Published on October 13, 2022 by June Mathews  
sunrise through carillon AM07192137

In July 2020, Blair Inabinet became a first year principal, a demanding job in the best of times. But Covid-19 had begun sweeping across the nation earlier that year and by midsummer was showing no signs of letting up.

On top of that, Inabinet was about to begin a dissertation on character education as a doctoral candidate at Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education, an area she had worked in before and considered a priority. As a new principal, however, she was looking at her topic from a different perspective than she ever had before.

“In that season of education, where there were so many different things to attend to—none of which we had ever experienced before—I needed insight on how to prioritize and how to do this work in a well-intentioned but efficient way,” Inabinet said.

She set out to learn how other schools had successfully managed character education programs, but she found no body of research. Her goal became finding other school leaders who had seen character development or character strengthening programs from concept to implementation, determining what they had done and looking for patterns consistent among those principals.

Inabinet’s research ultimately focused on a collective case study of three schools that had all been deemed National Schools of Character in 2019 or 2020, one of which had previously been named a National School of Character and had recertified during that time period.

“They were also schools where the principals had served in that role for more than five years. They were in three different states, and they were all elementary schools representing a variety of socioeconomic statuses, different enrollments and different populations,” she said. 

Inabinet interviewed each principal and a small group of faculty members at each school. She then looked at artifacts related to their work with character, their National School of Character applications and any documents  or other material associated with their work regarding character. As she worked, patterns began to emerge, and she discovered that despite any differences among the schools, the similarities between what the leaders had emphasized and the steps that the schools had taken to teach character education were amazingly alike.

“Their commentary was very much aligned,” she said. “There were no differences between the principal perspective and the faculty perspective, even though there were a lot of different factors there, whether it was different grade levels or the quantitative components associated with the implementation of certain character programs.”

Inabinet believes the importance of her research lies in defining and refining the decision-making and implementation processes of character education programs for educators. From a leadership perspective, efficiency and effectiveness were significant goals.

“We've got to be wise enough to make good decisions about how to implement things so that we're not just throwing everything up against the wall and seeing what will stick,” she said.

At the same time, Inabinet believes the biggest challenge is not just doing the research, but sharing the findings in a way that is effective and understood by those who may not understand what character education truly is.

“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, 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.”