Achieving civility through our mindsets

Mindsets and civility

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

“I’m not allowed to get angry?” That’s a question that is raised in nearly every civility workshop we lead. Participants want to know how to have a mindset focused on civility when they’re feeling angry or frustrated. Our answer to that question is, “Of course you’re allowed to be angry. But, choose a mindset that helps you deal with the problem with civility.” It is our ability to understand the roles of emotions and mindsets that can help us maintain civility through everyday challenges.

While our emotions influence our mindsets, you can choose different mindsets for the same emotion. For example, if I’m feeling angry that my flight got canceled, I can choose a mindset that says, “This is the worst day ever! Why does this always happen to me? Nothing ever goes right.” Or, I can have a mindset that says, “I’ll get through this. There is a solution here. I can get this fixed.” The emotion is the same in both scenarios, but the mindset changes. When we lose someone close to us, we can feel that sadness for the rest of our life, but our mindsets may change and evolve over time. We can be devastatingly heartbroken over someone’s passing (emotion) and think about how grateful we are for the memories we have (mindset) at the same time.

Choosing your mindset, no matter your emotional state, is an incredibly powerful tool because our mindset impacts our response. A negative mindset makes it less likely that we will choose the best possible response.

Our response to any situation is always entirely within our control. No matter how angry or frustrated we get, we can choose any number of responses – from violence, shaming, and name-calling to asking questions, seeking connection, and working to understand the other person. It is the same emotion, but different mindsets produce different responses.

The next time you are struggling to choose the right response in an emotional moment hit pause and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What emotion am I feeling right now and why am I feeling it? Acknowledge the emotion. Acknowledge the reason for that emotion. Feel what you feel.
  2. What outcome do I hope to achieve in this situation? You can’t fix everything, but what outcome is within your influence?
  3. What mindset and response give me the best chance to achieve that outcome?

6-12 character education lesson: digital citizenship

Teaching students to think about their digital citizenship through the lens of integrity is important in this digital world. This lesson will give students an opportunity to discuss ways to engage an active conscience to model integrity as digital citizens.

Character Education Objectives:

  • Students will explore their digital footprint. 
  • Students will discuss why it is important to protect your identity and reputation online and offline. 
  • Students will utilize Rules of an Active Conscience to determine what to post on social media.



Journal: (5 mins)

  • Google yourself 
  • Write down what you noticed about your digital footprint. 

Whole Group Discussion (15 mins)

  • Share what you noticed about your digital footprint.
  • Why is it so important to be a good digital citizen in today’s world?
  • Share headlines of digital footprints impacting citizens:
    • Harvard rescinded 10 offers of enrollment for students who posted explicit and racist pictures on social media.
    • Woman tweeted a racist post about her trip to Africa when she boarded the plane. She was fired by her boss before the plane landed.
    • Students photoshopped an unflattering picture of a teacher and posted it on the Internet. They students involved were suspended, legal charges were filed, and the students faced five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.  
    • A woman posted a picture of herself dressed like a Boston Marathon Bombing victim to Instagram for Halloween. She was fired because of the insensitive nature of the post.
    • Students posted a meme making light of gun violence at school and they were arrested. Students who liked the post were suspended.
  • What you share on social media matters. It can impact you today and in your future plans and career. Your digital footprint exists and can be used against you when you least expect it. Something you find funny or impulsively post can get you fired, arrested, or fined.
  • Discuss in small groups how the Rules of An Active Conscience can help you decide what to post on social media. 

Small Group Discussion (15 mins)

  • Read each Social media post on the To Post or Not To Post Handout and determine which of the Rules of Active Conscience it breaks.
  • Share your findings with the teacher.

Exit Ticket:

  • Generate a social media post that meets the Rules of Active Conscience. 
    • Use the following site to create a fake account post: https://zeoob.com/ if students do not have one they can use.

K-5 character education lesson: teamwork

character and teamwork lesson

An important part of building your skills as a team member is to be reflective. When you have successes or failures, always make time to reflect on what you did well and what you could do better or differently as a team. Thinking about the skills you need to build as a team will help strengthen your team and give individuals opportunities to grow their own teamwork skills.

