BCS Named 2018 National School of Character #BCSLearns


Character.org Designates 73 schools as 2018 National Schools of Character and 5 districts as 2018 National Districts of Character.  Program developed in 1998 has positively impacted the lives of close to 2 million students

Washington, D.C. (May 18, 2018)— Character.org, the nonprofit organization that validates character initiatives in schools and communities around the world, today designated 73 schools and 5 districts from 17 states as 2018 National Schools and Districts of Character.

Birmingham Covington School (MI) is one of the designated schools.  BCS offers a choice in educational structure and philosophy for BPS residents seeking a rigorous academic challenge. Its science and technology emphasis is based in Science for All Americans: Project 2061. In multi age classrooms (grades 3/4, 5/6 and 7/8) and in two-year academic cycles, students learn in an interactive atmosphere where they are challenged to apply and integrate their knowledge. Through interdisciplinary projects, students incorporate and demonstrate their understanding of skills and concepts where character is authentically integrated throughout lessons and activities.  Mark Morawski, principal, states: “This is a wonderful recognition indeed, and earning this honor through Character.org’s rigorous identification process including a site visit is something of which we are enormously proud.  We all celebrate indeed, students, parents, alumni and staff!  Though, we know that this is not the finish line; rather, it is another starting point as we work toward continuous improvement.  BCS is a great place to be!”

Since the inception of Character.org’s Schools of Character program in 1998, 547 schools and 35 districts have been designated as National Schools or Districts of Character, impacting more than 3 million people’s lives (A complete list of the 2018 National Schools and Districts of Character is included on the Character.org website).

Each year, Character.org and its state affiliates certify schools and districts that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development with a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior, school climate and their communities. Character.org evaluates schools and districts selected in January as State Schools of Character (along with those schools who reapplied within their 3-year designation) Character.org for consideration for national certification as National Schools of Character.

Through an in-depth and rigorous evaluation process, these schools were found to be exemplary models in character development. Of the schools named today, 17 schools are former National Schools of Character that have re-applied for the national designation. Criteria for selection are based on Character.org’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, a framework to assist schools in providing students with opportunities for moral action, fostering shared leadership and engaging families and communities as partners in the character-building effort.

“At Character.org, we are extremely proud of this year’s National Schools of Character as well as our district recipients. Their dedication to character development is reducing the skills gap by equipping the future workforce with transferable relationship skills needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” said Doug Karr, Character.org’s President & CEO. “Validating character initiatives is at the core of what we do, because they create fertile conditions for multi-generational character growth in communities of character. This year as we celebrate our Silver Anniversary, we are excited to also recognize 20 years of incredible National Schools of Character.”

Character.org will honor the designated schools and districts at its 25th National Forum on Character  to be held October 4-7, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Visit www.character.org to learn more about the National Forum, the Schools of Character Certification (State & National) and the 2018 national honorees.


Awe not Aww! #BCSLearns

Aww is a word used to describe what people may think of things that are cute, sweet, sad, good or bad. As in, “Aww, that baby is so cute!” or “Aww, that must’ve really hurt.” Awe, on the other hand, is a feeling of unmitigated wonder.  As in, “Wow!” or “Unbelievable!” or “Incredible!” When it comes to learning, let’s not make it cute, sweet, sad, good or bad; rather, let’s build a feeling among our learners of an enormous sense of wonder whether it be unmitigated joy or deep consternation. we have a “responsibility to awe” (see short video below).  But, how can we get there? Tom Murray, director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, offers 10 Steps to Developing a Powerful Learning Culture, as we work to create awe in learning for our students.

