“Education is creating environments where negative and anti-social behaviors are less likely to flourish or go unnoticed or unreported. Character education is creating schools where children feel safe because they are in an atmosphere that values respect, responsibility, caring and honesty, not because a guard or metal detector is posted at the door. After all, character education is helping to foster in young people what, in the end, counts most, a heart, a conscience and the ability to know that is right and what is wrong.”  

– Esther Schaeffer, Executive Director/CEO, Character Education Partnership, speaking at The Role of Character Education in America’s Schools Hearing of the Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000.

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviours to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges”

-Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning

Evidenced-Based Practice

Foundations for Success: Validity and Reliability Underpinning the FACE Project’s Principles, Design, and Implementation

The Functional Approach to Character Education Project’s (FACE Project) mission is to partner with schools and communities to promote the healthy growth and development of individuals which in turn cultivates a successful school environment, promotes personal empowerment and establishes support for each student to find their voice. The FACE Project’s school-based Character Education program for children in preschool through 5th Grade centers around an individualized curricula for teachers and counselors of roughly 30 weekly lessons per grade level that are designed to promote tolerance, empathy, respect and celebrating differences. The FACE Project includes curricula for teachers and school counselors, and the curricula is designed to improve classroom management and school-wide social and emotional development incentives. School professionals are offered in-service training with follow-up consultations for supporting programing around the best teaching, learning and person/group centered growth approach . Some additional key aspects of the FACE Project are:
  • The curriculum is developmentally specific, and so is effective and fun for children of multiple ages.
  • Lessons are designed to align stepwise, where each lesson builds upon learnings and principles.
  • Stepwise lessons are designed to move the students through group process stages to higher levels of socioemotional development.
  • Various delivery methods are employed, to suit different learning styles (Multimodal).
  • The technology-based approach allows for easy and flexible lesson delivery and coordination.
  • Lessons are designed to propel cognitive moral thinking, and positive social, emotional and behavioral growth
  • Structured around Character Education (CE) and Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) Principles and Outcomes (e.g. reducing teen pregnancy, decreasing bullying, improving school cohesiveness, improving school performance and decreasing dropout rates).
The classroom materials were developed by teachers and counselors for their teacher/counselor peers, and to integrate with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) and Standards for School Counseling Programs in Virginia Public Schools. The FACE Project has been supported by generous grants from the Annenberg Foundation, the Better Living Foundation, the Build-a-Bear Bear Hugs Foundation, the Darrin-McHone Charitable Foundation, and the Walmart Foundation, and has already reached over10,000 students in 8 Virginia counties.

Foundation for Success: Validity

The FACE Project’s design and approach takes well-supported theories about what makes students, teachers and schools successful, and puts them into action. Though not all attempts to fully translate social theory into effective programs are successful, the FACE Project was designed around principles of developmental specificity, stepwise and multimodal learning, CE, and SEL. How valid is the project’s implementation, or how well have its theoretical underpinnings and best-practice principles been translated into practice? In other words, is the program what was intended to be?

There are four aspects of the project’s validity to consider are:

  1. Construct Validity: The FACE Project labels a number of key characteristics of its approach;multimodal, developmentally specific, cognitive development, emotional development, social development , behavioral development, family and community development and group development. Counselors or teachers can choose to integrate cloze reading into the lesson, or they can play a video containing the same story. The lesson plans are differentiated for each grade, becoming longer, centering more on interaction and class input, and assigning more complex, independent tasks for later grades. The lessons are visual, verbal, and kinesthetic. They help students expand their understanding of themselves (thinking, feeling and behaving) from self centeredness to broader ranges of understanding others and community toward global awareness
  2. Concurrent and Convergent Validity:  Lessons covers a single specific topic, distinguishing principles such as honesty, integrity, and reliability by covering them in separate, distinct lessons. By relying closely on the principles of CE, the program centers around clearly delineated definitions for trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. The FACE project is similar to, but an improvement on, existing Character Education (CE) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs.
    The program is school-wide, involving teachers, counselors and administrators, parents and community members. The comprehensive evidenced-based lessons, and provides support for the program’s successful outcomes. The Face Project shares many common characteristics with other well-designed, school-wide, classroom based SEL approaches, including:


    • Engaging stakeholders in SEL planning and implementation.
    • Collaborating to develop a vision and long-term plan for the project.
    • Adults model social-emotional competence.
    • Monitor SEL implementation processes and student outcomes.

