewaskum) – Pins & Magnets- Integrating art and character education to benefit their local food pantry has become a tradition in this school district and community. Art teachers at the three elementary schools have their 4th and 5th graders create original art pieces to become “pins and magnets”, which are then sold at the schools and local grocery store to raise money. In addition to the artistic process, students are learning about a need that exists in their own community, and are empowered to help alleviate hunger through their art. In six years the proceeds from the art has generated over $30,000 for the local pantry. Responsibility, cooperation, caring and teamwork are character traits reinforced through this practice.
Pilgrim Middle School (Elmbrook School District)- Discovery Retreat- Discovery Retreat brings students who may not interact in school together in a retreat setting to learn about each other and ways to positively impact their school culture. The retreat is limited to forty students, but all students may apply to attend. For two days at a local camp, middle school students are asked to interact and examine barriers and identity away from the school environment using curriculum written by school staff. Though limited in number of students, this retreat allows for deep examination of character. The rotation of staff each year to connect with students is positive.
River Falls High School (River Falls School District) – Student Led Non-Profit Organization- This school took service to community to a new level with the student led group and fully operational 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization which partners with community members, local organizations, River Falls School District schools, and student clubs and activities. Their mission statement is: We are a compassionate student led non-profit organization with the goal of generating funds to give back to others in need within our greater community. They generate support from the community and also from all 28 clubs, athletics and activity organizations- each pledging percentages of their fundraising to the non-profit Sunshine Fund. Proactive in nature, the fund can quickly and quietly help community members during difficult times. This practice gives students an opportunity to learn empathy and altruism along with empowering them as leaders. The community is seeing the dedication and positive nature of their teenagers.
Slinger High School (Slinger School District) – KIWI Club- At Slinger High School, all kids can be a part of KIWI (Kind Individuals With Integrity) Club-filling the need for students with/without disabilities to develop meaningful relationships while engaging in community volunteer and social activities together. This club’s mission is to spread the idea that every person has something to give no matter what limitations he or she may be facing. We all have a gift, a purpose and a place in this world. Participation in KIWI Club allows all students to engage in character growth activities. Together, these students volunteer monthly, attend school events together, fundraise and plan field trips.
2016 Promising Practices Winners
Capitol West Academy (UW-Milwaukee Charter School) – Going the Extra Degree- The metaphor of moving water from still to boiling point to create steam and energy is the premise of the book, 212: The Extra Degree, by Sam Parker, which was read by all staff at this school. Based on this, staff developed a recognition program to encourage all to” go the extra degree” to foster self-motivation and enhance school community. Recognition is via cards filled out for anyone going the extra degree or verbally during morning grade level meetings. Key to this is that recognition must include the core value observed and identifying the behaviors aligned with the value. Self-motivation and increased student voice/ownership has improved.
Rockfield Elementary School (Germantown School District) – Building Great Habits- Parent involvement in the character education effort is a key element in this practice. The leadership team uses the book, The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, by Sean Covey, to create a dialog and discussion between students and adults to start building positive habits (responsibility, teamwork, balance, respect, vision and planning). Each month every teacher reads a story from this book to the class, and the book is sent home with a special folder describing the school goals and plans and an activity. Follow-up includes the family reading the story and completing a reflection either by drawing a picture or writing down a time when the student or family demonstrated the habit.
South Milwaukee School District (South Milwaukee) – District Wide Food Drive “Stuff the Bus”- For two weeks, this school district works together to support others by collecting food for Human Concerns, a non-profit that delivers critical help to needs-based residents. The strength of this practice is that it goes beyond collecting food – it is designed to build leadership and community as they literally, stuff the bus. The goal is for students and schools to work together to make a difference and to demonstrate compassion, responsibility and kindness. Staff facilitates the effort between schools, and students are responsible for organizing, advertising and loading the bus as it makes its rounds from school to school.
St. Monica School (Whitefish Bay) – Discipleship Development Program- A matrix defining expectations of community learning for all students is helping this school develop a community service mindset for its students. Every year students engage in community service projects, gaining an understanding of their role in helping others. This is a comprehensive program that articulates projects and desired outcomes by grade level in the K4-8 matrix. Students explore servant/service leadership through repeated moral experiences. The plan is designed so students grow in their capacity to understand the diversity of needs in the community and the role they play in effecting positive change. All activities are experiential in nature and expose students to hands-on and active community leadership.
West Milwaukee Intermediate School (West Allis- West Milwaukee School District) – The Power of Mindfulness- Mindfulness is a school wide initiative providing students with a proactive approach to deal with conflict and stress they face in their daily life. With a high percentage of students facing poverty and other challenges, mindfulness helps students become more aware of how their behavior, thoughts and/or feelings affect themselves, others and the learning environment. Trained staff lead this effort, but many of the daily mindfulness activities are now student-led. Data shows a decrease in student behavior referrals. Staff is observing students practicing this on their own, and survey data shows students practicing mindfulness at home with increased frequency.
Westside Elementary School (School District of River Falls) – Westside’s Character, Service & Circles- Leaders at this school engage parents in the character education effort and strengthen the school community by holding quarterly Character Ed Evenings. Reaching out to a subgroup of families who may not always feel a part of the school community, these families are invited to participate in these events which consists of community service projects, developing family touchstones, and celebrating character. Data shows that 61% of the identified subgroup attended at least one of these character focused activities. The metaphor of a circle reminds all that their character education program relies on the participation of a vast circle of people.
Youth Initiative High School (Viroqua) – The Care Group- Every student has a Care Group that follows him/her throughout his/her high school career. Inter-generational by design, it includes the student, their parents, a teacher/administrator, and also a student peer and an adult mentor from the community –both selected by the student. The group meets at the start of high school and before the senior year; however, it can also be convened at the request of any member of the Care Group. The group is empowered to guide the student through the academic, social, and personal issues of adolescence and is seen as a key touchstone of the student’s school experience. With a focus on respect and caring, a school culture that is welcoming, compassionate and respectful has been nurtured.
2014 Promising Practices Winners
Catholic Central High School (Burlington) – “Peer Mentoring Program”- High School students are partnered with students in 5th and 6th grade at local (parochial) grade schools. The high school students receive training on classroom management, mandatory reporting and also familiarity with the monthly lessons. On a monthly basis, they go into elementary classrooms and teach lessons on bullying prevention. The locally developed curriculum uses solid resources. Surveys to assess the impact of this program show a large percentage increase in high school student participation and feedback from the younger students’ shows significant belief that this program has helped them understand what bullying was.