  1. Clearly define and articulate the vision. Take our BCS Vision, Mission, Values and Beliefs and align it with your classroom constitution or norms, etc.
  2. Model: Practice what you preach. Model how awe finds its way into your own life.  Say what you do and do what you say.
  3. Learning should be anytime, anywhere. This is where our service learning and project-based learning efforts take learning outside of our school wall either physically or digitally.
  4. Balance districtwide initiatives with the need for learning that’s personal. We can, and must maintain a laser focus on our vision while also meeting the personal needs of each other and the students we serve.
  5. Move from hours-based to outcome-based accountability. This is easy to say, though, perhaps, hard to do.  It does not matter how much time we spend on any given task, the whether learning occurred.  Regardless of time spent, were the outcomes reached?  Did the learning occur?
  6. Shift the culture of professional learning.  I can honestly say, that the professional learning and collaboration among our awesome BCS staff is a high level unlike I have ever experienced in a school or business setting.  I am humbled by the culture of learning we have among the educators and support staff at BCS!
  7. Empower staff to design their own learning. I hope the time and space I work to provide for teachers allow each of the to design their own, as well as their team’s, learning.
  8. Solicit teacher feedback. Am I, as an administrator, providing teachers what they want and need regarding professional learning?  I know I can do better with this, though, as with number 7, I will continue to provide time and space for teachers to design and manage their learning.
  9. Break down silos. This is where we not only learn from each other at BCS, but also others educators across our district, county, state, nation and even internationally.
  10. Grow your network. With social media, there is no excuse of us to isolate ourselves.  With these powerful tools, we can learn literally from anyone, anywhere, anytime.  What a luxury!

In the below video, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey shares his perspective briefly between “disengagement and radiant ecstasy.” The moments of awe exist, and Humphrey asks the question, how do we get there?  As he ends stating, “We have a responsibility to awe.”

Do You Have the Right Instincts? #BCSLearns

We all have instinctual thoughts, but are the the right ones? When I heard about this book from a weekly email I receive from the Marshall Memo, I was excited to find out. In the book called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, author Hans Rosling “describes ten ways we tend to misinterpret the world around us.” So, what can we do about this?  Rosling offers some thought-provoking advice on avoiding the following common human instincts.  Take a look at these instincts, and my take on them (with some key quotes of his mixed in), and his video at the end of this post.

  1. The gap instinct – this is the instinct where we, as humans, want to divide things, any number of things, into distinct groups.  Race, for example, is a social construct created by societies (aka: humans) to divide people into groups.  We know the rest of the story here, and the dangerous outcomes that this type of gap instinct can create. 
  2. The negativity instinct –  This instinct needs little explanation.  There is always a tendency to want to slip into this downward spiral, a systems thinking term, where we head down the rabbit whole of negativity.  There is a reason our staff at BCS would share that my mantra is “promote the positive” and “presume positive intent” versus the alternative to these habits of mind.  Why else is “Positive Attitude” on top of the life skills listed on our BCS Moral Compass
  3. The straight line instinct – patterns among humans are often observed, though be careful not to assume the pattern will continue in perpetuity.  Trends are not always forever!
  4. The fear instinct – In thinking of this instinct, “If it bleeds, it leads” comes to mind as it relates to news stories. Rosling warns, that “Paying too much attention to what is frightening rather than what is dangerous – that is, paying too much attention to fear – creates a tragic drainage of energy in the wrong direction.” As with the negativity instinct, let’s look for the positive uplifting news stories that, I feel, can put us on the path to productivity and solid decision-making versus the poor decision making we may make when we are living in fear.  That said, Rosling reminds us not to neglect the “mega dangers”.  I can’t help but think of critical education dangers like the achievement gap and the social-emotional well-being of many students today.
  5. The size instinct – In keeping with the concept of “If it bleeds, it leads,” as it related to the size instinct, Rosling contends that “The media is this instinct’s friend.  It is pretty much a journalist’s professional duty to make any given event, fact, or number sound more important than it is.  What I take from this instinct, we have to be sure to keep others’ and our own exaggerations in check.
  6. The generalization instinct – This instinct is similar to the “us vs. them” gap instinct, though, to go further, it seems to me, that the generalization instinct can result in stereotyping, which, without question, can be dangerous and demonstrate ignorance.  While generalizing can help us look for patterns and help us in our thought processes, it the danger of this instinct of which we need to be mindful.
  7. The destiny instinct – this is the notion that each of our futures will be the result of our innate characteristics.  This instinct reminds me of the fixed mindset rather than the growth mindset.  While our innate characteristics are important to who each of us is, it is that, accompanied with our effort and technique, that will determine our destiny.  This reminds me of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” So, we may want to be careful of them, yes?
  8. The single perspective instinct – this instincts confines us to the notion that there is only one way or only one right answer.  A dangerous, close-minded instinct indeed.  This instinct flies in the face of innovative learning, completely limiting creativity and the process of Design Thinking.  Think Stephen Covey’s abundance mentality, not single perspective!
  9. The blame instinct – For me, this is the finger-pointing instinct, which will rarely point at yourself.  We have to be sure not to get personal and remember, according to Gosling, “that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future.”  In other words, like so many of the other instincts noted here, this instinct will block creative thought, innovation, and solution-finding
  10. The urgency instinct – As a  principal for nearly 20 years, there has rarely been a critical decision that I have had to make “right now” instead of allowing myself to pause, reflect, and seek input through collaboration before rendering a decision.  In fact, Rosling would agree with this in his statement, “It’s almost never that urgent, and it’s almost never an either/or.”  I have learned that, outside of a true crisis, decision-making can be prodding, reflective, and thoughtful taking our time to make the right one. 