    The FACE Project now tracks outcomes for participating schools via school-level data on behavioral measures, including academic performance, school cohesiveness, school climate, number of discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions. There are currently 11 FACE project partners for whom data is available. To request available data points, please contact our offices. Further, aligning with CE principles, the FACE Project is:

    • Interwoven into the school and environment
    • Structured to instruct through experience, example, illustration and participation
    • Taught in specific lessons that supplement the standard curriculum.
    • Takes cultural, social, religious and political diversity into consideration.
    • Instills “the values and virtues of each person”
  3. Content Validity: In addition to the six CE pillars, the FACE Project curriculum incorporates the key SEL competencies: of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. It integrates efforts to improve school-wide practices and policies, as well as leveraging family and community partnerships, which are key constructs under the SEL framework. Because the FACE Project closely adheres to these principles, evidence that Character Education and Socio-Emotional Learning programs can effectively improve behavioral and academic outcomes lend support for the FACE Project‘s approach.
  4. Discriminant Validity: The FACE project is not a box of posters and directions to design a program in each school and district. Rather, it is a turnkey program designed with best practices from the latest research continuing to adapt our lessons with information provided through regularly conducted surveys and outreach from stakeholders. The FACE Project is deliberately designed to be a non-judgemental and non-prescriptive approach. The project is a forum for generating positive, character based foundations upon which future and strategic efforts can grow to address problems and build capabilities and resources for participants.

Foundation for Success: Reliability

Additional support for the FACE Project can be found in its reliability of program implementation overtime. The FACE Projects’s lessons are formulated to be implemented effectively across grade levels. The program has been accessed by _#_of schools and classrooms across _#_ school districts in Virginia over the past _#_ years.

    1. Implementation Reliability: Data collected from teacher and counselor feedback surveys indicate the efficacy of the FACE Project lessons. Two versions of the survey were administered with some shared questions. The surveys allowed the educators to provide assessments, comments and suggestions about the effectiveness of the program and lessons used at their schools, as well as to highlight specific character education needs at the school site. Three aspects of the program’s implementation were considered:
      • Fidelity to the lesson plan
      • Lesson satisfaction
      • Responsiveness, or the degree to which the educators would use the FACE Project lessons again.
      Reports from the lesson assessments have indicated consistently high fidelity in lesson delivery. Sixty percent of respondents to the lesson assessment survey indicated that they were able to complete the lesson plan in the time frame allotted. Respondents taught or worked with grades Pre-K through 4th grade. Satisfaction with the lessons was also consistently high across multiple grades, schools, and lesson plans. Seventy-five percent of respondents to the assessment rated the overall quality of the lesson as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Again, these positive responses concerned multiple grades (Pre-K, 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th), were from multiple schools, and five different lesson plans. In lesson assessments where respondents were asked whether they would use the lesson again (combining two different versions of a survey), ninety-five percent said that they would use the lesson again, or use it with minor modifications. These positive responses concerned multiple grades from multiple schools and ten different lesson plans.
    2. Internal Consistency: The lesson assessments suggest are also more likely to report higher satisfaction and responsiveness. Of the eight surveys where responses were given to all lessons(?) satisfaction, and responsiveness items, seventy-five percent indicated that they completed the full lesson, and eighty-eight percent of these respondents also reported that the overall quality of the lesson was good or excellent, while all six also indicated that they would use the lesson again.
    Conclusion The FACE Project has a foundation of validity and reliability. It is a well-defined, demonstrably effective translation and application of its theoretical underpinnings. Further, assessments from teacher and counselors indicate that the program is well-established enough to be consistently delivered and positively received. For example, in her letter of support for the FACE project, Kim Muraskin from Riverbend Elementary School, in Elkton, VA says: “They are my go-to lessons when I need to address a topic in a developmentally appropriate way across the grade levels. I love how engaging and active the lessons are…I appreciate the chance to use this curriculum in helping my students become compassionate, productive, and successful.” This memo was prepared 4/24/17 by Peter J. Lovegrove, Ph.D. (JBS International, Inc.) in collaboration with FACE Project staff

