CSF Newsletter

March 27, 2016

This newsletter focuses on Character Training and the current emphasis on Social and Emotional Learning.

Every industry has its own unique jargon.

Education has its own. For example: NCLB, ESSA, STEM, ESL, ESOL, CELLA, IEP, CCSS, IDEA, and ESA.

A fairly new member to the education jargon is SEL--Social and Emotional Learning--which has stimulated an array of programs to assist schools in implementing SEL.

While most Christian schools have included Christian Character Trait Learning in their curricula, how does this compare or have relevance to the new emphasis nationally on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Lead article:

Should SEL be incorporated into Christian Character Trait Learning?

Ken Wackes
March 25, 2016

What is SEL?

Character training has been mandated by most states for public schools.

The 2004 Florida Legislature mandated the inclusion of character training programs in all public schools K-12 (1003.42 FS). "The character-development curriculum," states 1003.42, "shall stress the qualities of patriotism; responsibility; citizenship; kindness; respect for authority, life, liberty, and personal property; honesty; charity; self-control; racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance; and cooperation."
Image from Hip Hop SEL @ https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/hip-hop-social-emotional-learning-sel-tier-2-groups-williams

SEL, however, takes a somewhat different tact. It adds a new dimension by dealing with specific skills or competencies, by which, as one resource agency states, "a student is able to recognize emotions and emotional triggers, make and identify personal and academic goals, demonstrate cooperation and teamwork, and identify ways to resist peer pressure to engage in unsafe or unethical activities." (CASEL at http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies)

Another resource defines SEL as "transforming children's lives by providing vital social and emotional learning programs to reduce stress and aggressive behavior, improve focus and academic performance and increase resiliency for success in school and in life." (MindUP at http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/)

Five Competencies of SEL

The five competencies common to most SEL programs, according to Edutopia, are:

  • What are my thoughts and feelings?
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?
  • What different responses can I have to an event?
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?
  • How can I better understand other people's thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?
  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?
  • What consequences will my actions have on myself and others?
  • How do my choices align with my values?
  • How can I solve problems creatively?
(Edutopia: See their intro video at http://www.edutopia.org/keys-social-emotional-learning-video)


SEL in its secular versions has an inherent flaw. SEL programs ignore the spiritual component, which they must if they are to be implemented in public schools. The Florida statute is very clear. Any program implemented is to be "similar to Character First or Character Counts, which is secular in nature."

Thus, the very Source of emotional and relational health is ignored and the basis for what determines good behavior is subjective and ultimately relative. It is based upon the belief that universally accepted behavioral norms can be learned and sustained by any student apart from any spiritual or religious reference.

Christian character trait programs often have their own weaknesses.
  • Some programs include so many character traits that specificity and effectiveness are lost in the huge inventory. For example, the Institute for Basic Life Principles, used in the past by some schools, featured 49 character traits!That's quite a huge filter that a child must use to manage behavior.
  • There is a tendency to assume that all one needs "to be godly" isSeven Virtues writen on street direction - concept for the seven virtues in the bible to memorize all the traits as one would the multiplication tables in math or the periodic table of elements in chemistry. 
  • Another weakness is to ignore or dismiss as non essential the emotional and relational dimensions that are at work in the child when character traits are being discussed in the classroom or when the child fails to display an expected Christian behavior.
  • In some instances an insistence upon lining up one's behavior with a list of traits is so overplayed that every time a student turns around they are confronted with a lecture concerning a particular Christian character trait [with an emphasis on "lecture"]. This can lead to moralism rather than effective godly instruction. Paul addresses this in Ephesians 6: "Fathers [and teachers], do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (exasperate: to increase the gravity or intensity of, to vex. Free World Dictionary)
  • The hoped for effectiveness of a program can be thwarted by the attitudes and behaviors of the adults engaged in the process. Christian character traits are not only taught, but more powerfully so, are caught.
S EL contains certain skills that can be, and probably should be, included in character training.

At least three such skills are crucially important: Active Listening, Constructive Confronting, and Reality Behavior Check. (Note: My wife and I have practiced Active Listening and Constructive Confronting in our marriage for over 40 years and taught these skills to our children. We had never been taught these skills while growing up, either at home, at church, or in school.)
  • Five Steps in Active Listening: Silence, Empathy, Feedback, No Retaliation, and The Servant Question
  • Four Steps in Constructive Confronting: "I (not You or We) have a problem," Behavior description, Effects of the behavior, and Feelings that result from the behavior (B-E-F)
(A PowerPoint presentation of these two skills is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/ifp6efj5ts542ld/Active%20Listening.ppt?dl=0
  • Reality Behavior Check: "What did I do (not Why or Who else)?" "What value judgment do I place on the behavior?" "What other alternatives did I have?" "What's my better plan for next time?" "Will I pledge myself to the better plan?"
(An explanation of Reality Behavior Check is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/tytw86zuyhpmuej/Reality%20Discipline%20for% 20Shipes.pdf?dl=0

It is very difficult to find a single label from among the most common Christian character traits that can adequately contain any one of these three skill competencies. Yet the three competencies listed above are crucially important. There are others such as anger management,  conflict resolution, and discovering my personality strengths and weaknesses.