As I reflect on these ten human instincts, I am reminded of the importance of open-mindedness, humility, collaboration, creativity and diversity.  With that and related to Rosling’s ten human instincts, take some time to watch the below video that asks the question:  “How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates [in this TEDTalk video] that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.”

Stand Up and Upstand #BCSLearns

With May upon us, we focus at BCS on our next habit of empathy from Michelle Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Success in Our All-About-Me World.  This month’s focus is that empathetic people Stick their Necks Out.  In her book, Borba says that empathetic people have the “moral courage” to stick their necks out and become “active bystanders, better known as “upstanders”.  Bystanders stand by and passively observe or witness any acts of unkindness to others.  We need to teach our students, even ourselves, strategies to stand up actively.  In her book, Borba shares some strategies to positively S.T.A.N.D. U.P.:

  • S – seek support
  • T – tell a trusted adult
  • A – assist the victim
  • N – negate with positivity
  • D – detour
  • U – use a distraction
  • P – pause and rethink

In helping students nurture this habit of sticking their necks out, we need to explicitly teach what each of these strategies look like and sound like.  For many middle school and high school students telling an adult is taboo.  We have to help students realized they have a moral obligation to help create a safe environment for each of us who have the privilege to be part of the community in which we find ourselves.  Telling a trusted adult is not “ratting out” a classmate; rather, it is getting help to further support the safety and well-being of those in our community.  If a student just won’t report, there are still other strategies to demonstrate this moral courage.  A student can be an upstander with another strategy such as assisting the victim, detouring or simply using a distraction.  These do not require reporting; the taboo for many older students.

So what happens when we become upstanders?  Here are the research-based outcomes.  Upstanding…

  • reduces the audience that a bully craves
  • mobilizes the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying
  • supports the victim and reduces the trauma
  • is a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode
  • encourages other students to support a school climate of caring
  • encourages reporting a bullying incident since 85 percent of time bullying occurs an adult is not present. Students are usually the witnesses.

In short, “When bystanders intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds (Pepler and Craig, 2005).

If that is not enough to demonstrate the benefits. “Sticking your neck out and nurturing this habit, as Borba contends, helps our students find their “inner hero.”  What can we do to help nurture the inner hero of our children?

  • Expect social responsibility
  • Set the example: model it.
  • Offer Heros: Harrry Potter, Huck Finn, Nelson Mandella, Little Engine that could.
  • Stop Rescuing : We do not build confidence when we rescue.
  • Try small scale courage.