Catholic Memorial High School (Waukesha) – “Activating our Values- 360 Evaluations”- This practice is focused on staff and is designed to encourage awareness, growth and development of core values in faculty and staff. With the help of a consultant, observable behaviors that reflect each of the core values of the school were written, and then formulated into an on-line questionnaire assessment form. Each faculty/staff chooses 8-10 colleagues to assess his/her demonstration of the values using a rating system. The individual and his/her supervisor also complete this questionnaire. Each staff member reviews the results and then develops an action plan for progress based on this feedback. Modeling core values is important for character development in students.
Catholic Memorial High School (Waukesha) – “Student Growth Plan”- The CMH Student Growth Plan (SGP) is the foundation of the character education at this school. Each student maintains a growth plan for his/her four years of high school. There are four pillars that form the framework of the Student Growth Plan: academics, social engagement, service and leadership. Small groups meet with mentors throughout the year to work on these individual plans and reflect on goals and growth. The school is using assessments to provide feedback on the impact of this practice. The Student feedback has been positive.
Columbus Elementary School/Discovery Charter School (Columbus) – “Valentines for Veterans”- Finding meaningful and age/developmentally appropriate activities for moral action for their students is the impetus for using Valentine’s Day to create opportunities for character development. Students create valentines cards for veterans, who have been invited to attend an all school assembly. During the assembly, student representatives from each grade level read their messages in front of the school and then present their cards to one of the veterans in attendance. Teachers follow up by asking their students to reflect on this project. This is a good early step in character development.
Lake Bluff Elementary School (Shorewood) – “Mindfulness”- Mindfulness helps students become more aware of their own self and how their actions affect those around them, slowing down the impulsive/reflexive mode which would at times result in verbal or physical aggression. This strategy is used throughout the day by teachers to help their students become aware of how they can develop self-discipline. The alignment of this practice to a specific target/goal and the strong assessment component makes this a best practice.
Lakeview Elementary School (South Milwaukee) – “The Lakeview PRIDE Assembly”- Building on district-wide developed character traits, this school redesigned their monthly assembly model to focus more directly on character. The acronym of PRIDE comes from a letter within each district character trait (resPect, perseverance, responsibility, kinDness , honEsty). The assemblies, held monthly focus on a character trait for two months; first the character trait is introduced to all, followed by the next assembly where grade level groups are responsible to share their ideas about the character trait through skits, videos or other activities. The assembly is a platform for common language and understanding of the character traits.
MacDowell Montessori School (Milwaukee) – “Lessons for Real World Work”- During the weekly “Occupations” period, students in grades 7-12 explore careers and develop character skills. With a wide range of roles and “jobs” to select from, students are able to explore what he/she may want for a future career. This approach develops their communication skills and instills responsibility. The career “choices” are unique, there is evidence of impact from this practice and the frequency provides a strong character building component, along with involving the community.
Prairie Elementary School (Waunakee) – “Student Corps”- Modeled after the Ameri Corp, this practice is designed to engage in true service learning where students define the goals of the project, incorporate them in team building and decision making skills. Students are responsible for the research, planning and implementation of the projects that all have a strong tie in to the curricular study areas. Character skills strengthened include work ethic, respect, cooperation, tolerance and fairness. One hundred percent of the students said they enjoyed the projects and would do them again.
Pilgrim Park Middle School (Elm Grove) – “STP Character Activities” The character program at this school is called RISE (Respect, Integrity, Strive and Excellence). Developed by student senators and advisors, it was originally designed to encourage and reward students who exhibited the qualities of RISE. It has grown to become a quarterly focus on character during the Student Teacher Periods (STP ). Activities include introduction of a character related topic followed by small group discussion and opportunities for reflection. Surveys are conducted to provide feedback for assessment of activities and impact on school behavioral incidences and school climate.
Salam School (Milwaukee) – “Mentorship Among Peers”- A mentorship program between high school and elementary students was designed to alleviate disruptive behaviors developing at the upper elementary school level. High school students were selected to meet with the guidance counselors for training, then were paired with students from the elementary school. This program has grown as the mentorships have been positive and has impacted positively on behavior issues. The high school students have expanded this mentorship to include tutoring and after school sports co-curricular activities.
Sandburg Elementary School (Madison) – “Student Personal Character Goal Setting: Pathways”- Sandburg’s “Pathway to Success “ is a writing prompt that allows students the ability to reflect on who they are, what they value, what challenges they might face during the school year. The student responses and goals are stored on their iPad and shared with their teacher and parents. Students review and revise their classroom academic and social goals quarterly, with multiple references and reflection during each quarter. Focusing on goal setting -with the predicting of actions, carrying out plans along and reflection -is the cornerstone of this schools approach to character development. Progress is assessed on the character report card.
Waterloo High School (Waterloo)- “Student Led Character Education Program”- The Driven Team is the name for the student led character education program. Students at this school took ownership of their character education program. Their activities and approach promote a caring school environment with activities such as: holding an anti-bullying assembly, participation in National Kindness Day, and implementing a buddy program with 8th graders to assist in the transition to high school. Partnerships with elementary classrooms are being established to develop relationships and create a positive school climate throughout the district.
Westlawn Elementary School (Cedarburg) – “Girls Getaway”- The goal of this ”getaway” is to allow 5th grade girls and their mothers to bond, build character and feel empowered as females. The event used the pairing of mothers and daughters with activities that focused on women of character in history, such as Rosa Parks. Teachers led the different activities that provided reading, learning and reflection by mothers and daughters. Before entering middle school this is a creative idea to strengthen character and communication. This lays a foundation for further activities in the future.
Westside Elementary School (River Falls) – “TEAM Westside/Character Coaching”- TEAM Westside is a creative and engaging initiative to reach out to families as partners in the character development of children. Five Character coaching evenings were scheduled during the school year with activities based on the feedback from the parent needs/interest survey. On TEAM Taco night, families gathered for team building games, food and all families left with the book 20 Gifts for Life, by Hal Urban. These evenings enhanced family awareness of character by giving students and parent the opportunity to discuss aspects of character while practicing good character together.
