Tuesday, March 18, 2014

6Cs of 21st Century Learning Project: Character Education and Citizenship

In which, @jasonrichea, @MatthewOldridge, @DebbieAxiak and @tina_zita finally finish their writing project on the 6 Cs of 21st Century Learning.  


The two newbies to the group: Character education and citizenship. Some will tell you there are only 4Cs of 21st Century Learning. Character education and citizenship won’t be found on many lists. I must admit that when I read them listed in Fullan’s From Great to Excellent report I was a bit surprised. They seem like a given in education, something we have championed for a long time. Maybe that is one of the reasons this post has been the hardest of the group. As i’ve been pondering this blog post I realized that perhaps they were included for that exact reason, so that we could take a closer look at what they mean in our digital age. The other Cs aren’t much without character education and citizenship.

When thinking about the two terms in a digital era the following comes to mind.

Character Education in the 21st Century means understanding that the digital and physical world may seem far apart but really are one in the same; it is helping students portray their best self both in face to face situations as well as during online interactions; it is the kid that lends a helping hand to a friend as well as the kid that will refuse to pass on that photo coming around.

Citizenship in the 21st Century means understanding the power that we each possess to make a difference within our community, our province, our country and beyond. It is understanding how it is not just a right but also a responsibility to be aware. Digital citizenship is definitely a part but not the only piece that is important to discuss in today’s classrooms.

Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity are wonderful skills but without character education and citizenship they aren’t really given any agency. Through out the post I have been thinking of Kid President and his positive message calling us to action. That would be my hope for the students in our classrooms today.

Character education = being and sharing our best.
Citizenship is taking action.

Character Education

@Debbie Axiak

Character Education – Learning to do the right thing

Martin Luther King Jr said “Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education”. Schools play a role in the development of the whole child - teachers don’t just teach subjects, we teach people. Parents, family and other community members, and schools play a huge role in the development of character by instilling the values of what it means to be a person of good character. Being kind and caring to yourself and others, telling the truth, accepting responsibility for your actions, doing what you say you will do, respecting differences and cooperating with others are all part of what makes a person of good character  – at home, at school or out in the community.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were all good people ALL the time? Well, we aren’t perfect - we are human and we make mistakes. Children, teens and adults are constantly learning as we encounter new situations. Being kind and caring (or honest, respectful, inclusive, etc.) feels a little different when you are a three-year-old at home with a loving family than it does when your ball gets taken on the playground, at your first teenage party with no adult supervision, or at a U.S. Walmart on Boxing Day.

People of good character are the ones we want to be friends with, the people that we would hire, the people that we respect. When we are surrounded by good role models and are held to high expectations throughout our formative years, we can internalize what it means to be a person of good character and do the right thing, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Sadly, some of us come from homes where selfishness, racism, homophobia, lying, cheating and/or stealing are the norm and school becomes the venue where we learn about the importance of becoming, and being, a person of good character.

In every case though, becoming a person of good character takes time to develop.  We must experience many different situations and people, we need to have good role models whose actions and words demonstrate the power of character, and we need the time to prove ourselves as a person who does the right thing no matter what the situation is.

**Added after reading @jrichea’s response - Jason said that in high school, Character is not something that is often specifically discussed. This is different in the K-5 and 6-8 schools where Character Education is specifically discussed by teachers through a Character Committee. Each month a different character attribute is highlighted through Character Assemblies, through announcements, by celebrating student actions in relation to the Peel’s Character attributes and through in-class activities (often integrated into Language Arts by reading, discussing and writing about the Character attributes seen in fictional and real characters). The attributes are integrated daily in K-5 schools as students learn the importance of being honest, caring, respectful, etc. in a school setting, at recess, etc.

I guess this difference is expected. Younger students require more explicit instruction during the early school years as they learn to navigate in the world away from home and become more responsible and mature.


This is a story from the early days of Facebook, the dark days before we started to bring digital citizenship fully into the light, and schools were equipped only with the most scary and dire media stories about this new menace to youth.

I was home, cooking, early in July.  This was for about the third date with my future wife.  I received a phone call from a parent of a girl who had been in my class.  She had been targeted with the sort of “you should die” chat bullying that happens these days in digital mediums (and happened in other ways, long before that).

That was upsetting enough, but it also turned out that a bunch of us (staff at the school) had been tagged in a Facebook photo in profane and unflattering ways.  I was unable to see the photo, due to privacy settings, and that in itself was a helpless and horrible feeling.  No calls to board or union helped- we were in uncharted territory here. Nothing could be done.

In this case though, all the parents involved have great parents who helped work out a difficult issue.  Atonement was made, but not to me, and I had to accept that it never would be.  I had it on good authority that my image was taken down, though.  The final authority on the character of the bully was the girl’s parents (as it should be). They were loving mother and father, and her first and most important teachers.  

I am sure she has grown into an excellent person.  I personally wouldn’t be who I am without making a whole mess of mistakes as a younger man.  The notion that character is fixed and immutable belongs to comic books and “Criminal Minds”.  We become who we are, slowly, steadily, as the sum of all our experiences (and those who guide us) take us down the road through childhood, to adulthood, and so we continue until the end of our lives.   

Character is becoming.