Teachers Value SEL

Teachers across America know that social and emotional learning is essential to student success in school, the workplace, and life. A survey of teachers commissioned by CASEL in 2013 found 93 percent of teachers want a greater focus on social and emotional learning in schools. These educators know that social and emotional skills are teachable and are calling for schools to prioritize integrating SEL learning practices and strategies into the curriculum as well as school culture.

SEL Impact on Lifetime Outcomes

A 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.

The study concluded that early prosocial skills decreased the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance, having any involvement with police before adulthood, and ever spending time in a detention facility (Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning).

Many studies have been conducted reporting positive results of character education programs.  Some examples of such research include:

  • A 2000 evaluation by the University of South Carolina’s Center for Child and Family Studies of South Carolina’s 4-year character education initiative found that 91% of administrators reported improvement in student attitudes, 89% reported improvement in student behavior, 60% reported improvement in academic performance, and 65% reported improvement in teacher and staff attitudes.
  • In 3 separate studies spanning almost 20 years, the Developmental Studies Center documented numerous positive outcomes for students who have attended elementary schools that implemented its Child Development Project (CDP).  Research consistently shows that students in CDP schools engage in more pro-social behavior are: more skilled at resolving interpersonal conflicts; more concerned about others; more committed to democratic values; and, able to demonstrate significant reductions in alcohol and marijuana use, and in delinquent behaviors. Preliminary findings from a follow-up study of students in middle school indicate that former CDP students are more “connected” to school, work harder and are more engaged in their classes, and have higher course grades and achievement test scores than non-CDP students. In addition, they engage in less misconduct at school, are more involved in positive youth activities, and report that more of their friends are similarly positively involved in school and their communities.
  • A study by Oregon State University researchers found that Positive Action, a program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children, can improve academic test scores as much as 10% on national standardized math and reading tests. Other key findings include: 21% improvement on state reading tests; 51% improvement on state math tests; 70% fewer suspensions; and 15% less absenteeism.
  • In a report titled, The Relationship of Character Education Implementation and Academic Achievement in Elementary Schools by Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, & Smith in 2003, the authors explored links between character education programs and improvements in academic achievement in elementary schools. Most existing research addresses only the effects of individual programs. Benninga, et al., were able to obtain more general results by comparing scores on a rubric measuring traits of character education programs in more than 600 California schools to a numeric indicator that summarizes the results of various statewide assessments. The team found that schools with the strongest character education scores tended to have higher academic scores by a small but significant margin.

The FACE Project curriculum is based on an integrated developmental model that takes into account the various bio-psychosocial maturational factors. Developmental theory (Erikson 1950, Piaget, 1932/1965, Freud, 1920) including systems theories (Bowen 1985, Minuchin, 1998) and group dynamics (Yalom, 1995), social-cultural perspectives (Bowles and Gintis 1977), inter- and intra-personal processes (Dewey 1916), behavioral (Bandura, 1997), emotional (Gilligan 1987, Goldman 2001) and cognitive (Kohlberg 1984) aspects all are examined in organizing the most effective grade level approach that facilitates the acquisition, maintenance and reinforcement of students’ Character Education. The Functional Approach to Character Education (FACE) Project constructs and expands upon a system to teach character education in educational institutions. In 1999 the Virginia Legislature passed into law Senate Bill 817 that mandated that Character Education be taught in all classrooms in Virginia. Educators, parents, legislators and a majority of the population at large agree on the need for an increased emphasis on human values and character education. The next question to be addressed is how to go about it. The obvious course in teaching virtue is first to have a valid measurable method based on a useful theory of morality. Unfortunately there has not been one theory that has resulted in an applied, consistent and measurable methodology. Instead there has been a diversity of theories and methods, none that has by itself endured consistently above the others.