Westside Elementary School (River Falls) – “Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat”- The Kindness Retreat, a once a year event for 4th graders, has been held for four years and become the springboard for other character developing opportunities in this school. At the yearly retreat, students are engaged in activities that promote kindness, respect, learning about bullying and developing conflict resolution skills. Once back in the classroom, teachers incorporate role-play, journal writing and class discussion to provide ongoing practice and reflection. Beyond the classroom, students serve as student ambassadors, peer mediators, patrols and in other self-directed service projects.
Woodlands School (Bluemound Campus) (Milwaukee) –“ From Me to We”- a Real Life Game of Character- Students are building character while learning French. Through a teacher created game, students learn about the three virtues of Friendship, Unity and Honor (or Amitie, Unite, Honneur). This is a good example of embedding character into the curriculum, even in the special academic areas.
2015 Promising Practices Winners
Edgewood Elementary (Greenfield) – Peer Mediated Instruction & Intervention (PMII)- This research based strategy is used to engage 5th graders with autistic students and create an accepting environment for all. Parent permission for both types of students is required. The group initially met weekly to learn about autism and strategies to help their peer student maintain positive behavior. This student centered approach has improved behavior referrals, increased empathy and improved relationships among students. It is a highly impactful approach for both types of students. This is also transferable to multiple settings.
Lake Bluff Elementary (Shorewood) – Character Education Handbook- The “Character Ed at Lake Bluff” handbook is an adult resource distributed to all staff (including non-teaching staff), parent teacher organization and other stakeholders and is posted on their website. The purpose of the handbook is to share the schools’ character education journey and to ensure that all stakeholders at the school will adhere to the same core values that guide student learning and good character. This resource” norms” the language for all adults and helps sustain the character education culture for new staff and parents.
Meyer Middle School (River Falls) – Agenda Meetings- Increasing student voice of all students was the objective for implementing this practice. Every Teacher Advisory time (daily) is required to have Agenda Meetings twice weekly. Guidelines for this meeting time include participants sit in a circle, all have a chance to speak, and information shared is confidential (topics not names used). The goal is to create a time to share positives and to problem solve. The dynamics of circle sharing and positive orientation provides a powerful approach for student voice. The consistency of the practice and the systematic feedback using school climate surveys supports the positive impact of this practice.
Pleasant Prairie Elementary (Pleasant Prairie) – High Fives in the Hallway- Recognizing students who exemplify this schools’ character traits is the basis for this practice. Every other month, students who have exemplified good character and achieved in many different ways (all character based versus grades/attendance) gather and walk together through the school hallways to music. Students in all classes come out and give them “high fives” to congratulate them. This practice encourages all to work hard, practice the schools’ nine character traits and celebrate the good work of others – promoting a caring school community.
Prairie Elementary (Waunakee) – Be a Buddy, Not a Bully- This practice has a variety of focus areas, all around redirecting the language of “Be a Buddy” versus the normal “bully” orientation. Students are taught about the negative and harmful effects of bullying, the difference between teasing and bullying, targets and bystanders, and how to get help. They are given many opportunities to practice “buddying”-as bus buddies, reading buddies, new student buddies – creating bonds among students and orienting them to kindness to others. The survey data is good, with 96% of stakeholders initially saying bullying is not a problem to 98% most recently reporting the school is safe and caring.
Prairie Elementary (Waunakee) – Kindness is Cooler- Kindness is central to this schools desired way of doing business. This campaign- Kindness is Cooler- began with all classrooms writing social promises of how students would treat one another. This led to a student initiated Kindness Club. The students do a variety of projects and activities that emphasize “kindness” both within the school and toward the community. This has created a paradigm shift for the students.
River Falls School District (River Falls) – District Approach to Moving Character Education Forward- This school district has made a commitment to character education. They established a Character Education Steering Committee that includes a broad group of staff that has met monthly for five years to develop and guide the character education for their district. Their committee work reviews school climate surveys, shares resources and ideas, engages parents and community to enhance the work they are doing. Shared leadership in character education has provided stability and sustainability for this school district and their character education initiative.
St. Joseph (Big Bend) – Gathering & Scattering- Every Monday this school community has a meeting called “Gathering”. The whole school attends and sits with their buddy classes. This is a sharing time for the school community and a time to learn a new character trait for the next two weeks. During the week, there is integration and further discussion of the character trait. On Friday of each week, the school has a culminating meeting, called “Scattering”. This school community time is a recap of the week, with a short discussion about the character trait. School leaders report this is developing a stronger school community while teaching the character traits.
2012 Promising Practices Winners
Greenwood Elementary School – River Falls School District (River Falls) – “Greenwood Community Garden”- Providing opportunities for students to develop a sense of purpose and compassion beyond themselves was the impetus for this community garden started in 2009. This is truly a community garden with involvement by students, teachers, parents and community members. 1st and 4th graders work as buddies. Together, these cross-age groups design and build garden boxes, decide what vegetables to grow, start the plants from seedlings and harvest the goods to donate to a local food shelf. Character development occurs with the cross-age groupings that builds a sense of community, provides leadership opportunities for 4th grade students, and all students have the satisfaction of helping others by donating their food products.
Meyer Middle School – River Falls School District (River Falls) – 1. “Long Distance Student Reading Mentorship” and 2. “Climbing Towards Our Everest Goals”- 1. Sharing a desire to read and helping others less fortunate was the focus of this service project for 7th grade students at Meyer Middle School. The project had three components: fundraising, outreach, and reflection. Students raised money to buy books for their soon to be buddies at Bancroft Elementary in Minneapolis that has a student population of 83% free and reduced lunch. They traveled to this school and spent time with their buddies reading, sharing thoughts on reading, and giving them a new book. These buddies became “pen pals” with reading as the focus of their discussions. After their time at Bancroft Elementary, the 7th graders were asked to reflect on their experience. This mentorship activity gave these 7th grade students a chance to help others and put their character in action. 2. Perseverance and hard work are performance character traits that Meyer Middle School wanted their students to have. With that in mind, Meyer Middle School took the famous icon of Mt. Everest- symbol of what it takes to set personal goals and works to achieve them- and made it a school year theme. On the first day of school, teachers introduced the Everest Project, shared their own personal dreams and goals; students then had the opportunity to view teacher goal projects and talk about them with staff. They watched the Everest IMAX movie and heard from speaker Eric Larson, a climber who scaled Mt. Everest. Leaving students with the question: What is your dream, your Everest? This was followed up by individual goal setting and strategies for achievement. Students made goal flags as a visible reminder of their goal. Throughout the year they heard from other speakers who have achieved their goals despite difficult odds such as the medal winning para-Olympian. Students are developing a greater sense of intrinsic motivation and capacity for perseverance and hard work. This is also building a more collaborative and supportive school climate.
