Published on February 15, 2024 by Kameron Brown  
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According to the U.S. Department of Education, character education is a shared responsibility of parents, teachers and members of the community, who come together to support positive character development.

Character education is a learning process empowering students and adults in school communities to understand, care about and act on shared ethical values. Values such as respect, justice, citizenship and responsibility for self and others shape attitudes and form actions. The resulting behaviors are often the hallmark of safe, healthy and informed communities.

Initiatives which support the research-informed implementation of character education are often scarce in school systems, where academic challenges can outweigh resources.

At Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education, character education and values curriculum are woven into the fabric of the school’s mission to prepare students to educate, lead and serve. Every program in the school utilizes and implements character education to produce confident and skilled graduates ready to face challenges and demands of disciplines such as teacher education, human development and family science and educational leadership.

“Character education is foundational to developing healthy and whole adults who, in turn, develop healthy and whole communities,” said Anna McEwan, dean of Orlean Beeson School of Education. “We implement this teaching because we believe it produces graduates who can and will make the world a better place.”

The work of character education is not confined to Samford’s campus. In a new initiative, McEwan and Samford Volleyball Head Coach, Keylor Chan, are partnering with Vestavia Hills City Schools to deliver a unique and first-of-its-kind professional development opportunity called “Coaches for Character”.

“Coaches for Character is a half-day conference where assistant coaches and middle school coaches will come together to learn more about implementing and modeling athletic teams of character in their schools and how they can intentionally cultivate character among their student athletes,” said McEwan.

McEwan is supporting Laura Casey, assistant athletic director at Vestavia Hills High School, in the implementation of this program.

“We have three goals with Coaches for Character,” said Casey. “To intentionally develop coaches of character who influence the next generation in a positive way, to provide tools and resources necessary for the character development of athletes and to develop a model curriculum to be used around the state.”

The programming developed for this opportunity consists of four half-day professional development sessions throughout the next calendar year. Each session is specifically designed to teach an aspect of character education in athletics, such as team dynamics, trust and leadership, while providing opportunities for coaches to collaborate and connect with their peers.

“This opportunity specifically targets middle school coaches and young, up-and-coming high school coaches,” said Casey. “We want to teach them about aspects of coaching outside the Xs and Os. By investing in our young coaches, we can ensure they are equipped to make K-12 athletics in our district unique and special, with a focus on character. We hope coaches leave our program with tools in their tool belt and resources to help them become coaches of significance as they move forward in their careers.”

“For our local school communities, in a state where athletics is king, we want to ensure that sports are about more than sports, that they are about developing honorable young men and women who can use their talents to make the world a better place,” McEwan said.

According to Casey, the impact of character education is far-reaching. She reiterates, “Character education is the cornerstone of what we do in K-12 education and athletics. We can be more intentional in our use of the platform of sports to teach lessons that may be harder to provide in a traditional classroom setting. Certainly, winning and losing are part of sports, however, we aim to teach life lessons through sports that will follow our athletes long after their athletic careers have ended.”

In the 2022 edition of Leadership, Research & Innovation in Education, Blair Inabinet, Samford alumna and principal of Liberty Park Middle School, researched the importance of character education in schools where it was prioritized and regularly practiced.

Her findings led her to make an important inference, “Our work with character is not about promoting any value system at the expense of others, it's not about elevating certain beliefs above others, and it's not about spotlighting some kind of educational trend,” Inabinet said. “It's about working with kids who are developmentally learning how to function as human beings. If we don't recognize that it's important for us to guide them through how to make good decisions and good choices for themselves and in partnership with others, we’re missing a really valuable opportunity.”

Determined not to miss a valuable opportunity, Orlean Beeson School of Education is coming alongside local partners in Vestavia Hills and actively working to implement character education initiatives both on and off-campus.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.