New Schools of Character Opened in London!

Some time ago I was asked to attend a conference at Floreat Education  in my role as character consultant  where I was able to share some of my approaches to teaching character in the primary age range  Lord O’Shaughnessy -Founder of Floreat -and member of the House of Lords kindly said …..being able to draw on your experience and expertise makes a huge difference to our efforts. You made such a positive impression on everyone with the incredibly imaginative ways you communicate the virtues to children!

I’m delighted to see that they have opened two new London schools which are creatively adapting some of our virtues based ideas and curriculum – I’m impressed!

Well done to Briar Lipson for what looks to be a wonderful step forward for character Education in the UK –


The Primary Character Curriculum!

 I’m delighted to announce that my Primary  Character Curriculum – a virtues based programme for primary children is now available and being trialled in schools. The UK’s first ever character curriculum for primary school children contains three terms of weekly lesson plans for each primary year group and will integrate seamlessly with many areas of the existing National Curriculum. geoff puppets

You can download or request a copy here The curriculum has a dedication to Linda Kavelin-Popov, Dr Dan Popov and John Kavelin whose groundbreaking work on Virtues remains in (my view) unmatched….




Heavy Metal Virtue


Whilst walking through Birmingham with a group of school children we came across a plaque in the pavement honouring guitarist Tony Iommi one of the founders of Heavy Rock.  At the age of 17 Tony had a terrible accident on his last day of work in a sheet metal factory losing the tips of two fingers. Tony’s boss encouraged him not to give up by introducing him to the music of Django Reinhardt, a virtuoso guitarist with an injured fretting hand.

After an unsuccessful attempt to fret the guitar with his other hand Tony must have called on the virtues of determination, perseverance and creativity- he ingeniously melted soap bottles into a ball with a soldering iron, and then pushed his fingers in while the plastic was soft enough to be shaped. Cutting and sanding away the excess plastic left two shaped finger covers which Tony then covered with leather, to provide a better grip. Later on he strung his guitars with extra-light banjo strings, down-tuned to ease playing and string bending. Eventually Tony became and one of the most influential guitarists on the planet and his band Black Sabbath continue to provide the inspiration for modern day bands such as The Foo Fighters and Soundgarden.
So, whether your eyes are focussed on the stars or on the street -you can find people who have called on the inspirational power of virtue everywhere!

Non-Academic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?

Non-Academic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?  By  Anya Kamenetz

More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics.

But no one agrees on what to call that “stuff”.

There are least seven major overlapping terms in play. New ones are being coined all the time. This bagginess bugs me, as a member of the education media. It bugs researchers and policymakers too.

“Basically we’re trying to explain student success educationally or in the labor market with skills not directly measured by standardized tests,” says Martin West, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “The problem is, you go to meetings and everyone spends the first two hours complaining and arguing about semantics.”

West studies what he calls “non-cognitive skills.” Although he’s not completely happy with that term.

The problem isn’t just semantic, argues Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation. She wrote a paper on what she called “Skills for Success,” since she didn’t like any of these other terms. “There’s a lot of different terms floating around but also a lack of agreement on what really is most important to students.”

As Noah Webster, the great American lexicographer and educator, put it back in 1788, “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than theirabilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.

Yet he didn’t come up with a good name, either.

So, in Webster’s tradition, here’s a short glossary of terms that are being used for that cultivation of the heart. Vote for your favorite in the comments — or propose a new one.

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a research and advocacy group, these include the “4Cs of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity,” as well as “life and career skills” and “information, media and technology skills.”

The problem, says West, is that “if anything, all the evidence would suggest that in the closing decades of the 20th and 21st centuries, cognitive skills became more important than ever.” So this term, although it’s often heard in business and technology circles, doesn’t necessarily signal the shift in focus that some researchers want.

Character education has a long history in the U.S., with a major vogue in the 1930s and a revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning a few years ago, the KIPP charter schools in New York City started to emphasize a curriculum of seven “character strengths”: grit, zest, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.

“We’re not religious, we’re not talking about ethics, we’re not going to give any kind of doctrine about what is right from wrong,” says Leyla Bravo-Willey of KIPP Infinity in Harlem. “But there are some fundamental things that make people really great citizens, which usually include being kind.”

West argues that the use of “character” is inappropriate in research and policymaking because of its moral and religious connotations.

He notes that many of the qualities on the KIPP list — grit and self-control, for example — are designed to prepare students for success. “That’s in tension with a traditional understanding of character, which often implies something being good in and of itself — which often includes some notion of self sacrifice,” says West.

That distinction doesn’t bother Bravo-Willey. She says that the school is responding to parents’ own wishes that their children be happy and good as well as successful.

Grit is a pioneer virtue with a long American history — think of the classic western True Grit. When Angela Duckworth was working on her dissertation in the mid-2000s, she chose the term to encapsulate the measures of self-control, persistence and conscientiousness that she was finding to be powerful determinants of success. It quickly caught on — maybe too quickly, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist says.