River Falls High School – River Falls School District (River Falls) – “CATS Mentorship” (Connecting All Together Socially)- This mentorship program is connecting students with cognitive disabilities and students who are normally developing in a variety of social settings both during and outside of the school day. Students apply to be mentors. They receive training in awareness, team building, and problem solving skills. Each student with a disability has a mentor group (2-3) that remains constant during the year. They meet for homeroom twice per month for breakfast, games, movies or crafts; they attend school activities like basketball games and school plays, and also run concession stands as fundraisers. Along with being buddies, the Mentors serve as an advocacy group to help educate all students in awareness and respect for these students. Students learn the comprehensive nature of character- thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Rocky Branch Elementary School – River Falls School District (River Falls) – “Stepping Stones to Character”- Imagine walking into a school where hallways are named for character traits and the Black Eyed Peas “I Got a Feeling” is played at the monthly character assemblies? At Rocky Branch Elementary, students are introduced to character traits at energetic school-wide assemblies. They use multi-sensory approaches to engage students- from the music of the Black Eyed Peas to watching You Tube video clips that show what the character trait looks like. The students also recite their Touchstone and perform their “character flash mob dance”. As lively as the assembly is, character learning does not stop when the assembly is over- follow-up activities are done in classrooms, the character trait is incorporated into existing curriculum, and the trait is infused in other aspects of their daily life in school. They are teaching student’s character in a creative approach that excites and engages them.
Salam School (Milwaukee) – “Advisory: Educating, Nurturing and Empowering Young Learners”- Advisory period was started in 2008 to educate, nurture, develop and empower future leaders with character and social/emotional skills. Advisory is the time when students and staff dedicate themselves as a learning community to learn about a core value or a life skill. The Advisory teams are differentiated by grade level. The work of the teams is to create deeper understanding of the value through dialog, reflection, and sharing. They create presentations for assemblies encompassing the featured value. This sustained practice is building effective learning for students – taking the abstract core values and making then concrete and meaningful. It is also promoting a sense of shared responsibility among staff for the modeling and teaching of values.
South Milwaukee School District (South Milwaukee) – “Launching Character Education in South Milwaukee”- (Principle #1 of CEP’s Eleven Principles is about developing and promoting core values as the foundation of good character) – A necessary component for any school/district for advancing a strong character education focus is to have core, common values. South Milwaukee has developed core values – and done so in a way that is inclusive and representative of all stakeholders in their school community. This started with a strong planning process by key leaders in their district- Superintendent and Director of Personnel/Legal Services. They centered their focus on good instruction along with equity and equality of voice, and inclusive of staff and parents. At an all staff in-service, they listened to Dr. Adolph Brown, and then broke into smaller groups to examine, discuss and prioritize a list of 66 possible traits. Each staff member was asked to select the 12 traits they believed should be the basis for staff modeling and student focus. After the list was streamlined to 50 traits, parents were given a chance to vote via a GOOGLE form. Done in conjunction with the Fall Parent Teacher Conferences, staff was able to promote and educate parents. This activity garnered 7,566 votes. The District adopted five traits that will form the foundation for their work as a school of character- providing common values and common language. (Respect, Kindness, Responsibility Honesty, Perseverance).
2013 Promising Practices Winners
Blakewood Elementary School (South Milwaukee) – Practice: “Bucketfilling Trait Challenge”- Teaching character traits – an abstract concept- so it is understood and acted on by elementary students is at the core of the Bucketfilling Challenge. Blakewood educators use multiple strategies to teach the traits adopted by their school district. Starting with monthly school assemblies, one trait is presented and is the focus for the next two months (Respect, Kindness, Honesty, Responsibility, and Perseverance). This sets the groundwork for follow-up activities to further explore the traits. The next month, students create the content for the monthly assembly displaying some mastery and additional learning for all. Meanwhile, the challenge of understanding the trait and acting on it occurs in the classroom. Trait Challenge is done with Reading Buddies, challenging each other to fill buckets using the character trait, demonstrating what the trait means in action. Students document bucket filling in journals entitled “My Life as a Bucket Filler” or by filling out a water droplet for the bulletin in the main lobby. Students share these experiences weekly on the school loudspeaker for all to hear. Bucket filling is a visual representation of how good character feels, and what it looks like and is creating a buzz with the students. Feedback from home is that students are engaged and learning the concepts in a concrete and actionable way. Staff has noted positive changes in recess behavior and the language of students.
Capitol West Academy (Milwaukee) – Practice: “Heartfelt Heroes”- Heartfelt Heroes is a week-long celebration that teaches students to recognize individuals within their everyday lives as heroes over celebrities idolized in the media. During this special week, students are asked to create their own definition of what it means to be a hero and then identify a hero in their own life to honor on Hero Day. This week long focus on understanding the traits and characteristics of “heroes” gives students an opportunity to become “heroes”. Students donate money or items to a variety of community charities chosen by a multi-age student group. The week’s culmination is Hero Day in which students invite their heroes to spend the day at the school doing activities that might include working together on projects such as Valentine’s Cards for nearby nursing home residents or pet beds for the local humane society. They celebrate their hero during an award ceremony. This practice empowers students to make a difference in their community and demonstrates the power of local heroes/role models. It also gives students an opportunity to create a caring community and broadens the community engagement in character development.
Greenwood Elementary School (River Falls) – Practice: “Great Greenwood Giveaway”- Providing students with opportunities for moral action is an essential component of developing character. The Great Greenwood Giveaway (GGG) is a school wide community service learning project that provides all students ample opportunities to act with the moral purpose of helping others by giving. Based on grade level community service projects, it culminates in the event called The Great Greenwood Giveaway. During the year, students are engaged in service projects designed for each grade level such as filling backpacks for needy students, growing vegetables in the school garden to be distributed to the food shelf, and visiting local nursing homes. These activities are strengthened by the connections teachers make to the curricular activities, and students are given opportunities to reflect on the experiences by journaling. The GGG event provides the platform for teaching the school’s nine character traits to their students. It develops empathy and compassion, encourages intrinsic motivation and teaches the value of “giving”. The annual event has strong participation with all staff, students and most parents taking part in the GGG, along with approximately 600 community members attending.