Definitions of Morality.

Scientists have used a variety of criteria as indicators of a person’s morality:
  1. Behavior that helps another human being.
  2. Behavior that conforms to social norms.
  3. The internalization of social norms.
  4. The arousal of empathy or guilt.
  5. Reasoning about justice.
  6. Putting another’s interest ahead of one’s own.
  7. Demonstration of 6 pillars of virtue.
  8. Mutually beneficial behavior.
Each of these is a part of morality, yet none constitute a complete definition or morality; each has its limitations. The concept of character education is evolving and making strides in education and political will as a reaction to the immoral behavior seen on many fronts: education, politics etc. Character Education is an issue at the individual level as well as at the systemic level. Morality is defined in terms of ever increasing parameters and of larger systems in society. Morally responsible action by individuals and institutions is presently under-emphasized. Morality will only proliferate in a system requiring the mutuality of individual and systematic moral and ethical action.

Cognitive Development Theory

Kolberg’s cognitive development theory of morality is based on moral judgments. Support for Kohlberg’s (1984) theory that moral development proceeds through a stage hierarchy in a step-wise, invariant sequence regardless of sub and cross-cultural variation in moral norms and beliefs, is supported by a depth of research and numerous studies. Kohlberg’s theory includes two basic premises. First, that by asking participants questions as to how they would resolve a moral dilemma, the experimenter can determine at what stage the person’s moral reasoning functions. The goal of this interpretative, standardized exercise is to reconstruct the logic or inferential relations and transformation of just reasoning. Second, the theory is based upon ethical stage theory that enables one to formulate a position regarding the greater or lesser moral rationality of the reason being interpreted. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development included the following:

Stage 1: the punishment-and-obedience orientation. One acts morally as they fear punishment if they do not.
Stage 2: the instrumental-relativist orientation. One acts morally for personal gain.
Stage 3: the interpersonal concordance or “good boy, nice girl” orientation.” One acts morally because one wants to be seen as a “good person.”
Stage 4: the “law and order” orientation. One acts morally because it is the law.
Stage 5: the social-contract, legalistic orientation, generally with utilitarian overtones. One acts morally based on good laws and beliefs and will try to change laws that are not moral.
Stage 6: the universal-ethical-principle orientation. One acts morally based on universal principles.

Kohlberg’s emphasis is on basic cognitive structures that are said to underlie and organize moral reasoning, not upon learning specific moral rules. As Kohlberg (1975) and Paolitto (1977) point out, changes in thinking at each stage of development cannot be directly taught. Evidence shows that a person’s pattern of thinking is self generated in interaction with the environment and changes gradually. When people are confronted with experiences that cannot be understood adequately, it creates a disequilibrium. People attempt to change their way of thinking to “accommodate” the new information. The new experience interacts with the previously established cognitive structure and the building of a new structure begins. A teacher of moral judgment would therefore create the disequilibrium associated with an unresolved issue to facilitate cognitive developmental structural change and stimulate the student to resolve the issue by taking a broader social perspective.

Blasi (1980) reviewed 75 studies that used Kohlberg’s methods of assessment. Fifty-seven of these studies showed a significant relationship between moral judgment and behavior. However, Blasi warns that the strength of the relationship is necessary to determine other variables that explain moral behavior. Thoma (1985) compiled 30 studies that attempted to relate DIT scores with moral behavior. Similar to Blasi’s findings, Thoma found a correlation in the .3 range. There does seem to be a consistent, although somewhat low, correlation between moral judgment measures and moral action. It seems clear that what we do not know about moral behavior is greater than what we do know. Cognitive developmental theory has become more realistic about its limitations. Cognitive developmental theory has also broadened its perspective to include a more interactive model of emotional and behavioral factors as important influences in moral understanding.