Character Education Objectives:

  • Students will work as a team to complete a task.
  • Students will reflect on the performance of their team.
  • Students will practice adapting and modifying a plan for success as a team.


  • Rope or yarn in a large circle tied together (large enough for all students to be able to stand and hold a piece of it)
  • Bandanas or fabric
  • Large open space


Large Group

  1. Place the rope/yarn in a circle on the ground and have students find a spot around it. Have students place their blindfolds on themselves and then pick up their piece of the yarn.
  2. Students will now need to work together to turn this circle into a square. They can do anything to make the square except take off their blindfolds. 
  3. Give the students five minutes to complete the task. When five minutes is up, ask students to drop the rope/yarn and step back to see how close they were to making a square.
  4. Ask students to reflect on the activity with a “Praise and Polish” conversation. Instruct students to think about this reflection through the lens of teamwork.
  5. First, talk about things they did well as a team. Guide the conversation by asking questions about their communication and collaboration. Then, ask students to reflect on what they could better or differently next time. This conversation may need assistance, as they may start talking strategy. Keep them on track by encouraging them to make a plan around how they will work as a team.
  6. Put the rope/yarn back in the circle on the ground. Have the students find a space and put their blindfolds on. 
  7. Students will have the same instructions as the first time, but this time encourage them to think about their praise and polish as they work together. 
  8. Give the students five minutes to complete the task. When five minutes is up, ask students to drop the rope/yarn and step back to see how close they were to making a square.


Encourage students to journal or discuss the following prompts:

  1. Was there a difference between the first time and the second time you made the square? What were some of those differences?
  2. Think about the things your team chose as things they could do better or differently for the second time. Did those changes help you be successful?
  3. Praise and polish your team’s second attempt at the square.

Character helps us achieve

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

Talent matters. Talented athletes are likely to win more games. Talented students are likely to achieve higher test scores. Talented musicians and artists are likely to receive recognition for their work. Talent impacts results.

Although our society puts a lot of emphasis on talent, talent is just the minimum that we can achieve. To advance from talent to skill and then to achievement, we rely on our character skills like strong work ethic, leadership, perseverance, integrity, etc.

60-Second Character Reflection

  1. What character skill could you improve to better maximize your talent?
  2. Think of someone you teach, coach, parent, or lead. What character skill(s) could you help that person develop to help them maximize their talent?

6-12 character education lesson: respecting yourself

Overview: Respecting yourself and thinking positively about your body, mind, skills, and situation is important to build happiness in your heart. This lesson will focus on ways to show respect to yourself, others, and your surroundings by being grateful for who you are and what you have.

Character Education Objectives:

  • Students will journal about three things they are grateful for each day.
  • Students will discuss and practice respect for their brain and body by journaling and meditating.


  • Composition notebooks or online word document set up for journaling 

Lesson Plan:

Journal (5 mins) 

  • List three things you are grateful for.
    • What is the thing you are grateful for?
    • Why are you grateful for it?
    • How does it make you feel?

Whole Group (5 mins) 

  • Utilize the Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer app to do 10 minutes of meditation. 
    • Use guided meditation or videos with soft music (YouTube) .
  • Practice deep breathing techniques.
  • Stretch or do yoga for five minutes to clear their heads and body of tension and stress.

Think, Pair, Share (5 mins) 

  • Share something you are grateful for. 

Whole Group Discussion (5 mins) 

  • How does thinking positively show respect for your body and brain?

Individual (20 mins) 

  • Have students choose a relaxing activity.
    • Lego building
    • Play-doh 
    • Arts and crafts
    • Reading a book 

Energy and effort into what matters

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

There’s a popular demonstration called “Jar of Life” in which a jar is filled with big rocks (important things like family, health, work), little rocks (less important things like sports or hobbies), and sand (unimportant things like watching television or social media). When you fill the jar with the big rocks first, then the little rocks, and finally the sand, everything fits in the jar. If you reverse the process and start with sand, then little rocks, then big rocks, not everything fits in the jar.

The point of the demonstration is that when we fill our time with the most important things first, the little rocks and sand can be worked in, but when our time is consumed by unimportant things, we run out of space for what really matters.