Lake Bluff Elementary School (Shorewood) – Practice: Lake Bluff Ambassadors”- Continuing to improve their already strong character education program, Lake Bluff (a 2012 NSOC winner and Wisconsin School of Character), developed a practice that gives students more voice and choice, builds leadership skills and develops perseverance traits. Students in 5th and 6th grade are given a chance to expand their interests and collaborate with their peers, encouraging them to take leadership roles at school, by volunteering to be a Lake Bluff Ambassador (LBA). They lead school tours, mentor younger students, organize and lead school-based clubs and/or volunteer time for service to the school or community. Once a student volunteers to participate, they are responsible to plan and organize their activity. This practice benefits the students in many ways: enhancing their perseverance, responsibility, self-discipline and cooperation. It also benefits the whole school, creating role models for younger students. Opportunities for reflection and feedback are built into the practice. Students lead and learn by being Lake Bluff Ambassadors. One student shared this, “It seemed like we weren’t just a school anymore, we were a team.”
Prairie Elementary School (Waunakee) – Practice: “Let it Be Heard: KNN and Prairie Press”- Prairie Elementary 4th grade students came up with an idea to create a Kids News Network and the Prairie Press newsletter to showcase stories in their school and also feature character traits in these news outlets. KNN is the monthly news show broadcasted to classrooms via the local station. With some teacher help, students plan, conduct interviews, develop reviews, create commercials, share highlights of school and current events and reflect on school service projects. The show features character traits and offers opportunities to teach and model traits using skits and stories. The Prairie Press, a print media, has students working together to select, discuss, critique and reflect on important student topics for their monthly issues. They create interactive polls and contests to stimulate interest and involvement. The character trait of the month is also featured. Students are not just sharing information about their school and character traits, they are learning life skills of respect, leadership, teamwork, cooperation and hard work. Staff says students are learning to make ethical decisions about content, respect differing points of view and practice responsibility. Student voice was at the heart of this practice.
Prairie Elementary School (Waunakee) – Practice: “Haiti Feeding Program”- The Haiti Feeding Program started after two Prairie Elementary teachers traveled to the Cite Soleil School in Haiti and shared their experiences back home. When students and staff learned that children at this school rarely had a real meal during the week, they were motivated to help these starving children. The problem as they saw it, was too little money and their solution was to raise money by doing chores at home and give it to the Haitian school. Fourth grade student/ambassadors shared with every classroom what was happening with these kids in Haiti and requested that students could do chores at home and donate the money earned to help. The curricular integration with this project created a strong elementary service learning project: Social Studies did map work, students read books about the homeless, poverty and famine; Language Arts time was used to write scripts for student ambassadors; Science classes studied nutrition, the effect of lack of food and clean water on a person; Math class counted all donations; Technology and Arts skills were used to create posters and a bulletin board to learn the economic diversity that exists in the world and empathy, how people can take moral action to improve the lives of others, and reinforced hard work for those who did chores.
Rawson School (South Milwaukee) – Practice: “Buddies for Character”- Solving two issues in this school was the impetus for “Buddies for Character”. At Rawson, they wanted to find time for character education and teach the districts’ newly adopted 5 character traits; they were also trying to deal with typically low attendance on scheduled half-days. Staff decided to focus the half-days on teaching character and to do this with cross-grade level collaboration. Upper grades are paired with lower grades to create buddy classrooms and within the classrooms the older and younger students are paired. For each of the 5 traits, the district created several lessons based on current research in character education. Teachers from the “Buddy” classrooms collaborate to select lessons that would work for their groups. For the older “Buddies” they are able to help the younger students learn an abstract trait and make it concrete. They also gain a sense of leadership and empowerment as role-models to the younger students. The younger students benefit from a sense of caring attachment with an older student. From this new cross-grade level collaboration, teachers created a matrix of how respect and responsibility are defined in the different areas in the school. So far, attendance on half days has made an improvement.
Renaissance Alternative Charter Academy (River Falls) – Practice: “Social Justice Activities”- This charter academy for high school students who struggle in the traditional school setting uses social justice principles to teach character to students, and also to achieve their goal of building and sustaining a culture of peace and belonging. One of the activities they rely on is to use the circle process, a structured way of communicating that emphasizes speaking and listening from the heart; in the circle all participants are equal. Initially, staff, students and community members were trained in circle principles. Bi-weekly sessions at the school focus on character education within the context of sharing personal experiences and reflection. Their success in implementing restorative justice principles for enhancing character led them to create elective courses for students to further explore the concepts and applications. One course, Social Justice Theater, uses puppet skits to educate other youths about character traits such as honesty, compassion and cooperation. The success of this approach is demonstrated by the actions taken by a concerned group of students who felt they were unfairly targeted by the community for gathering at a local park. Students organized a public circle, inviting the larger community to share their perspectives. Participants were able to understand the diverse issues involved with using the park and proposed several solutions, including a park clean-up effort.
Roosevelt I.D.E.A. Elementary School (Plover) – Practice: “Adopt a Classroom”- Effective character education practices seek partnerships with parents and community members to strengthen their efforts. “Adopt a Classroom” is a practice that partners community businesses and organizations with 16 classrooms in this elementary school. Parent volunteers recruit these community partners. The lessons and character focus are unique to each classroom and their partner. The school provides a lesson planning book, “Good Ideas”, along with web-based links to assist the community partners to plan for their time in the classroom and offer developmentally appropriate information. One third grade was partnered with the local VFW. The VFW member, a retired commander, focused on “respect” and how that is demonstrated in the care of the American Flag. This practice infuses character through community partners, establishing role models for students, and is highly regarded by all stakeholders.
Salam School (Milwaukee) – Practice: “Salam Circle Meetings”- Engaging students and giving them a voice in their school is one of the goals of the Salam Circle Meetings. Circle Meetings are the forum for getting student input on school issues and/or policies, solving problems, creating consensus on problem resolution, learning to respect differing viewpoints, and creating respectful citizens. All circles include students, teachers and administrators engaged in open dialog. All participants have an equal voice and can express their opinions freely. At the elementary level, circle meetings are held two times per week. At the middle and high school level, circle meetings are held several times per quarter. According to staff, Salam Circle Meetings have helped their students with critical thinking, respectful listening, gain confidence and competence as speakers, and adults have modeled humility as they concede to other perspectives respectively in these circle meetings.
