Redefining Character Education:

Better Answers to Old Questions

Join Heart of Character and the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools as we offer four foundational days devoted to excellence in school programs for character development, social-emotional learning, and academic inquiry.

Our rich gathering of K-12 educators is suited to all audiences, whether you are a new classroom teacher or a seasoned school administrator.   Theory and practice are woven together in an exchange of ideas that promises useful strategies and practical activities as well as a deep understanding of the essential theory that makes those strategies and activities so effective.  

Our program includes a full day with North America’s best-known character educator, Thomas Lickona, as well as a strategy-and-skills session with David Streight, author of Breaking into the Heart of Character.  Tom and David’s contributions to this event are tied together by the Heart of Character team, character educators from independent schools across country with over a century of combined experience in schools.

What is unique about the Heart of Character approach?

The Heart of Character approach works on two levels.  We help educators understand how to practically pursue their schools’ character development goals. The deeper level of this team’s work points the way toward the three essential practices that lay the foundation for both academic motivation and the internalized desire to treat others with the kindness, respect, and compassion.  The attention given to these goals does not come at the expense of academics.  In fact, research convincingly shows that academic work is stronger when we nurture these elements of our mission.

Who should attend the Heart of Character Summer Institute?

K-12 administrators, deans of students, character and SEL educators, classroom teachers, coaches, and others who work with young people.

Conference Agenda

Building Positive Relationships: The True Heart of Character Education
Dr. Tom Lickona is a developmental psychologist specializing in the character development of children and adolescents.  His work with teachers, schools, parents, and communities has spanned a half-century. As comfortable with scholarly research (see Moral Development and Behavior, edited by Tom and published in 1976) as he is delivering practical advice to parents (see Raising Good Children, published in 1983), Tom helped launch the modern character education movement in schools with Educating for Character, which was published in 1991.  This landmark book in character education laid out a 12-point “comprehensive approach” that showed how every phase of classroom and school life could be used as deliberate opportunities for character development.  Tom has continued his tireless advocacy for kids through his Center for the 4th and 5th Rs and in several subsequent books: Character Matters (2004), Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics (2005), and most recently, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain (2018).  For the past four years, Tom’s Center for the 4th and 5th Rs has been collaborating with England’s University of Leeds on the Narnian Virtues project, using C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia as vehicle for fostering core virtues in middle school students and devising new ways to engage parents as full partners in the character education of their children.  Through Tom’s day with us, participants will:
  • examine what makes for truly transformative relationships.
  • learn what the latest research reveals about children’s moral development.
  • take away 6 evidence-based character-development practices that work in the family and the school.
  • consider why whole-child character education and quality relationships involve the pursuit of excellence as well as the pursuit of ethical behaviors.
  • learn how exemplary teachers and schools simultaneously develop moral and performance character.
  • consider the Smart & Good view of social-emotional skills as critically important but only one of 8 “strengths of character” needed for a flourishing life.
  • examine best practices for developing the Professional Ethical Learning Community.
  • take away new strategies for partnering with parents.

A few of the topics to be explored:

The Unadvertised Ingredients in SEL Success
David Streight has worked in education for 35 years.  As a classroom teacher, an administrator, a school psychologist, and executive director of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education, David’s work has always been driven by high-quality scientific research that seeks to identify the very best educational practices for fostering learning and kindness in kids.  He has shared his findings in presentations and on the web, in journals and in books, most notably in Breaking Into the Heart of Character (2013) and Structure and Guts of Character Education (2015).  During this session, David will address fundamental questions around social-emotional learning and show how a school’s commitment to developing the whole child can be enhanced through a thoughtfully designed SEL program.  In this session participants will:
  • discover the powerful research that shows how SEL programs work.
  • clear up frequent misunderstandings about what SEL is and what it is not.
  • learn why SEL programs work.
  • explore the similarities and differences between character education and SEL.
  • identify the essential – and often overlooked – ingredients in successful SEL programs.


What’s Holding Up Your School?  Foundations in Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence
Tim Leet is the Coordinator for Ethics and Character at his home school of Columbus Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  He is also the Executive Director of Heart of Character and the author of Ethics and Identity, a textbook for high-school age students.  In his work over the last decade as a character educator, Tim stresses that our character is deeply tied to our identity and inseparable from our self concept.  In schools that do character education well, prosocial values like honesty, fairness, and compassion are taken in by students and integrated into their newly emerging identities.  The key question for every character educator, therefore, becomes, What are the best social and psychological conditions that nurture this process?  In this session participants will:
  • discover a powerful body of research that describes those optimum conditions.
  • learn the language of autonomy, belonging, and competence (ABC) – the pillars of character education.
  • clearly distinguish between character and compliance.
  • learn why “getting the culture right” is vital for schools and classrooms that want to educate for character.
  • be provided with clear, actionable steps teachers can take to optimize their classrooms for character development.
SEL in the Classroom: Making it Work for Everyone
Scott Zimmerman has worked in independent schools for 20 years and currently serves as the Director of Social and Emotional Learning at Saint Andrews School in Austin, Texas.  For the last three years, Scott has helped teachers harness the power of social-emotional learning to improve their classroom cultures and deepen the character development of their students.  His passion for the work is unmistakable, and his wealth of practical experience makes him a great resource for guidance in this all-important work. In this session participants will:
  • learn to define SEL in a way that empowers teachers.
  • discover the variety of effective approaches to SEL.
  • hear how one school has harnessed advisory time to promote SEL.
  • learn strategies for working with colleagues who are resistant to SEL.
  • discuss how classroom culture can either supercharge or stifle any SEL curriculum.
One School’s Story: Transforming Culture Through Student Autonomy and Relationships
Michelle Scandurro and Mary Bond each have over 20 years of experience as educators in schools.  Together, they led an independent school in New Orleans as Head and Assistant Head through a remarkable transformation of culture.  Stepping into a culture they describe as negative, disruptive, and occasionally hostile, Michelle and Mary began their four-year transformation project not by clamping down on students but by opening themselves up to them.  Through carefully crafting changes that granted students greater voice and investing heavily in supportive, collaborative relationships, Michelle and Mary guided their community through a truly inspiring turnaround. In this session participants will:
  • discover the transformative power of student voice and high-quality relationships.
  • gather road-tested recommendations to take back to their home schools.
  • hear a first-hand account of the need for patience and determination when doing culture work.
  • learn how lessons from SMES can be scaled down and deployed in every classroom.
  • imagine highly effective schools of the future, in which every element is built upon autonomy and belonging.
Next Steps for Self and School
Anne Cass recently retired after more than four decades as a teacher and administrator in both public and independent schools. She credits her consistent focus on building meaningful relationships with colleagues, supervisors, students,and parents for the positive impact she had on eight school cultures over her long career.  Michelle Bostian has over 25 years experience as a school counselor and professional coach. She leads the Character and Ethics team at Greensboro Day School where she works as Head of Counseling and Middle School Dean of Students. Michelle believes social emotional skills are the bedrock to successful goal achievement for children and adults and a healthy school culture overall.  In this closing session, Anne and Michelle will work with participants to:
  • reflect on their own school culture’s strengths and challenges.
  • explore their own school’s needs in light of the ABC’s of character education.
  • isolate a specific goal that results from their work and over the last four days.
  • create a specific first step for their return to school using new knowledge, a clear goal, and the help of colleagues at the institute.
  • understand some helpful “keys to success” as they transfer that step into action.

And more…

Click here for a complete agenda for the Summer Institute.