“I’m grateful for the attention, but that gratitude and amazement was quickly replaced by anxiety about people thinking that we had figured things out already.” She’s worried that grit is being overemphasized: In a recent paper, she argued that grit measures aren’t ready to be incorporated into high stakes accountability systems. “I’m also concerned that people interpret my position to be that grit’s the only thing that matters.”

Larry Nucci at UC Berkeley, who has studied moral development and character education for 40 years, has stronger words for grit. “I think it’s flavor of the month. It’s not very substantive, it’s not very deep.”

Carol Dweck, the Stanford University psychologist, chose the term mindset in 2007 for the title of her bestselling book.

Growth mindset” is the belief that positive traits, including intelligence, can be developed with practice. “Fixed mindset” refers to the idea that intelligence and other talents are set at birth.

“In my research papers I had some very, very clunky scientific-sounding term for the fixed and the growth mindset,” she says. “When I went to write the book I thought, these will not do at all.”

Mindset has caught on tremendously in both the business and education worlds. But Dweck’s concern is that it’s being used willy-nilly to justify any old intuition that people might have about positive thinking in the classroom.

“When people start thinking, ‘I’ll make the kids feel good and they’ll learn,’ that’s how something like the self-esteem movement gains traction,” — a 1980s trend that led to lots of trophies but little improvement in achievement.

This term is most strongly associated with the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman. He analyzed large data sets to show that attributes such as self-discipline and persistence — not just academic achievement — affected education, labor market and life outcomes.

This term is “ugly, broad, nonspecific,” argues Carol Dweck — and she’s a fan. “I’m the only person who likes the term,” she says. “And I’ll tell you why: It is a very diverse group of factors and the reason it’s been hard to come up with a name is that they don’t necessarily belong together.”

Martin West at Harvard uses this term himself, but he says he’s always careful to acknowledge that it can be “misleading.”

“Every skill or trait is cognitive in the sense that it involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains,” he says. And West adds that traditional academic skills more often than not are complements, not substitutes, for the attitudes and personality traits captured by the term “non-cognitive skills.”

Nobody I spoke with hates this term.

“Increasingly teachers who are on the front line say that it’s very important to teach kids to be more socially and emotionally competent,” says Roger P. Weissberg, chief knowledge officer of the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which promotes the concept and the term nationwide. “Teachers feel, and growing research supports, that it helps them academically, it improves school climate, it improves discipline, and it’s going to help them to be college and career — and life — ready.”

The only problem is that the “skills” part may not be seen as encompassing things that are more like attitudes or beliefs, like growth mindset. And the “social and emotional” part, again, may be seen as excluding skills that are really cognitive in nature.

This is tough, right?

Employers commonly use “soft skills” to include anything from being able to write a letter, to showing up on time and having a firm handshake. Most of the researchers I spoke with felt this phrase downplays the importance of these skills. “Soft skills, along with 21st century skills, strike me as exceptionally vague,” says West. “I don’t know that there’s anything soft about them.”

So the struggle persists. Maybe one day there will be a pithy acronym or portmanteau to wrap all these skills up with a bow. SES? SEL? N-COG? Gri-Grow-Sess? Let us know what you think.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Ray’s Rant: Virtues an old-fashioned remedy for kids gone bad

This is a recent post by the journalist Ray Sparvell from WA Today an  Australian news website April 9 2015

The week before last two teenagers were allegedly involved in a wild rampage in Northbridge. Police are currently blitzing shopping centres throughout the state because of the usual increase in trouble during school holidays.  By the end of the bushfire “season”, police had also arrested 16 kids, aged between 10 and 17 over arson-related charges.

Now, I’m not saying kids have got the mortgage on creating trouble. There are plenty of adults filling prisons with their own anti social behavior and recidivist criminality. We’ve also got one-punch idiots, road ragers and football players – young and former – making asses of themselves. There’s not enough space in this column to chart it all.

But it’s easy to have a beef with the kids: “they’ve got no manners”, “no gratitude”, “nose always stuck in a media device”, “want-it-alls who don’t want to put in the hard yards”. And so on. Then as they get older, its binge drinking, drugs and a general lack of respect.

They are the headlines but we know that most kids who play up, do go on to make a worthy lives for themselves and their families. We all did, right? I’m sure there are plenty of us grateful that social media wasn’t around in our day to record our indiscretions.

The reality is there probably isn’t any one single factor that leads a kid to make bad choices . . . and keep making them.

But I’d like to shine the light on an unfashionable champion that could make a positive difference. And for that I need to be sitting in a studded leather chesterfield with a pipe and a snifter of brandy wearing my mess jacket rattling with medals. Call me a grumpy old duffer if you will, but here’s a subject you probably last heard from your grandparents.


When was the last time you were asked what were your core virtues? Virtues are personal moral traits like courage, tolerance, honour, perseverance, dignity, justice, prudence, frugality, compassion and more. Every individual should have a platform of virtues that is the foundation of their character.