School District of South Milwaukee (South Milwaukee) – Practice: “Students Give Back”- “Students Give Back” is all about communicating to parents and the community what the district’s 5 character traits look like in action. The School District of South Milwaukee created a district webpage link to feature the many ways students give back to their community. The school district leaders knew that their students were involved in many charitable events such as sponsoring fundraisers, collecting items for the less fortunate and helping at community events. Showcasing these helps the community understand what students at all school levels are doing and strengthens the connection to character education. This visual display brings the 5 traits -Respect, Responsibility, Kindness, Honesty and Perseverance- to life. The district leaders are using this to create baseline data for student opportunities for moral action. They will document what students are doing this year, and look for growth in the following years both in number of community service type activities students are involved in, but also assess if new projects are taken on/created by students. The district has found this website link is a more comprehensive way to communicate with parents, new families and the community as to what students are involved with throughout the year.
Wautoma High School (Wautoma) – Practice: “START” Student- Advisory period is not a new concept. What is unique and strong about this advisory period is the designation for character education using popular media to prompt discussion and engage students versus the teacher lecture mode. Originally, the grade level advisory period, START, followed the “Circle of Power and Respect” model. After one year, they made a change because it was not meeting their character education goals. This year the staff is using Google presentation slideshows that highlights the monthly character trait. Two days a week, each pair of START leaders shares the 4-5 slide presentation with a group of 12-18 students. Most presentations have a link to YouTube video. Most of the videos are from popular culture television shows or movies. After watching the videos, facilitators have prompts with questions to create a dialog and reflection for students to build understanding of the character trait, provide social and emotional learning opportunities and help assess their own behavior and actions in the context of the trait. Additional time in START is for service learning projects, school meetings and relationship building. Staff is just starting to document the impact by collecting data in a variety of ways.
Westside Elementary School (River Falls) – Practice: Wildcat Way Videos”- Paraprofessionals at Westside Elementary understand that modeling good character is part of how children learn what different values look like in real life. They use role reversals and media to demonstrate to students what “The Wildcat Way” looks like throughout the school. The goal was to improve school climate by promoting character on the playground and in the hallways, lunchroom and other public areas throughout school. Paraprofessionals wrote and directed videos featuring staff and students. In these videos, teachers act out the wrong ways to behave in the school, followed by students saying “Stop! That is not the Wildcat Way”. Students are then the real stars showing how the hallways, lunchroom and playground look when everyone is following expectations. The videos are shown in all classrooms at the start of the year and again at mid-year. There are pauses after each video segment to promote class discussion. Posters around the school reinforce the “Wildcat Way”. The videos provide a common understanding of what respect and responsibility looks like and feels like. Staff says their school is calmer and feels safer and there are fewer office referrals since the use of the videos.
2010 Promising Practices Winners
Canterbury Elementary School – Greendale School District (Greendale) – “CARE Monthly Assemblies”- CARE or Community, Attitude, Respect and Empathy are the four core values at Canterbury. Each month, a theme related to these core values is highlighted. They do this at an all school assembly, and also highlight it in classroom meetings, bulletin boards, staff committee meetings, and updates in the library materials. Grade levels choose a month where the theme relates to their curriculum and events. All students, from gifted to special needs, are given the opportunity to participate.
Capitol West Academy – UWM Charter School (Milwaukee) – “Passport to Success”- Each year, parents, teachers and students sign a Pledge to agree to work together in three key areas: communication, partnership, and commitment to life-long learning. One facet of the pledge requires daily communication between teachers and parents. The “Passport” is the vehicle for communication. It is also used to provide a framework during the school day for discussions, feedback and reflection on core ethical values, prosocial behaviors and personal choices. The passport must be taken home each day for parents to review and follow-up conversations with their children about the information provided by the teacher.
Columbus Elementary School – Columbus School District (Columbus) – “Responsive Classroom/Heart of Student Success”- This school took the Responsive Classroom curriculum to a new level. Building on their daily morning meetings in each classroom, they expanded it to an All-School Morning Meeting. This gathering of the whole school at the start of the day is used to strengthen the sense of community and to reinforce the social curriculum. These concepts are then strengthened throughout the day in the classroom.
Janssen Elementary School – Kimberly Area School District (Kimberly) – “Playfair ”- Using play as a way to teach, model, practice, reflect and experience character education values is the “Janssen Way”. This program gives all students a chance to participate in fun, non/low competitive, high participation activities during lunch and recess. This program utilizes cross-age buddies, high school volunteers, and engages all staff in training on Playfair.
Jefferson High School – Jefferson School District (Jefferson) – “STAR Organization”- STAR was formed by students at this school to focus on the fundamental qualities of respect and compassion in order to make a difference in their school climate. These students are involved in leadership training, facilitating school-wide activities, and participating in 8th to 9th grade transition activities including mentoring. Survey data shows that these students have higher levels of positive values and social competencies.
Lake Bluff Elementary School (Shorewood School District) – “Essential Questions of Character Development”- Four years into their character education initiative, this school decided they needed to delve more deeply into their character discussions. They have nine character traits which they have highlighted monthly. Faculty created a set of nine essential questions-one for each month- that guided them this year. These questions, such as: “What makes a good friend and what makes honesty complicated? “are presented at monthly all-school assemblies. They were also the topic at the monthly small round table discussions between students and the principal. These questions have focused on exploration of character formation and real-life situations. Local teens and adults have been invited to share their experiences with these students and answer how they responded to these essential questions.
Lynde & Harry Bradley School of Technology and Trade (Milwaukee Public School) – “Shockwave Character Videos/Online Quiz”- Seniors in the programming classes at this high school have developed movies and interactive quizzes that connect students to real-life scenarios about personal choices. Integrating learning of Web development tools, and connecting it to the school-wide campaign of improving behavior and performance through character building projects has only recently been implemented at the school, but has gained widespread popularity. Attendance in the programming classes has dramatically improved with the impetus of this program/activity.