 Examples of internal tensions in a child that can blur or confuse the process:

In her autobiography, Tears of the Silenced, Misty Griffin tells of the horrible abuse inflicted on her and her sister by their parents from early childhood until late teens. Treated like farm animals and beaten on a daily basis, they were also repeatedly  harangued with "bible lessons" and "character trait lessons," especially those centered on obedience to parental authority, with the added message that hell awaits t Powerful Low Key Shot of a Young Child Looking Sadhe disobedient child.

Misty's story is an extreme case, but allow me to share two examples from my own experience. They illustrate how emotional tensions in children tend to blur what they encounter in Christian character trait discussions.

Teddy sat in a Christian school classroom and was presented with Punctuality as a Christian character trait. Frequently tardy to school because he often missed the school bus, he sat through the discussions centered on punctuality, at times feeling very guilty, at other times just zoning out. His mother worked night shifts as a nurse. Days could go by without the two ever seeing each other. When Teddy missed the bus, his mother had to drive him to school and then he could be with her for at least those 15 minutes! Teddy chose to disregard the character trait of punctuality in order to meet his emotional/relational need for attention from his mother.

Mary was sexually abused by her father from the fourth grade into high school years, yet at school she grew bewildered and confused when she heard that children with godly character are to honor and obey their fathers and mothers. She asked, "How can a loving God require me to honor and obey my sexually abusive father, or my mother who would not believe me?!"

Annie asked the same question as she related how her mother frequently punished her by locking her in a car, windows closed and without food or water, for an entire day in the hot Florida sun.

The  cases cited above are offered, not to discredit the importance of teaching Christian character traits, but to establish the following.
  • The social/emotional tension experienced by many children can traumatize them to the point that they are unable to understand and embrace a school's good attempts at character training.
  • This can lead some students to a hardened resistance against biblical character traits because of the tainted emotional eyeglasses through which they view life.
  • Studying Christian character traits alone will not produce godliness. In fact, it could produce moralism, the kind that falls flat when students move into the adult world.  Only the Holy Spirit, and not a program, creates the new heart and new mind that produce Christlikeness. Hence, students must be reminded again and again to rely on the Holy Spirit and prayer.
  • Christian schools would do well to incorporate some of the SEL skills (see above) into their character trait curriculum, because scripture provides a rich and powerful resource for developing the skills necessary for social and emotional health. But the skills must be identified, specified and exemplified.

The study of scripture, redemption, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and modeling by Christian parents and teachers are all crucially important for developing spiritual, social, and emotional health in students. Christian schools would do well to identify, target, and integrate these skills into their existing character trait programs.

This might be more relevant today than ever before as Christian schools increasingly enroll students from a broader cross section of society, made possible in large part by the several Florida scholarship programs

Questions to ponder:

*  Does a student's good academic success necessarily indicate positive emotional health and is it a reliable indicator of future success in marital, relational, vocational, and spiritual domains?

*  Does the integration of academic domains into a biblical world and life view necessarily ensure the development in students of that healthy social, emotional, and spiritual wholeness necessary for future success in marital, relational, vocational, and spiritual domains?

*  How does your school specifically prepare students for future success in marital, relational, vocational, and spiritual domains?

*  How does your school proactively address with students the issues of managing personal. responsibility and accountability, weighing possible alternatives in choices and behavior, and maturely accepting the results and consequences of their own behavior?

*  How does your school counter those inner emotional conflicts in students that often seek expression in anger, clique formation, bullying, verbal abuse, as well as, on the other hand, isolation, withdrawal, and self-deprecation?

If you are currently addressing these issues, are you willing to share with other schools your program? If so, please send me an email to that effect.

Secular Resources

Character.org offers a free set of 11 principles or rubrics by which a school can measure the effectiveness of its character training program. It also announces its 2016 National Forum on Character Education in Washington D.C. October 14-15! http://character.org

CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is the nation's leading organization advancing the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students. A secular program now offered in many public and private schools @ http://www.casel.org/about/

The Caring School Community (CSC): a nationally recognized, research-based program for grades K-6 that builds classroom and school-wide community while developing students' social and emotional (SEL) skills and competencies @ https://www.collaborativeclassroom.org/caring-school-community

Character Counts advertises its program as "the world's most comprehensive and effective youth development program."  https://charactercounts.org

MindUP describes its mission as "transforming children's lives by providing vital social and emotional learning programs to reduce stress and aggressive behavior, improve focus and academic performance and increase resiliency for success in school and in life." http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/

In Search of Character: a program for high schools @ http://www.goodcharacter.com/index.html

Social and Emotional Learning -- Fundamental Skills for Student Development and Academic Success: Anger, Conflict Resolution, Friendships and Dating, Peer Pressure, Self-Esteem @ http://www.channing-bete.com/schools-prek-12/social-emotional-learning.html

How to Choose a SEL Curriculum.

