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Character Core

Resources for your classroom and your life

Dec 7, 2021

This article was updated in April 2023.

What is Character Core and the Character Focused Approach?

At WGU we define character as a collection of qualities, habits, and patterns of interactions that, when used ethically, support individuals to thrive and contribute positively to the communities in which they live, learn, and work. These character qualities which are developed over time through life experience and learning include vital qualities such as curiosity, civic engagement, inclusion, compassion, courage, creativity, humility, and more.

WGU places an intentional focus on character because we recognize the importance of cultivating knowledgeable professionals who are also caring and ethically guided individuals who will positively impact their communities. Research indicates the intentional focus and nurturing of character makes a profound difference on society as a whole.  (Arthur, 2003; Berkowitz, 2021; Lickona, 2004; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999).  

Character Core

The mission of the Character Core Project is to catalyze healthy learning and working environments and thriving communities by prioritizing character and Character Qualities.

An intentional focus on cultivating character and a character focused approach to education has been largely missing from our schools over the last three to four decades (Berkowitz, 2021). Reports from schools that teach character indicate that the academic performance of students is higher, attendance is improved, and there are fewer disciplinary issues. Also reported are reductions in substance abuse and fewer incidents of school vandalism. Students indicate that they feel safer in these schools, knowing that they and their peers practice respect and compassion in a learning community that is founded in character content (Lahey, 2013). Researchers have shown that character programming, when implemented with fidelity, produces positive results in one's character (Lickona, 2003; Edmonson, Tatman, & Slate, 2008). Experts also agree that focusing on character, as a key component of any curriculum, is necessary for the growth and development of all learners (Davidson,, 2007).

For the past 30 years, there has been an emphasis on the idea that universities should focus on character development (Harrison, 2021). The idea that universities should be places for character formation is nothing new, but the day-to-day reality has forced university representatives to focus on funding-driven research and employability-driven teaching (Arthur, 2020). The development of character is essential to prepare future generations of professionals. Unfortunately, the practice of implementing character content is often lacking depth and breadth (Wymer and Rundle-Thiele, 2017).

Through a generous grant provided by the Kern Family Foundation, the Character Core Project was created to advance character work in the Teachers College's strategic roadmap, initiatives, and culture.  WGU Teachers College's distinctive position and national scale provide a unique opportunity for graduates to create a profound and positive impact on education by promoting character in K-12, higher education, and workforce development.  Recognizing the importance of graduating knowledgeable professionals who are also caring and ethically guided individuals who will positively impact their communities, the Teacher College has chosen to place an intentional focus on character.  Research indicates the intentional focus and nurturing of character make a profound difference in society as a whole.  (Arthur, 2003; Berkowitz, 2021; Lickona, 2004; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999). 


Our Unique Framework for Character Development

In the field of character development, terms such as Character Education are used.  Here at WGU, we have instead created an innovative skills-based and integrated framework for character development known as the Character Focused Approach Framework. The Character Focused Approach Framework is a community-wide effort that supports healthy learning and working environments by intentionally promoting character throughout K-12, higher education, and workforce communities. 

Healthy learning and working environments are safe environments that support the academic, physical, psychological, and social well-being of learners, staff, and communities. Our framework for character acknowledges the interwoven nature of character development with other domains such as dispositions, ethics, next-generation education, and Healthy Learning pillars such as social-emotional learning, diversity equity and inclusion, mental wellness, and meeting basic needs. The majority of the 28 Character Qualities in the Character Focused Approach Framework are directly aligned with these other vital domains. Character Qualities are developed through many strategies over time including modeling, practice, habit formation, observation, reflection, and character literacy (Brant, Brooks, & Lamb 2022). The Character Focused Approach aims to develop communities composed of learners, leaders, and teachers who are guided by positive Character Qualities, thus contributing to the collective well-being of the community.

COMMUNITY CHARACTER: Character Qualities that support healthy learning and working communities.

INTELLECTUAL CHARACTER: Character Qualities that support intellectual learning and growth. 

ETHICAL CHARACTER: Character Qualities that inform ethical decision making and actions. 

PERFORMANCE CHARACTER: Character Qualities that motivate excellence in achieving intentions and goals, and practicing community, intellectual, and ethical character. 

Take Action

We are offering a Character Professional Learning micro-credential program to K-12 principals and teachers to help them effectively build schools of character. Link to this page to learn more. Registration will soon be available for upcoming cohorts. Read this article for a sneak peek into the actual learnings from participants in this program and see how this program can help you reach your goals. Take the first step to a healthier, happier, more productive school community.

Other Character Education Resources

Our team has curated the following open resources for you to access and share with your classrooms and your communities. Check back often as we'll continue to add to this list below...

What if the Answer was Character All Along?

In this video: "What if the Answer Was Character All Along?" Listen as principals from National Schools of Character talk about the importance of character, and the human side of learning in classrooms that extends beyond report cards to helping children learn how to care for themselves, each other, and the communities in which they live. 

Teaching Character - The Other Half of the Picture with Andrew Sokatch

Co-Founder of the Character Labs, and current Senior Program Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sokatch provides memorable story telling about parallels between teaching his son to ride his bicycle and the teaching of character. He also looks at character through the lens of scientific research. Check out his advice about WOOP -  a quick goal attainment strategy teachers can use to help children adopt a process of Wish - Outcome - Obstacle - Plan.

Building a School Like a Tight-Knit Family

This fascinating article and three inspiring videos explore the exceptional work happening at Springfield Renaissance School in Massachusetts where every student is part of a “crew” which provides students close ties to at least one adult and 12 peers who support and challenge them. Learn how this school is creating classrooms that are thriving communities based on a culture of mutual respect. 

Student Perspective on Character

Now for a look at character through a student's eyes. Listen and watch as Kyla shares her perspective on three character traits: respect, responsibility, and kindness. 

Students Discover the Power of Gratitude on a Community

In this powerful video, a 6th grade teacher shares that she was seeing students leaving discouraged at the end of long days. She implemented a gratitude journal exercise where students log three things they are grateful for from that day. The results left students feeling empowered and optimistic. Explore how this school, its students, and the larger community came together in the process.

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