Prairie Elementary School – Waunakee School District (Waunakee) – “Brag on Your Buddy”- This school had a character education program/approach that relied on extrinsic motivation (t-shirt rewards) to help promote positive character. Upon reflection, they have changed the focus to developing awareness of others who exhibit positive character attributes. Brag on Your Buddy sheets are used to record appreciation by students of others who are practicing the character traits that are taught through guidance classes, classroom instruction and monthly assemblies. They also use journaling for reflection on what they have learned.
Saylesville School – Rubicon Jt. 6 School District (Rubicon) – “Service with Pride”- Students are being asked to apply values they are learning in their multi-grade “Prides”. Students, staff and community volunteers develop proposals for projects that put positive character into action. The proposals must link to character and connect to academic skills. Projects ranged from local contributions to national. A unique component is the requirement that students jointly reflect on their “Pride’s” project by creating short presentations for school and community members.
2011 Promising Practices Winners
Meyer Middle School – River Falls School District (River Falls) –“Student Voice in Character Education”- At Meyer Middle School, the approach to character education was based on fostering leadership – particularly with students. During Teacher Advisory time, students were introduced to nine character traits using media clips. Students defined and discussed the particular trait, then wrote a “touchstone”- a statement summarizing the group’s idea on each character trait. A Student Character Committee was established and charged with synthesizing these 38 statements into one succinct school-wide statement for each character trait. Along with developing the core statements, the students also took on a bully prevention effort with their peers. So far, Meyer Middle School staff says the inclusion of students in crafting the touchstones and developing the student led committee, has been powerful and promoted discussion among students; it has empowered the committee members to be positive voices in their school.
Prairie Elementary School – Waunakee Community School District (Waunakee) –“Peace on the Prairie”- Building children’s capacity for conflict resolution is the focus of Prairie Elementary s’ Promising Practice. Faced with disciplinary referrals for friendship issues, cliques, and physical confrontations, staff was spending considerable time solving conflicts for students, and many conflicts ended with loss of recess time, along with in and out of school suspensions. As part of their character education program, they realized that children have the cognizant skills to solve smaller problems and that they could develop these capacities in their students in a developmentally appropriate way. Peace on the Prairies uses four components to build these skills: Kelso’s Choices- a rubric for kids for assisting in decision-making, Play Fair, Recess Buddies, and Peer Mediation. So far, the data points to a nearly 75% reduction in visits to the school counselor by students, and suspensions have dropped by 50%.
Salam School – Private School (Milwaukee) – “Integrating Teaching of Social Skills” This private school in Milwaukee has been developing and building on their character education program for several years. Their commitment to nurturing the “whole” child moved them to focus on social emotional learning; believing that not only was it important for the development of the child, but would promote academic success, health and well-being, along with preventing problems such as substance abuse, bullying and social interactions/behaviors. They also believed that, in many instances, the root of bullying was a lack of social skills. Staff receives in-service on how to teach these social skills. These skills are then taught to students, with a new skill introduce weekly. Students are expected to integrate their knowledge of the skills in their school work and their interactions with their peers.
Sullivan Elementary School – Jefferson School District (Sullivan) – “Power of One”- Caring Teams are in integral part of Sullivan Elementary school; but it is in these “teams” that students are learning that they have the power to make a difference: to stand up for what is right, even if they stand alone, to put other’s needs before their own, and to individually strive to give and do their best. The cross-grade level teams meet regularly to share and learn character, and implement community and service learning projects. They have sent care packages to soldiers, raise money for MADD, and made clay bowls and sold them to send profits to a local food pantry. What they also have done is used these “teams” to teach intrinsic motivation in each student, and that “…the smallest step can bring on a change; oh that is the power of One!”
Washington Middle School – Oconto Falls School District (Oconto Falls) – “Panther Pride”- Providing students with opportunities for moral action is the principle underlying Panther Pride. At Washington Middle School, they have spent the past three years training student leaders to teach other students to facilitate discussions and activities to the other students in the school. The 8th grade cohort was chosen based on their character, their potential and ability to be good leaders. Approximately fifty students participate in the training in the fall; then throughout the year they go into small class groupings and lead activities to teach/reinforce: the “Six Pillars of Character” from Character Counts, drug prevention, and bully prevention. Students taking responsibility for their own and peer learning of character is contributing to a safe and positive learning environment.
West Elementary School – Jefferson School District (Jefferson) – “Celebrating Character through Writing Prompts”- West Elementary was looking for a way to enhance and enrich the time they spent each month in their character building “Wildcat Wednesdays”. Expanding on this work, staff developed and implemented a writing activity. Each month, two homerooms participate in a writing lesson; after the monthly character trait is discussed in class, students are asked to write an essay about what that character trait means to them using a specific example in their life. These essays or “prompts” are used throughout the month; 2-3 are read daily during the morning announcements, teachers use the essays for discussion, and at the end of the month they are posted on the character board in the school lobby. Students seem eager to share their experiences and are making stronger connections to what character means in their lives.
Woodlands School – UWM Charter School (Milwaukee) – “Little Families”- Developing character through a caring community is what “Little Families” at Woodlands School is all about. These multi-age groups of twelve meet monthly to discuss, analyze and propose solutions requiring values of respect, responsibility, fairness, trustworthiness, caring, citizenship, and creativity. Developing these values comes from discussion- sharing their understanding and experiences related to these values- much like a family does. Reflection is a strong component of these discussions. Through this caring and supportive structure, healthy and respectful relationships are developed. These families remain intact through the school career, providing strong relationships in this K-8 school. Faculty plays an integral part of the Little Families, and the relationships developed create strong bonds that often continue even after students leave Woodlands School. Staff cites an additional benefit: student infractions of the school code of conduct have dropped by 50% over a three year period.
2009 Promising Practices Winners
Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee – “Eight Core Values”- This school has adopted the Eight Core Values to use as a reference point for students that encourages the formation of a positive learning culture and guides the students and school in all that they do. These values are key and are followed by students, teachers, administrators and support staff. This initiative has created a classroom environment that promotes learning and resulted in improved academic success.
Fontana School – “Character Community Groups”- Fontana Elementary formed multi-age groups for their student body to build a sense of community. Dividing the school into 14 groups with at least two students from each grade level , these groups meet every month and learn a core value. The eighth graders are given a leadership role for planning activities, and all staff participates in the group activities in some capacity.
