• How We Implemented Character Education at Halifax Middle School

    Nine years ago the Halifax Middle School faculty was inspired to develop our own character education process after we read Mr. Joseph Gauld’s book, Character First – The Hyde School Approach. Although our character process has evolved over the years, we have remained faithful to the principles and process of a “Character First” education as developed over the past thirty-five years by Mr. Gauld at the Hyde School in Bath, Maine. We at Halifax Middle School recognized that many of the practices and precepts used in The Hyde School’s small, private, high school could be adapted and altered (although dramatically in some cases) to work within our small, public, middle school.

    We adopted the principles (destiny, humility, conscience, truth, brother’s keeper) and the key words (courage, integrity, concern, curiosity, leadership), which are used as the focal point of the Hyde School process, to be the focus concepts of the Halifax Middle School’s character education effort. We also recognized that we wanted to adopt the activities that The Hyde School used to promote opportunity for students to act and reflect on issues of character. Because all students at The Hyde School are involved in athletics, in drama or dance, in community service, in seminar discussion groups, and because each student has a job to fulfill to help care for the school, we wanted to find a way to incorporate some forms of these activities in our middle school character process.
    With the Hyde “Character First” approach as our guide, we at Halifax Middle School developed our highly organized character development program that we call our “Discovery Process.” To provide for this process, our entire student body has been organized into twenty advisory/homeroom groups consisting of approximately five sixth, five seventh, and five eighth-grade students. We call these groups Discovery Groups. These groups meet together during the first ten minutes and again during the last thirty minutes of each day during which all students are involved in organized activities or discussions that promote action or reflection on issues of character. During this Discovery-Group time, all students are involved in teacher-lead discussions and seminars that focus on issues of character. Also during this time all students are involved in intramurals (to promote a sense of team work), performing arts (to promote an understanding that all students have individual talents and skills that can be used collectively to a greater purpose), community service (to promote responsibility to the larger community), and school-wide jobs and planning (to promote a sense of ownership in the school and responsibility for the school environment).

    Presently our 300 students in grades 6-8 are divided among 20 Discovery Groups with these groups also organized within four (4) Divisions (using the names North, South, East, and West). The five (5) groups within each Division follow the same schedule and work together to accomplish their Discovery activities.

    To systematically accomplish these Discovery activities, and to purposefully get students to reflect on moral issues and acquire the skills necessary to act and react from habits of good character, we have organized our school schedule to have students meet together in their Discovery Groups twice during the school day. To begin the day, all Discovery Groups meet for ten minutes with this time providing them opportunities for cross-age mentoring and support as they prepare for their day. (This time together and this grouping allow for students to develop a sense of security, even a sense of “family at school”). Then, during the last 35 minutes of the day, students meet in Discovery with each Discovery Division following a coordinated weekly schedule. All Discovery Divisions accomplish the same tasks within a week’s time, but on any given day each Division will be doing a different activity.
    For example, on Mondays one Division will use the gym for intramural sports activities. Intramurals provide opportunities for students to have fun as a group while building the skills necessary to learn teamwork. Also, we end each intramural activity with a short time to reflect on how well the group worked together as a team.

    Our intramural schedule is such that each week one of the Discovery groups is not involved. It is on this day of the schedule that the Discovery group then performs school-wide jobs during which students dry mop the hallways, dust the tops of lockers, sweep the entrance-ways, vacuum the entrance mats, organize the cafeteria chairs, and clean the entrance-way windows. When the weather is nice, students may also go outside and pick up paper and other trash that may be on the school grounds. Performing these jobs sensitizes students to the work required to keep our school clean and helps them to recognize that it is not just the janitor’s job, but also everyone’s job, to care for our school.

    As we continue to follow a schedule of one of the Divisions, Tuesday would be “Topic Day.” This is the day that the Discovery period is used to discuss our character concepts. We use approximately three weeks to focus on each concept so that throughout the year, students will be engaged with the topics of destiny, humility, conscience, truth, brother’s keeper, respect, responsibility, concern, courage, integrity, leadership, as well as conflict resolution. These key words and principles are displayed on posters hanging from the hallway ceilings throughout our school.

    Again, following this sample Division schedule, Wednesday would be the day during which seminars are held. The principal, the counselor, or teachers will write seminar questions used by all Discovery Groups so that all students in the school have the same perspective from which to reflect and respond to the character concept being discussed. On weeks when a seminar is not held, Wednesday is used as what we at Halifax Middle School call a “stay-home day.” On this day students can “clear the decks” (address issues or problems that are of immediate concern to students or teachers). This “stay-home day” can also be used as a day to just stay at home in the Discovery Group to relax and interact with members of the Group as a family would when they have a short time just to spend together.

    On Thursday the Division schedule we are following calls for a “Division Day.” This is the day that the Discovery Groups of that Division work together to prepare for their Performing Arts presentations, to work to organize the “Spirit-Day Activities” (for which each Division is responsible to provide two throughout the year), and to work on community service projects.

    On Fridays the entire school breaks from the Discovery Activities to use the Discovery period as time for traditional clubs and organizations to meet.

    However, it is not only during our Discovery periods that we address character development. Our faculty and staff continually reinforce and integrate our character concepts and hold students accountable throughout the school day in classrooms, the hallway, the cafeteria, and even on buses and at after-school extracurricular events. Time is also provided for students and staff to reflect on issues of character during grade-level or school-wide meetings and assemblies. When it is necessary to deal “head on” with issues and events that arise, the principal, or teachers, call for a meeting to address the concern. In the past students have even requested for meetings to be held.
    Teachers, too, need time to plan, reflect, and renew among themselves; this occurs during both weekly faculty Division meetings and weekly full-faculty meetings. Faculty meets in divisions for 20 minutes each Monday either before or after school (with time also available before or after school on Wednesdays) to plan and coordinate Discovery activities. Full-faculty meetings occur each Tuesday under the direction of the principal for 20 minutes after school (with one one-hour meeting held each month) to plan and coordinate classroom and Discovery activities as well as to participate in discussions and seminars for reflection and renewal. Our middle school also uses faculty teaming so that team meetings also provide opportunities for staff to discuss and reflect on issues of concern.

    As parents are an integral part of our character Discovery Process, we communicate regularly with telephone calls, personal letters, monthly newsletters, and quarterly parent meetings to inform them of the character concepts, attitudes, and behavioral skills being addressed. During parent meetings we also engage parents in sample Discovery Group activities and seminars.

Last Modified on April 7, 2010