The Link Between Character Development & Achievement Levels

The Link Between Character Development & Achievement Levels by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

People trust those who do the right thing. However, the problem of failing to “do the right thing” goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Still, we are often alarmed by surveys about the societal state of values and behaviors like the one released by the Josephson Institute of Ethics a little while ago. The survey of over 40,000 high school students revealed that 92% of those students surveyed believe their parents want them to do the right thing, and 89% say they believe that being a good person is more important than being rich; yet these beliefs are in conflict with their actions and behavioral choices. For example:

  • 1 in 3 boys and 1 in 4 girls admitted to stealing from a store within the past year.

  • 21% percent admitted they stole something from a parent or other relative.

  • 18% admitted stealing from a friend or lying.

  • More than 2 in 5 said they sometimes lie to save money (48% of males / 35% percent of females).

  • More than 8 in 10 confessed they lied to a parent about something significant.

  • 59% admitted to cheating on a test during the last year (with 34% percent doing so more than twice).

  • 1 in 3 admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.[1]

Again, the reality of unhealthy and disappointing behavioral choices (especially among teenagers) is nothing new; and perhaps that is why the quality of “Character” is so important to building, establishing, and maintaining trust as individuals and organizations. We all know far too well (and often from personal experience and disappointments) that our actions do not always follow our beliefs. But we must keep in mind that students, parents, faculty, and staff only trust administrators who do the right thing –  even when it is not the easiest thing to do or may result in personal loss or embarrassment for the administrator.

That commitment to maintaining and modeling character and to developing trusted character within students also has an impact on the academic achievement levels of our students. Research conducted on the relationship of trust and school leadership has shown that when character development is highly valued and integrated into a school’s program and culture, student achievement increases as well as student performance on standardized assessments.

Applications from the 681 elementary schools applying for the California Distinguished Schools Award… were randomly selected, evaluated, and scored for character education implementation. Results were correlated with both the SAT9 and API rankings over a four-year period… Schools with higher total character education implementation tended to have higher academic scores on academic measures for the year prior to their application, the year of their application and the subsequent two years.[2]

Has your school or university suffered from a lack of character, resulting in an overall diminished level of trust, and perhaps even the academic performance of your students? To what extent is your school intentionally investing resources, time, and professional development into restoring and expanding their level of trust?

Research has shown that a lack of trust is the biggest expense for schools. Research has also shown that when schools invest in professional development based on developing the attributes of trusted leadership among not just their administrators, but their entire faculty and staff, the school benefits in every measurable way (including higher levels of student achievement).

When trust is lacking between administrators and teachers, faculty and staff retention rates go down, school improvement initiatives do not move forward, and workplace morale is low. When trust is lacking between teachers/administrators and parents/students, engagement in learning is minimized and student achievement is negatively impacted.

However, when trust levels are high – schools excel in every area! Teacher retention rates go up. Programs are financially efficient. Parent satisfaction is high and most importantly – student achievement levels out-perform those schools with low trust levels in every discipline (i.e. academics, athletics, and extracurricular) every time.

©2016 Toby A. Travis

[1] Rich, J. (2011). CHARACTER COUNTS!: Programs: Ethics of American Youth Survey: Josephson Institute’s Report Card. Josephson Institute. Available at: http://charactercounts.org/programs/reportcard/2010/installment02_report-card_honesty-integrity.html.

[2] Benninga, J. S., Berkowitz, M. W., and Kuehn, P. (2003). The Relationship of Character Education Implementation and Academic Achievement in Elementary Schools. Journal of Character Education 1, 19-32.

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11 Comments

  1. As a volunteer school site evaluator for the National Schools of Character program of Character.org, I am always perplexed why the stories of success in this program (schools that focus on character see increases in academic and social outcomes) does not translate into rapid dissemination to other schools. Why is this message so tough to communicate?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, but to that point, once something has been assessed successfully, why is the dissemination process so slow (regarding by-in to character development) in sister schools? We can demonstrate the success. We can draw correlates to why it is working and then we are met with a collective yawn.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Completely agree. Took over a school two years ago. it was violent and completely disorganised from the top down. Two years later, we have moved from unsatisfactory to satisfactory. aiming for good in the next inspection. Students claiming they want to be the best in the area. Assemblies showing what that will look like. Retainment of staff improving and social media positive. What more could we ask for??? All due to character building and focusing on empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent article and on one level no surprise as safe and secure schools focusing on empathy and compassion which lead to trust help the school community as a whole to do well. When kids staff parents feel cared for they are more likely to contribute in a positive way and look out for each other. I agree that with the breakdown of so many families and communities that schools are often taking the lead in pro social skills training. In my experience most of us want to do the right thing and feel good when we reach out and help others. Keen to hear what program you use in your school to promote character development.
    Carolyn Aston Wellbeing Co- ordinator Worawa Aboriginal School and former Peaceful Schools Program Director

    Liked by 1 person

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