The Grant School Family – “Character Connection Family Homework”- Grant Elementary engages their families as partners in character building with the “Character Connections” or family homework. Each month their Family Meetings introduce the character-related theme and focus. Parents are encouraged to attend these Friday morning meetings. Building on lessons at school, information and activities are sent home for the adults to work on with their children.
Jefferson Middle School – Jefferson School District (Jefferson) – “Advisory Outreach Activities”- The advisory program at Jefferson Middle School provides students with multiple and meaningful opportunities for moral action; developing skills that build on the core values of the school and the district. The goal of this program is to help students shift from an “I want” attitude to a “what can I do for you” attitude. Each project is student-generated and approved by a teacher. Since the time that Jefferson Middle School began these projects through advisories, office referrals for poor behavior decreased sixty-four percent.
Lake Bluff Elementary School – Shorewood School District (Shorewood) – “Captain’s Crew”- The Captain’s Crew is a monthly lunch meeting with two representatives from each classroom, K-6 grade. These representatives are chosen at random and change monthly. They have lunch with the principal and use this time to learn about and discuss important concepts in the school related to attitudes, values and practices that make up much of the moral code in the school’s climate. The group works to resolve issues that come up in this forum and the representatives take the information back to their classrooms. Students have a voice and a choice in the culture of the school.
New Holstein Elementary (New Holstein) – “Random Acts of Kindness”- Kindess Stars teachers and staff have “pass it on” cards to give to students when they see them doing something kind for another person. The cards get turned in and students get a star in the hallway. The school sends a note to the parents informing them of the kind action of their child. There is also a weekly school meeting where these students are recognized.
Pewaukee High School (Pewaukee) – “Pirate Pride”- This program is designed to maximize the academic potential of all students while fostering an environment that promotes positive student citizenship. The Pirate Pride Program’s key component is a student tutoring program, promoting social skills and developing academic competency. There is also a High School Helpers component.
Seton Catholic Middle School – “Seton’s Shining STARS” This advisory program is centered on monthly character based themes and seeks to nurture a sense of community and promote good decision-making. All staff serve as mentors to students. It also includes reflection of values, activities and integration of character education in the curriculum.
Salam School – Private School (Milwaukee) – two practices honored: “Honoring the Salam Way Honor Code” and “Character under Construction”- Assessing our Program Salam school has developed a “Salam Way Honor Code” that highlights the ethical values of the schools. Prominently displayed for all to see, it is accepted by all staff and students, the code is taught to students. Parents are also partners in reinforcing and acknowledging the Salam Way Honor Code. The Character under Construction is a solid assessment program put in place to gauge the impact of the Salam School character education initiatives.
Swallow School – “Big Buddy”- The Big Buddy program works to promote themes of responsibility, respect, compassion and honesty. The program is developing pro-social behaviors in students by allowing them to engage in active listening and helping opportunities with their buddy. The Big Buddy program is also designed to give the older students a chance to understand their role as mentors and models.
2007 Promising Practices Winners
Lake Bluff Elementary School (Shorewood) – “Character Education Assemblies”- They changed their school assemblies from performances to gathering time. They used this as a time to learn the language and practices that would help them build a school of character. In doing this, they also celebrated their successes in practicing their character traits. Along with the assemblies, they made a literature connection; each month they chose a book that exemplified the monthly character trait to read in each classroom.
Milwaukee College Preparatory School (Milwaukee) – “Proactivity Curriculum”- Proactivity is defined as “learning the value of strong character”. This is the foundation of the social skills curriculum, and is a character-building program based on the adjective proactive. All students, teachers, staff and families are included in the lessons and activities. An example of family participation is the development of a family mission statement. Character education is taught through literature, classroom routines and homework assignments.
Salam School – Private School (Milwaukee) – “Character Building All Year Round Calendar Integration”- Students were asked to illustrate a monthly core value. The community selected the artwork which they felt should be used in their character calendar. The calendar also features pictures of students helping others. These calendars were sold and the proceeds were donated to needy members of the community.
Waukesha North High School (Waukesha) – “Daily Advisory Period”- Character education was so important to the school that they redesigned their school schedule, resulting in a daily advisory period with a character development curriculum aligned with the 40 youth assets, the Changing Lives Character Education curriculum and also includes service to the community.
2008 Promising Practices Winners
High Point Christian School (Madison) – “Caring for One Another for Smart People Like You Program”- Through this program of daily and weekly activities, assemblies and classroom interaction students, teachers, staff and parents have noted quantitative growth in the level of caring and respect demonstrated by the entire school community.
Richards School (Whitefish Bay) – “Morning Message Program”- The school day begins with a school-wide announcement addressing a specific character topic or concept tied to a weekly character education theme. The theme and the daily examples are successfully integrated into classroom activities and bi-monthly school meetings that have raised the “character quotient” for the entire school.
St. Marcus Lutheran School (Milwaukee) – “Month of Gratitude Program”- All students and teachers participated in a month-long project focusing on the dynamic exemplification of gratitude as a foundation for good character. The program included community outreach by students and teacher as well as cross-cultural activities demonstrating the diverse expressions of a “grateful heart.”
The Salam School – Private School (Milwaukee) – “Students’ Voices Program”- Students drawn from kindergarten through the eighth grade plan and lead daily assemblies for fellow students, teachers, staff and parents focusing upon specific themes in character education and character development. Rotation of leaders insures that every student is involved in “voicing” character at some point during the academic year.
Saylesville School – Rubicon School District (Rubicon) – “Wildcat Wednesdays” and “Supporting Prides”- Multiage small groups or “Prides “draw all kindergarten through eighth grade students into activities focused on character development. The Prides gather one Wednesday a month for an all-school assembly celebrating the demonstration of the “character trait of the month.”
Waukesha North High School (Waukesha) – “Ignition Program”- In-coming freshmen are eased into the challenges and demands of high school by older student peers and staff members in this proactive approach to teaching positive character traits through mentoring.
The Beloit School District (Beloit) – Storyfest: “Celebrating the Good People in our World”- Program As part of a district-wide character education initiative, this annual celebration draws schools and community together to hear first-hand the impact of virtuous character on both ordinary and extraordinary lives.
The Jefferson School District (Jefferson) – “Jefferson Way”-Initiative The school district and community drew over a hundred people together to develop action plans for integrating positive character traits into every facet of the educational experience and the wider community. Out of these action plans a number of successful programs have been launched at both a district and school level.