How Children Succeed: The Hidden Power of Character

Paul Tough is a popular writer and a former editor of the New York Times Magazine. (He recently released another great book entitled, Helping Children Succeed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 )   He attributes the initial concepts outlined in this video to Dr. Paul Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago and a nobel prize winner in economics.  Hickman became intrigued with understanding what skills and traits lead to success for children.  In his work he discovers that success goes beyond IQ to encompass what Paul Tough calls character and grit. Later on, in our journey, see that students who lack these somewhat elusive skills, do not do well in school and are not reaching their success potential later in life.  This is a 20 min. video but you can understand the thrust in about 12 minutes.  

The concepts in this video are profound and leave us with the understanding that children must leave school with values, character and grit.  If their parents do not impart these learnable skills to the students, the school system must.  


How Do Schools Teach Character?

Recently I visited the Oaks Academy (K-8) located here in Indianapolis.  This is a private  school that looks to intercity children for the bulk of their students.  This school is overtly Christ centered and as a result they have a built in system to teach values/character and grit.  Recently their students passed the state's standardized test ISTEP exams with the highest grades in the state.  (These tests were so long and difficult that Indiana is not going to incorporate the grades into this year's school grades and it will not be a part of the staff performance evaluation.) Click here to link to the Oaks Academy.

Here are the values they teach with along with the normal reading, writing and arithmetic:

The Oaks Academy Habits

“The necessity of forming habits is an integral part of [our] philosophy as they aid one in functioning in relationships. These are not tacked onto one’s life as another feat to be mastered in a performance culture, but are used as valuable tools in the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development in relationship to oneself, God, and others.”      Maryellen St. Cyr, When Children Love to Learn

The habits are listed in the order that they are added at the grade levels. All of these habits are promoted throughout theschool at all grade levels, but certain habits are a focus at each grade level. The habits are cumulative, and middle school students are responsible for all of the habits on the list.

Beginning in Pre-K

Habit of Attention: The habit of attention requires that one fix mind/body steadily on the matter at hand.

Habit of Obedience: Obedience is demonstrated by responding immediately and completely to authority, as well as accepting consequences willingly.

Habit of Respect: Showing respect involves using good manners and self-control in words and actions.

Habit of Responsibility: Responsibility is shown when care is given to personal belongings and school property, and tasks are completed.

Added in 2nd Grade

Habit of Reverence: Reverence is demonstrated by one’s awe and respect for things of God.

Habit of Reflection: The habit of reflection requires purposeful thinking and contemplation about the matter at hand.

Habit of Thoroughness: Thoroughness involves completing whatever task is at hand to the very best of one’s ability, leaving nothing undone.

Habit of Punctuality: To be punctual one’s obligations must be met in a timely manner.

Added in Middle School

Habit of Service: In serving, one must think of helping others and meeting their needs in a cheerful manner.

Habit of Self-control: To be self-controlled is to have mastery over one’s actions and have the ability to delay gratification.

Habit of Integrity: Integrity involves always being honest and allowing one’s words and actions to be above reproach, so that one is seen as trustworthy.

Teaching Advice from an Experienced Teacher

These are simple observations that Jane Drake has seen over her 38 years in the teaching profession. They encompassing teaching experiences in three (3) states and if properly employed, will  improve the quality of “how teachers are perceived by the general public".

    Manner in which teachers/prospective teachers promote themselves

1.  Speech

2.  Using their professional name when referring to themselves to parents, administrators, students

3.  Dress

4.  Being “professional” in their actions: no backrubs, allowing students to play with their hair, etc.

5.  Be “in charge”- You run the class, not the other way around

6.  Be prepared each morning – not running in late to prepare for the day

7.  Be prompt to respond to inquiries

·     Organization / time management

1.  KEY to running an efficient classroom

2.  Routines – a MUST when trying to educate all children

3.  Don’t let the job consume you – learn to use your time wisely, and prioritize what you do

·     Student Teachers and First Year

1.  Many are told that they “know it all” and aren’t willing to listen to a mentor.

2.  Administrators tend to put Student Teachers tend to assign them to “weaker” teachers in order to “help them teach,” as they aren’t doing a good job.