When I perform the demonstration, however, I exchange the big rocks for balloons and pose the question – instead of trying to cram more unimportant things into our jar, what if we decided to put more air into our balloons? In other words, what if we put more time, energy, and effort into the big things that really matter, instead of jamming more unimportant sand into our life? What will be more fulfilling – putting more into the important aspects of your life or spending more time on social media?

There’s nothing wrong with having some little rocks and sand in your jar. We need variety in our lives. We need opportunities to rest and rejuvenate so that when the time comes we can be fully engaged with our balloons. But, when you feel like you’re falling short, when there’s just not enough time in the day, don’t cram in more sand. Put air in your balloons.

60-Second Character Challenge
  • What are the critically important “big rocks” or “balloons” in your life?
  • What could you do to invest more time and energy into your “balloons?”
  • What unimportant sand could you remove from your life in order to invest more energy into your “balloons?

K-5 character education lesson plan: faces of emotions

character education lesson: emotion

Overview: Create an opportunity for students to practice caring by recognizing and showing compassion for emotion in others.

Character Education Objectives:

  • Students will sort and label the different emotions on the Faces of Emotion Handout.
  • Students will discuss how having compassion for another person’s emotions shows you care.
  • Students will illustrate emotion and share it with a friend.


Lesson Plan:

  • Students work in a group or individually to sort and label the Faces of Emotion Handouts (5 min)
    • Depending on skill levels students can write, trace, or use a drawing or emoticon to label.
  • Discussion Prompts (5-7 mins)
    • What emotion do you feel today?
      • Teacher: I feel happy because I get to teach you today.
    • What is hard about knowing how other people feel?
    • Why do some people cry, and some people yell when they are angry?
    • How can you show you care for someone when they are feeling (insert emotion)?
  • Complete the I Feel Handout (5-7 mins)
    • Choose an emotion you feel. 
    • Draw a picture of yourself when you feel that emotion. 
    • Write (depending on skill level) what emotion you are feeling and why.
  • Share your picture with a friend (1-2 mins)

Images are from: https://www.pexels.com/ are free and attribution not required. 

6-12 character education lesson: “The Hill We Climb”

A critical component of citizenship is doing what you can to engage with your community. Everyone has the power to use their interests and passions to positively impact their community, the country, and the world. In this lesson, participants will reflect on how their interests and passions can be used to make their community a better place to live, work, and go to school.

Character education objectives:

  • Study how Amanda Gorman’s passion for poetry allowed her to positively impact her country.
  • Students will explore how their own interests and passions can make a difference in their community.
  • Put the citizenship Pillar into action by crafting a plan to use their interests and passions to positively impact their school or community.


Lesson Plan: 

Discussion PromptWith a partner, share your interests and passions. Examples could include: music, animals, sports, video games, reading, and so on.

Activity: At the conclusion of the partner discussion, introduce students to Amanda Gorman, the young woman who wrote and delivered the poem “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony.

Watch Amanda Gorman’s speech at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration (5:47)

Optional – have students read the written text of her poem.  

At the conclusion of the video, ask students to discuss the following questions in pairs, small groups, or as a full group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Which of the Six Pillars of Character does this poem/speech align with? Explain your answer.
  • Why do you think Amanda wrote this poem?
  • How did Amanda use her passion for poetry to positively impact her community and country?
  • How could you use your passions and interests to make a positive difference in your community?

Ask students to write down how they could use one of their passions or interests to make a positive impact in their community. Then, direct them to use the Goal Map tool to create a plan to put their passion to work.

For example, if a student is passionate about caring for animals, they could use that passion to volunteer at the Animal Rescue League. Action steps to put that plan into action could be:

  1. Locate an animal shelter in need of volunteers
  2. Fulfill any requirements necessary for being a volunteer at their facility
    • Fill out application
    • Ensure my availability and skill set matches their needs
  3. Schedule time to volunteer
    • Make sure I have transportation to and from the facility

Follow-Up: Several weeks after the completion of this lesson, ask students to share whether they have put their plan into action. If so, how much progress have they made on their plan? How are they positively impacting their community? If not, why?