Virtues provide an individual with a moral compass that can inform every decision. When a kid is contemplating an action and his moral compass says “it’s wrong”, then maybe that kid will make a better decision.  Without a set of virtues to fall back on, there is no moral handbrake.

How many of us were taught virtues by our parents? Did we learn them at school? Did we have any mentors who taught them to us? As it happens, virtues are getting a dusting off and a new lease on life around the world as new generations look for a set of beliefs to live and act by.

In the US, virtues are gaining new profile through initiatives like the Virtues Project, a grassroots campaign that received United Nations’ recognition during the International Year of the Family as a “model global program for families of all cultures”. In Australia, educators are adopting “values education” as a means of moving the virtues from “ornamentals” to “fundamentals”.

My challenge to us all as adults is to adopt a set of virtues and self assess a personal benchmark. Score yourself on each from 1-10 and start from there. The good news about virtues is that you can practice and train toward a desired standard.

But a final word on the kids: they are society’s future. Some kids do learn the importance of virtues at home from parents who understand that they are the foundation of independence.

Where other kids don’t have that guidance, then maybe that is where the education system has to step in – and early. After all, the opposite of a virtue is a vice.

And in a moral vacuum that’s what awaits the vulnerable.

Character Education In Primary School

Character Education In Primary School

Building blocks

In his book, Religion for Atheists, the philosopher Alain De Botton writes: “Announce that you are working on your body, and you will attract envy and respect. Declare that you are working on your character, and you will be thought insane.”

Of course there will always be learning by osmosis in any school, but as a teacher and primary school head I have found that a child’s moral literacy is enhanced when they acquire the building blocks of good character such as consideration, truthfulness, courage and honour; qualities which are commonly known as virtues.

Why virtues and not values?

Qualities such as courage, honesty and justice are universally admired. In contrast values are often culture-specific and can include anything from individualism to competitiveness to the golden rule. When values education is discussed, there also tends to be a debate about the source and acceptability of these values and who gets to choose them. This continuing debate may lead to a stalemate where the very important work that many do in the name of ‘good values’ cannot become widespread.

My experience has been that the teaching of virtue causes little controversy among parents, whatever their beliefs or values. Who would object to children understanding respect or honesty? When we ask a question, do we not hope for a truthful answer? Do we not wish to be treated justly by those in authority? So, what possible objection can there be to our children learning, exploring and practising these concepts in our schools?

I personally find that exploring a virtue over a two week period provides a simple and coherent programme that allows for the creative input of both teacher and student and a chance for the virtue to embed itself. Once a lesson on a virtue such as truthfulness has been completed we need to allow time for children to practice this concept just as would be the case with fractions or verbs. Allowing children to role play a scenario such as making up excuses to cover a mistake can be enormously engaging, and the drama can be frozen allowing the protagonists to be questioned about their feelings and motives. It’s also a safe way for children to experience for themselves how a lie usually spirals out of control. To finish, the drama would be repeated with everyone being truthful.

The school assembly is a good place to introduce a virtue like tactfulness, the partner of truth. We often expect honesty from our children but give them no guidance in how they might tell the truth as appropriately or as kindly as possible. Children might be asked to prepare a role play where one friend asks the other their opinion of their strange new haircut.

On a more serious note, RE themes are very compatible with virtue based learning, after all the major world faiths spend a good deal of time exhorting their followers to be virtuous as is recorded in the sacred books of Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, to name a few.

I provide each of my classes with a Virtue Box where children can post a Virtues Voucher as an acknowledgement of the virtues that they see in others. These are shared out in circle time as a form of peer assessment that also keeps the class teacher informed of the extent to which virtues teaching is having an impact upon character and attitude.

“But we can’t fit any more into a jam-packed curriculum,” I hear a thousand overworked teachers saying – but the daily interaction of staff and pupils within our schools provides much of the teaching and practice that students need in order to develop their characters, so it’s not a question of doing more. Our role as educators is to look for opportunities to help our students as they attempt to strengthen their characters. This requires us to use the vocabulary of virtue rather than naming and shaming.

For instance when a student thoughtlessly disturbs the calm atmosphere of the library instead of a response such as, “that was really disrespectful and selfish of you!” we draw out from them the required virtue: “When you’re walking through the library, what virtues do you need to use?”

Perhaps we might highlight a student who got it right: “Thank you for practising courtesy”.

When something goes wrong we guide the young person to the virtue that will prevent a reoccurrence thereby avoiding the how and why questions which sap our time and energy and often lead nowhere but to the endless peeling of the layers of motive.

Of course all the usual rewards, boundaries and sanctions of any institution need to be in place, and more serious forms of behaviour may necessitate interventions beyond the scope of this article, but if we are to produce young people that will become trustworthy and honourable citizens then our schools, homes and public life require the teaching, understanding and practice of the universal elements of good character: the virtues.

This post originally appeared in The Guardian Online  28th March 2013 Originally entitled Character Caught or Taught