Above all, always encourage, and help children live the mantra of Muhatma Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Be the Change – It is done everyday, let’s just make it larger scale!  Show this below video to your students and children to help them find their inner hero.  “Kindness begins with you!”

Fill Every Class with Passionate Learning #BCSLearns

Elective and “special” classes adjacent to the core curriculum classes typically do not purposefully integrate core curriculum standards from the core subjects, though, often, they naturally become integrated through the project-based approach.  In the article To Engage Students and Teachers, Treat Core Subjects Like Extracurriculars,” Leah Shaffer shares the compelling research of Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine.  “The most powerful core classes Mehta and Fine have seen take on the elements of extracurricular activities. For example, at High Tech High School in San Diego, one biology class is organized around the goal of students creating and eventually publishing field guides.”  We must build on student passions for authenticity within the real world all while driving the standards that need to be learned.  Not only can this project-based approach drive the standards, it will also drive student passion, motivation and engagement.  Another “example Fine has seen is in a project-based humanities classroom. Students started the class by reading about the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s and McCarthyism. Then for the latter half of the semester, students were tasked with using the same rhetoric from that time to create documentary films on a controversial subject of their choice. Essentially, the project allows students to understand propaganda by making their own propaganda film.  [Or] In social studies, for example, students learn local history and then study ethnography by interviewing residents in different neighborhoods and mapping those neighborhoods.

All that said, with the breadth of the many standards to be learning in many of our core curricula, often times teacher will feel pressed for time to get through the standards in lieu of authentic projects.  Thus, the structure of the day and the pace of learning is a critical component of the school day for students.  Artful integration of standards within the curriculum is essential; something that is much easier in a self-contained classroom at the elementary level vs. a 6-hour class period day at the secondary level.  “The day at Lodestar [Academy] is broken into two parts: time for expeditionary and project-based learning, and a section of the day for literacy and math lab, where students learn core subjects at a personalized pace.”

In the video below, project based learning, PBL, is explained in full detail with examples and instructions for implementation.

In the video below, the perfect problem connects content, student interest, and an authentic context.

We, at BCS, remember this from Edutopia about Building a Student Centered School.  In the video below, See how some very familiar teachers help very familiar students apply their literacy skills to explore science problems outside classroom walls.

Get Smarter by Seeking Difference #BCSLearns

In today’s world, some may say we’re more polarized than ever finding camps of commonalities and comfort within which to exist as individuals and communities.  I would like to challenge that notion as there are wonderful pockets of inclusive, integrated and socially diverse communities particularly found in two places in the United States:  our public schools and our most successful companies.  In the article How Diversity Makes Us Smart, Columbia Business School professor Katherine W. Phillips confirms that the scientific research on the importance of this level of social diversity is clearly evident.  She readily admits that “diversity of expertise confers benefits that are obvious – you would not think of building a new car without engineers, designers and quality-control experts.”  In this article she makes the case for social diversity by answering the question, “What good comes from diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation?” In short, Phillips shares research proving that “being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.”  What better place than a public school is there to enjoy this level of social diversity and nurture our creativity and effort?  In the article, Phillips details three key aspects of social diversity:

  1. Socially diverse groups are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  2. A group of people with diverse individual expertise is more effective than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems.
  3. This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

That said, in explicitly building our teams to maximize this social diversity, Juliet Bourke, leader of the Australian Diversity and Inclusion practice, explains that we need to avoid the “Noah’s Ark” response to building diverse teams.  Let’s not put our faith in luck simply shuffling people into our teams two by two!  Bourke shares her experience, research and lessons in the area of diversity and inclusion to answer the key question within her book title, Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions. Note the three lessons below and have a look at her 13-minute talk that further highlights these lessons.