Think T.E.A.M.

CHARACTER COUNTS! is designed to work in partnership with students, parents, and faculty to make your school a great place to learn. The acronym T.E.A.M (T-Teach, E-Enforce, A- Advocate, M- Model) is a process for you to use in the implementation of CHARACTER COUNTS!

When you think TEAM, my guess is your first thought is drawn to an athletic team or any group of individuals that work collaboratively for a common goal. In some ways CHARACTER COUNTS!, does provide a framework to work in partnership with students, parents, and faculty to make your school a great place to learn.

This  lesson will  use the acronym T.E.A.M  as a process for you to use in the implementation of CHARACTER COUNTS!


  • The values that we want young people to learn.
  • Direct and intentional teaching of values through lecture or large group discussion.
  • Utilizing experiential activities that allow for students to self-discover what values mean and how they apply to their life.
  • Teach values by engaging students in vicarious experiences employing stories told, stories read or stories watched.


  • Consistently prohibit gossip and, when appropriate, addressing/discussing its damaging consequences.
  • Enforce a zero-tolerance policy on swearing. Prohibit vulgar and obscene language in your classroom, in hallways, and at school-sponsored activities.
  • Not allowing unkindness of any manner in your classroom; no “put-downs.”
  • Create a code of behavior for your classroom to which students and you agree related to the pillars.
  • Make expectations clear and holding students accountable for them.


  • Hang posters or quotations in your class. Refer to the Six Pillars of Character throughout the day as appropriate.
  • Discuss campus “issues of character” on a regular basis (vandalism, good deeds, etc.).
  • Remind students – and yourself – that building our character is not an easy or one-time project. Fashioning our character is the work of a lifetime.
  • Emphasize the importance of working hard and striving for certain standards of achievement.


  • Model the Six Pillars of Character; let students observe that you strive to be a teacher who is trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring, and a good citizen. 
  • Follow through. Do what you say you will do.
  • Strive to be consistent in dealings with students; avoid allowing personal feelings to interfere with fairness.

K-5 character education lesson: honesty

Character education curriculum, lessons, and activities

One of the most basic behaviors of trustworthiness is honesty. Honesty is not always easy, but lying effects more than just your character. The cost of lying is much greater than you think when you are in the moment where a lie may be the easiest answer. This lesson allows students to explore how telling a lie impacts both their relationships and themselves and the decision to be honest, even when it’s the hard path, is the best long-term decision. 

Character Education Objectives:
Students will:

  • describe the negative impacts of a lie.
  • reflect on their own honesty.
  • explore opportunities to grow in their own Pillar of trustworthiness.



Large Group

  1. Watch the TEDx Talk from Georgia Haukom. The Effects of Lying https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbftlDzIALA
  2. Break students up into pairs or in small groups.

Partners/Small Group

  1. Have students answer the following questions in their pair/group. Encourage students to brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
    • Georgia shared about a study where the adults telling lies had negative things happen to their health. What other things do you think happen to you when you tell a lie?
    • Thinking about how someone else will feel is always good to consider when making a decision. Think about how a lie might make someone else feel?
  2. Bring students back to the large group to have a discussion. Be sure to share your own life examples of how you may have been negatively impacted by a lie you have told or been told. Ask students to share their own experiences if they are comfortable.

Personal Reflection/Journal

  1. After the large group discussion, encourage students to do a self-reflection of their own honesty.
  2. Ask students to privately rate themselves 1-3 on their own honesty. 1 is that “I always tell a lie”, 3 is that “I always tell the truth), and 2 is that “Sometimes I have lied.”
  3. We often say we don’t have to be sick to get better, so this self-reflection is designed to allow all students, no matter where they scored themselves, to think about how they can grow. Ask students to think about the following prompts:
    • When was one time I told the truth when it was hard?
    • Why did I choose the truth, even though a lie would have been easier?
    • Where is one place I could work on being more honest? Encourage students to think about their honesty at home, school, with friends, in their community, etc. Remind them that sometimes not giving all the details is also dishonest, so it helps them think of a specific example.