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The Heart of the Matter: Character and Citizenship Education in Alberta Schools

1. How do we decide if we need a character and citizenship education initiative in our school?

Schools and jurisdictions will decide to implement character and citizenship education initiatives for a variety of reasons. Some schools may feel they need to respond to particular issues in the school community, other schools may want to better coordinate the current efforts of staff and students. Many schools may simply decide it is time to step back, take a fresh look at the present school climate and culture, and see how it can be strengthened.

2. How can I get a character and citizenship education initiative started at my school?

Getting started is as simple as talking with other school staff and making a commitment to improve school culture. A small group of teachers, with administrator support, can begin work as an informal team to develop a process for identifying core values of the school community and building consensus and common understandings of school strengths and needs. For more information, strategies and next steps, see Chapter 2: A Sample Framework for Character and Citizenship in The Heart of the Matter.

3. How will I know if this initiative is making a difference with my students?

There may be some obvious changes in students' attitudes and behaviours, such as more students arriving on time for class, fewer office referrals and a more peaceful atmosphere in the hallways. However, the most effective way to find out if the initiative is making a difference is to develop an assessment plan. This plan should go beyond student achievement scores to authentically, comprehensively and systematically measure development of character and citizenship. For more information and strategies for creating an assessment plan, see Chapter 4: Assessing Character and Citizenship Education Initiatives in The Heart of the Matter.

4.How long will it take a character and citizenship education initiative to make a difference for students and teachers?

Meaningful, sustainable and successful change takes time. Most initiatives will be a three- to seven-year process, but small positive changes should be evident within the first year. Whatever approach you choose to implement, it is helpful to consider Michael Fullan's advice: "Think big. Start small. Move slowly."

5. What leadership role can classroom teachers play in character and citizenship education?

Building a sustainable culture of character and citizenship requires a team of people who work together to develop a common vision for action. Classroom teachers should play an essential role in this leadership team. As part of the leadership team, teachers can be involved in determining and communicating the vision for the school, and helping other staff to understand and implement the initiative. They can also serve as role models for students by intentionally and explicitly demonstrating values and attributes that will contribute to a positive school culture.

6. How can I involve my students' parents in character and citizenship education?

Current research is giving us a better understanding of the nature and degree of parent and family participation that best supports students' success. This research suggests that caring communities can be supported by creating a culture where parents are viewed as partners in a community of learners. There are lots of different ways to make this happen, including the following sample strategies.

  • Develop one-page fact sheets or a calendar of events and activities that suggest ways families can support and model the character and citizenship traits their children are learning.
  • Hold classroom or school 'walk-throughs' with parents that demonstrate how students are learning about character and citizenship through all aspects of regular and extracurricular activities.
  • Share information about the curriculum. Outline key instructional strategies used in character and citizenship education, and explain how learning is assessed and reported.

Look for more strategies in Chapter 10: Involving Parents in Character and Citizenship Education in The Heart of the Matter.

7. How can I use the programs of study to support character and citizenship education?

There are a number of strategies for integrating character and citizenship education into existing subject areas. An English language arts teacher may pay special attention to character traits in a novel or may explore themes such as initiative, empathy and fairness in a poem. A math teacher may acknowledge and celebrate perseverance of students who work hard to improve. A science teacher may emphasize the importance of being responsible as a member of a lab group. A social studies class may spend time examining the courage or altruism of various cultural groups in history. For more sample activities in each subject area, see Chapter 6: Infusing Character and Citizenship Across the Subjects in The Heart of the Matter.

8. What kinds of instructional strategies support character and citizenship education?

Instructional strategies especially effective in supporting character and citizenship education include:

  • cooperative learning
  • group discussion
  • journals and learning logs
  • role-playing
  • graphic organizers
  • literature response
  • service learning
  • issue-based inquiry.

For more information, see Chapter 12: Instructional Strategies that Support Character and Citizenship Education in The Heart of the Matter.

9. What is the role of character and citizenship education in co-curricular and extracurricular activities?

Co-curricular and extracurricular activities act as valuable catalysts for schools to create a sense of community and provide students with opportunities to feel more connected to their school life.

For more information and sample stories, see Chapter 8: Integrating Character and Citizenship Education in Co-curricular and Extracurricular Activities in The Heart of the Matter.


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