3.  Therefore, ST get a “bum steer” by not learning correct and important strategies to allow them maintain stability during this crucial period of their learning. 

4.  ST should be allowed to LEARN from the teacher, NOT have to develop ways to help the teacher teach right off the bat!

5.  When Student Teacher, you are assigned a particular grade level / class.  That very well will not be the same if/when you actually land a permanent position.

6.  Therefore, the strategies you learn should be ones that can “carry over” to over grade levels, as changing is akin to changing careers in other professions.

7.  Don’t go into teaching to hurry and get into an admin. Job in order to make more money, and get out of the classroom.

8.  IF you truly are a “super teacher,” your goal should be to stay in the classroom at least 10 years, and prepare students for the future, as well as help others to achieve. Admin jobs become all paperwork, meetings, and statistics.  NOT helping teachers to do a better job in the classroom.

·     State Testing

1.  Here, in IN, testing has been given way too early for students to have mastered skills/progress needed for evaluation.

2.  Theory is that giving tests later wouldn’t allow time for results to return.  Not true.  Having taught in AZ, the tests were administered the first part of May, and results were in before Memorial Day, as school ended at that time.  Is it cost????  Who knows???

3.  Also, why waste time/money on testing when standardized tests can be purchased which have much better range of information and can compare students nationwide. 

Jane Drake, retired elementary teacher



From: Janice M Minyon
Subject: I spent my entire years teaching in Houston Texas inner city schools.

Ten Steps to Teaching “The Class from Hell” A chance to change the life of another human being without needing a lot of money!

1. Number one and most important: Build self esteem; it is the best way to teach self-motivation and the desire to feel successful.

2. Everything is reading: use your spelling text, language text ,science text, and social studies text. If you find something interesting in a reading text, usually something that is not fiction (These are children who have not been exposed to a lot in their life) They love to learn about how other people live, learn about other places that are different from home.

3. Science: Use all experiments. Children would traverse through a snowstorm or a flood if they know that the next day they will be doing science experiments.

4. Never skip spelling or language. They help to build vocabulary, whether you are teaching my classes from hell or second language learners.

5. Math is the easiest. It is a matter of taking everything taught from short-term memory to long-term memory.

6. Reward student for wanted behaviors. I like the way (name) is doing ___________. I really like the way thought about the problem before deciding what the answer is.

7. Teach by example. Ask higher level thinking questions when you read to them from interesting materials. Use voices; I sometimes do this with what I am reading to them from something short. 

8. Read from “What if the Wolf was an Octopus?” which has sample questions and questions that develop higher level thinking.

9. Model handwriting when you are writing on an overhead machine, chart paper or the white/blackboard. My students were never taught cursive. I wouldn’t do this in the beginning but as time goes by begin to introduce it.

10. Celebrate your successes. Give your self a pat on the back for your successes. Enjoy your weekends and come back to class with lots of smiles and enthusiasm. A happy enthusiastic teacher spreads it around all day every day.

This may not sound like much but I worked at it for 18 years with lots of successful students who were labeled as Special Ed. Most of them and sometimes all of them pass the state tests. Yes these were often 13-year-old fourth grade students who were working the second week of kinder to the first week of second grade. Most of my students came to me not knowing how to read, write, write, or compute the simplest math problem.

If you are interested I will be happy to share my methodologies in each subject. This a lot easier than trying to teach angry unsuccessful demoralized children. You have the ability to change their life for the better. 85% of these boys end up in prison and the too many girls bring their childhood to a screeching halt when they become a parent when they are still a child themselves. I can share the names of books and materials
that make it a lot easier and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have changed the life of a fellow human being for the better.


One Teacher's Blog

An unnamed middle school English teacher with five years of experience writes this posting.  She experiences many joys and overwhelming burdens as she works in an under-resourced Title 1 school with many at-risk students.  She believes her experiences are reflective of many teachers across the nation.  She requires anonymity because she is afraid of retaliation by administrators.  The Washing Post rarely publishes from anonymous submitters but they allowed this to be printed because they believe it reveals a truth about public education that goes well beyond a single classroom.  Click to read the entire article.