Emotional Factor

Carol Gilligan, a student of Kohlberg’s, perceived the importance of an emotional factor that determines morality – especially for women. Gilligan (1982) formulated two general modes of operation in making moral judgments. One is the ‘responsibility’ mode that focuses on caring, responsibility and nurturance in accordance with people’s needs. Second, the ‘rights’ mode stresses reasoning based on moral principles, particularly principles of justice, equality and individual rights. The responsibility mode, according to Gilligan, typifies the ‘female voice,’ although she suggests that this mode applies to all persons male and female. Morality in this mode is based on the highest premise of care and sensitivity to the needs of others. Kohlberg’s initial, direct connection between moral judgment and action has been altered. Blasi (1980), after reviewing the available studies, concluded that people functioning at higher judgment stages tended to act in more honest, altruistic and pro-social ways. He still believed, however, that no theoretical light was cast on moral judgment explaining moral action. Blasi suggested the bridge between moral judgment and moral action might be found by focusing on judgments of self-responsibility in determining how to act or not act in moral situations.

Group Influence (Behavioral)

The social context in which moral action takes place has a profound influence on the moral decision-making of individuals. The norms, standards or rules that develop in a group arise from the group’s shared expectations. The sense of community, solidarity and cohesion that develops as well as the collective norms in a group form a “moral atmosphere” (Kohlberg, 1983). Moral atmosphere in the form of collective norms and a sense of community can be a strong influence in determining group development.

Mutually beneficial action is a behavioral definition of morality that emphasizes what a person does, not just what a person feels or thinks. This important behavioral realization is a pressing social priority for our schools. FACE promotes win-win action of mutually beneficial action throughout schools. What is good for the individual and good for everyone else is the higher good and is what is at the core of Character Education.

An Integrative Model

Kohlberg’s justice approach worked in his cognitive developmental perspective. However, there is more to moral action than can be explained by this mode of reasoning. In combining his justice reasoning (cognitive), with Gilligan’s conception of care and love (emotional) and the schema of mutual beneficial action (behavioral), a more integrated and holistically explainable method of morality can be offered. Recognizing the importance of group influence and the value of the group regarding collective norms, the school is a logical and beneficial place to incorporate and teach Character Education.

Character Education in the Classroom

Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental model helps us understand how one acts ethically in part by understanding widening social parameters. Teachers can teach students to understand and act with a high degree of character in the hidden curriculum and in a formal curriculum of character education as delineated in Senate Bill 817 passed in Virginia (1999). Broadening Character Education to include a cognitive, behaviorist, and emotional perspective can bring Character Education back into the classroom. A Character Education program is meant to be interwoven into the school procedure and environment, and structured to instruct through example, illustration and participation. Character Education should be taught in specific lessons that supplement the standard curriculum. Cultural, social, religious and political diversity must also be taken into consideration and instilled “values and virtues” should be common to all groups.

A distinction lies in teaching children how to think, not what to think; not only how to think but how to articulate their views and, equally important, how to listen with respect to the views of others. The curriculum can thus be geared to generate learning and communication. This can lead to resolving conflicts and negotiating agreements and is also viable as an end in itself. When Character Education is seen as an integral part of the school curriculum many possibilities open up for deepening the learning experience. In ‘real life,’ the ethical dimension is essential to every discipline; similarly Character Education can be interwoven within all school subjects. Learning takes place throughout the school day –not just in the classroom but also in the hallways, cafeteria, gym and playground. These settings are as important for experiential learning as the material presented more formally in the classroom and they can provide a transition to the world beyond the school grounds.

“When properly implemented it has produced dramatic results. Drug problems have decreased, teen pregnancies have dropped significantly, absenteeism has gone down, discipline has improved and more importantly, all this has been accomplished while academic performance has gone up. That’s because when you teach kids to really care about others, they feel better about themselves and work harder. The teachers are happier, the students are happier, the parents are happier, and the community is happier. Everybody wins. There is no question that character education should be an integral part of the entire formal education system from kindergarten through university level.” (McDonnell, 2006)