  1. Diverse groups make better decisions.
  2. There are six mindsets and behaviors exhibited by inclusive leaders (commitment, courage, cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence and collaboration).
  3. Vulnerability begets vulnerability.

Here’s to each of us getting smarter within our socially diverse settings and building upon them to maximize the social diversity!

Walk the Path of Empathy by Thinking Us, not Them #BCSLearns

With April upon us, we focus at BCS on our next habit of empathy, Think Us, Not Them, from Michelle Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Success in Our All-About-Me World.  In a Your Teen magazine interview, Borba shares, “The bottom line is empathy is lying dormant. Empathy can be cultivated, but we aren’t doing that intentionally enough as parents. Our definition of success has become IQ, grades, and SATs, with less focus on kindness. What we are doing is raising our kids to stay in the ‘me’ stage, and we need to start helping them think ‘we’ not ‘me.’” To do this, she suggests, we have to redirect kids away from all the negative media and Start showing them the good part of the world. They need to hear elevating experiences, like kids on the back page of a newspaper who are making a difference.”  We need to expose the world of kindness more broadly, intentially and intensely to our kids.

In an article from Medium entitled Think Us, not Them: A Useful Belief for First Time Managers, Narayan Kamath, this us vs. them mentality often times in naturally-formed in organizations.  Human beings naturally categorize, group, compare and separate.    Kamath writes, “Group identity is an innate part of being human and is indeed at the very foundation of people coming together as families, communities, societies and even nations. This shared sense of belonging is what makes organisations feasible and successful. However, group identity operates at several levels, and in organisations this can lead to several dysfunctional behaviours.”  These dysfunctions that move us away from thinking us, not them and my take on them include:

  • Blaming management – Other groups naturally will blame the management for the problems.  In a teacher’s case, students will blame the teacher for their problem be it a poor grade or missing work.  As leaders and teachers, we must ask for feedback and suggestions to those we serve so that we create an “us” mentality, we are in this together.  
  • Blaming other groups – like blaming management, naturally one group will blame another for the problems they are facing be it on an adult team or with a classroom. As leaders and teachers, we need to help students see their value as part of the community and empower them to be part of the solution influencing positive change.
  • Withholding information and resources – this creates a competitive culture rather than a collaborative one.  At BCS we ought to be enormously proud of the collaborative culture we have created where adults and students share information and resources for self improvement, team improvement and school improvement.

For Kamath, Think Us, Not Them is about “genuine collaboration across the organisation.” As one of our BCS belief statements reads, “people learn best in an atmosphere of curiosity, high expectations, collaboration and diversity.”  BCS is a great Place to Be!  

Finally, if you need more evidence on the importance of collaboration and thinking us , not them, check out the below video and remember these fiveLessons from Geese.” Check out how geese think us, not them / we, not me!

  • Lesson 1 – The Importance of Achieving Goals
    • As each goose flaps its wings it creates an UPLIFT for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock adds 71 percent extra to the flying range. 
    • Outcome:  When we have a sense of community and focus, we create trust and can help each other to achieve our goals. 
  • Lesson 2 – The Importance of Team Work 
    • When a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front.
    • Outcome:  If we had as much sense as geese we would stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others. 
  • Lesson 3 – The Importance of Sharing
    • When a goose tires of flying up front it drops back into formation and another goose flies to the point position. 
    • Outcome:  It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks. We should respect and protect each other’s unique arrangement of skills, capabilities, talents and resources. 
  • Lesson 4 – The Importance of Empathy and Understanding 
    • When a goose gets sick, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to the ground to help and protect it. 
    • Outcome:  If we have as much sense as geese we will stand by each other in difficult times, as well as when we are strong. 
  • Lesson 5 – The Importance of Encouragement
    • Geese flying in formation ‘HONK’ to encourage those up front to keep up with their speed.
    • Outcome:  We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups and teams where there is encouragement, production is much greater. ‘Individual empowerment results from quality honking’