Jason Richea @jrichea

I find character is not something often discussed among educators. Not specifically anyways. We often share our opinions of students and how they behave in the classroom, but never really attach the label ‘Character’ to such discussions. We look at how they collaborate, communicate, work in teams, show initiative, determination, responsibility, maintain focus, organize themselves, and work independently as well; but never do we judge character specifically.

However, in other arenas character definitely becomes a talking point.I have had the pleasure of coaching many student-athletes, and this is where I really the character in students come out. The classroom can allow for such exposure, but I find the playing field is where true character can really shine. Many of my players have demonstrated sportsmanship, respect, admiration, teamwork, work ethic, determination, commitment, sacrifice, and what it means to “leave it on the field”. We often coach players on character, or sportsmanship in this case, and are explicit in its teachers. We reward players for demonstrating such character, and often find ourselves in regular discussions among coaches as to whether to take a skilled player over a player who displays a tonne of character? The answer is never clear, and context must be given, but more often than not, the choice is character.

So how do we instill character in our students in the same way? What attributes should we develop? I think it comes from leadership really. If we can develop our students to become leaders in their schools, then we are instilling in them many of the qualities that we look for in someone who has a tonne of character. They will lead by example, respect & listen to the opinions of others, look to harness the skill sets of their team, and take responsibility for all actions. In essence, true leaders, have true character.

Character = Leading by example



Citizenship – Contributing to a better world

When I was a girl, citizenship meant helping others in the classroom, school, neighborhood and religious community. Once a year, on Halloween, it also meant carrying a UNICEF box and collecting pennies for nameless, faceless ‘starving’ people in faraway lands (these were the same people I was supposed to feel guilty about every time I didn’t finish my dinner).  News came from the radio or television a few times a day – but I didn’t listen or watch the news as a child. As a lower-middle-class WASP girl growing up in the First World in the 1970s, war, starvation, environmental disasters, and human rights issues were abstract ideas that I had very little exposure to between episodes of Get Smart and a great game of hide and seek.

Today, news updates are constant, video footage and photos give equity and social justice issues names and faces, and people from faraway lands live next door. Students are aware of local and global issues and they want to talk about them and do something about them. I’ve had middle school students come to school wanting to discuss the dire conditions in Attiwapiskat schools, want to fight for Shannen’s Dream, stop Global Warming, or talk about Joseph Kony and his child soldiers. War, starvation, environmental concerns and human rights issues are not abstract ideas for today’s students.

As an educator, I should go beyond talking about world issues with my students and help them make a difference but I struggle with this. Luckily I’m surrounded by phenomenal students and teachers in my new school and the Outreach Club’s dedication to raising awareness and money for a variety of issues is helping me learn how to go beyond words and to take action.

Today, citizenship isn’t just about contributing to the local community; it is about making the world a better place.

Jason Richea @jrichea

I am extremely fortunate to be a teacher of Canadian geography. Geography allows you to see all of the interconnections in this world, and learn about the problems plaguing this planet; while at the same time develop solutions to such problems. Contrary to popular belief, it is not about colouring maps, and labelling the provinces & territories. Not only do I teach geography, but I find myself a student of this subject as well, due to  the various events happening around the world, every single day. One of the great aspects of this, is that I am continuously learning about Canada’s role in this world, and what it truly means to be Canadian.

So what does this have to do with citizenship? Well quite simply, Canada is an amazing country whose actions (for the most part) attempt to improve this planet. These actions really are a reflection of the citizens of this country, and led by individuals and groups of Canadians. To wit, I always find myself astounded by the way in which ordinary Canadian citizens attempt to improve the lives of millions around this world. Canadians regularly reach out to victims of catastrophes, build villages, start non-profit organizations, share their knowledge, skill, and expertise, and all because they want to make the world a better place.

The best part of all of this, is that these actions are not limited to the adult citizens of this country. Youth are engaging like never before, and leading the charge to change the world. The awareness they have for world events is astonishing, and I am in awe of their passion. Our students regularly display citizenship, just through the compassion they show for those less fortunate. They hold food drives, bake sales, runs for the cure, and a variety of other events, all organized by themselves in a lot of cases, because they refuse to wait on others to find solutions. This compassion and drive is what really sets Canadians, and our students, apart from others.

Citizenship = A Passion to Improve our World


I am Canadian. I stand on guard, or at least, I would, if asked. I used to have all our Prime Ministers memorized. I belong to God and Nancy and Callum and Alec.  I am Mississaugan, but I came from Guelph General Hospital, and my mother and father, and their mothers and fathers before them.  I am #PeelProud, and I belong to the #Peel21st.  I left a small piece of myself at a shrine near the Pacific Ocean in Japan.  I found another piece at the corners of Keele and Dundas Street in Toronto, although I am not a citizen of Toronto.

As @neiltyson would say, I am from: EARTH – SOLAR SYSTEM  – MILKY WAY GALAXY – LOCAL GROUP – VIRGO SUPER CLUSTER – OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE. Although based on recent findings, we may have observed all the way back to the Big Bang, and that's not to speak of possible multiverses, and earlier occurences of this universe, and the possibility that I am as I am, typing these same words, in many different times/places...

I belong to all these things.  Citizenship is belonging.