Character First Education: (Note: This program was initially included in the original bill to require character training in Florida. It was removed when certain teachings were discovered. This is a "secular" version of the Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles which many in the Christian community have criticized as legalism.) The web site says, "Character First Education (K-6) exists to help teachers, administrators, and parents build future leaders with character. We offer curriculum and training that works in public and private schools, home school families, mentoring programs, summer camps, and almost any educational setting."

Christian Character Trait Resources

CircleAdventist offers free 21 Life Skills posters for middle school life skills at http://circle.adventist.org/browse/resource.phtml?leaf=8502

Christian Character Curriculum Children's Ministry International, Inc.
Twelve Christian character qualities in an outline format are taught with definitions, memory verses, Bible lessons and games.  Suggested for children from 5 to 12 years old.  http://childministry.com/christian-character-curriculum

GoodCharacter.com: this site is loaded with materials for K-12. Character in athletics, in the work place, in commonly faced dilemmas, conflict resolution, and more. http://goodcharacter.com

100 Activities to Build Character in Kids @ http://www.momentsaday.com/100-kids-activities-to-build-character/

Kids of Integrity: Tools for Growing Godly Character @ http://www.kidsofintegrity.com

 How to do Character Education: Resources, Lesson Plans @ http://www,good character.com

36 Godly Character Traits: Watermark's Elementary Curriculum @ http://www.watermark.org/blog/elementary-kids-character-traits/

Live Wire Media: Character Education, Guidance, and Life Skills      
Resources for Grades K-12     http://www.livewiremedia.com

Results of February's Computer Coding Survey

 A majority of CSF schools responded to the survey.
  • 30% of the schools responding indicated that they offer coding.
  • 80% offer coding in grades 4-5.
  • 100% offer coding in grades 6-8.
  • 20% offer coding in grades 9-12.
  • None of the schools offer AP Computer.
Of all schools responding to the survey:
  • 55% of the schools indicated that they have a qualified teacher on staff to teach coding.
  • 35% of the respondents agree that coding is a necessary survival skill for the 21st century. 20% disagree. 45% are not certain.
Question Asked in the Survey:  "Do you you agree with the president and many in the technology field that computer coding is a necessary "survival skill" to be included in your school's curriculum?"

Comments from respondents:

"We need to teach students so they are ready for these jobs that have not been created, especially in the Christian Schools where we want to grow our children to represent excellence in everything they do."

"Although I would love to include it, I don't think it is a necessity. We have so many things that are a necessity that fitting in another would be almost impossible. In addition, I believe that coding is something that can NOT be a one year course - to stay up to date, it would have to be taught every year to every students or by the time they graduate, it would be out of date."

"While we do not offer a face-to-face technology course in the high school (question 3), we are able to offer several online via FLVS. Our high school students are required to carry Chromebooks, and these promote access to this opportunity."

"I believe that [coding] is something that will help students with critical thinking skills. It is like a smartphone, you don't have to have one, but it does make your life easier in today's world. That is what coding will do for our students. They will understand coding to help understand how computers run and analyze data. This will in turn help students with problem solving skills using technology."

"We are adding coding to our computer curriculum next year. We feel the analytical and problem-solving skills associated with coding are valuable 21st century skills which will be advantageous to all students."

"I think it is important to teach, but am not sure that many professions will ever really use it. I feel that most of us are consumers of platforms that use coding without ever having to actually learn how to code. I am trying to figure out what will drastically change between now and 20 years from now that will require everyone to know how to code."

"I am cautious of Washington policy makers making decisions on educational curricula."

"Our students must be prepared for the constantly changing world of technology and how to interact in it. This is becoming more necessary as they prepare for their futures."

"As someone with a background in technology in general and large data bases in particular, I agree that some knowledge of how computers do what they do; i.e., understanding specifically how coding works, is helpful. When thinking creatively about new products or thinking through how to answer questions that require complicated analysis, the ability to, in some degree write unique code, is essential. My concern however, is that learning to write code and "make" computers do what we want is not an end unto itself. Having some grasp of the issue before you comes first, and for that we need to focus on passing to the student a broad understanding of the world in which they live, a value system (Christian ethics) around which they can make positive decisions, and a mind that thinks critically and carefully. Each of these venues is daunting and challenging to convey. To me coding is a tool. Before one picks up the tool, when should have an understanding its best use. I can crack nuts with a hammer, but a better use for that hammer would be to build shelter for someone who needs its. Seeing the need for shelter takes precedent"

A Reminder

CSF Annual Meeting - April 21, 2016
Host - Cambridge Christian School, Tampa
Hotel - Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore  (813) 877-6688
( $135 a night - Reserve by March 21, 2016)

Ken Wackes
PO Box 1764
Crystal River, FL 34423

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