Sunday, September 12, 2010

Character really does Count at Okoboji High School...

Hello again!

First of all, thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out my survey last week.  I got a lot of great information from it and will certainly be applying what I learned as I go forward in this venture.  I learned the vast majority of respondents are parents with children in the Okoboji district.  I also learned that 52% of those who responded visit the blog weekly.  63% first learned of the blog from the school website and a vast majority want to see either specific discussion of issues and events affecting our school district or discussion of how global, national, or regional shifts and trends in education impact our school.  The responses were great and reaffirmed my thoughts and rational for starting this blog in the first place.

Several weeks ago I learned the administrative team would be giving a presentation to the Iowa Great Lakes Rotary on the Character Counts program in our district.  Before I joined the Okoboji team I knew Character Counts was an important program in our district.  Banners featuring the six pillars of character are in every building and the district was chosen as the very first Iowa District of Character in 2007.  I did not have much personal experience with Character Counts and had not been in a school that implemented the program at the secondary level.  I believe with all of my heart in the importance of instilling the importance of good character in students - I just hadn't really ever seen Character Counts in action.

Over the first couple weeks of school I had visited many classrooms and kept waiting to see one of these "Character Counts" lessons in action.  I wondered what it would look like at the high school level.  As I visited classrooms I never did walk in on one of those lessons.  The day of the presentation grew near and I didn't feel very much more enlightened about Character Counts than I had been on day one.  The idea of standing in front of a group and speaking about how we implement the program and what it means to our school seemed very daunting.  So I did what I knew I had to do - I asked for help!  I grabbed one of our flip video cameras and hit the hallways in search of teachers and students who had experienced the program for themselves and could certainly tell me how it is "done" at OHS.

What came out of my morning of taping (which, in the interest of full disclosure, came on the same day as the presentation - kids, don't try this at school) was more than just a four minute long video about Character Counts.  I learned quite a bit about our school and the power of instilling the importance of character in a generation of students last Wednesday.  Over and over I got the same message from both students and staff.

Character Counts is not something we do, it is what we are.  Wow.  The high school seniors who have been in our district throughout their school years started with Character Counts in 6th grade.  The others started even younger.  What they were telling me, each in their own way, was that the lessons of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship, had been so developed within our students so deeply that they had become ingrained in who they are.  In educational terms this level of learning is sometimes called "transfer."  The importance of good character had been taught and learned to such a level that they had ceased being lessons and become a part of who these kids are.  I have since learned more about how the program works in our elementary and middle schools.  In the elementary a lot of direct instruction is done in what each pillar of character means. Students are given awards when staff members catch them doing good things.  Students get to eat lunch with the principal after a monthly assembly totally focused on recognizing good character.  The reason each student was nominated is read aloud to everyone.  In the middle school the pillars of character are embedded in discussions on how to be a good friend, how to succeed in school, etc.  Less direct instruction is done as the students begin to transfer what they have learned and continue to make it part of their personalities.  One of the staff members I spoke with said that the high school reaps the benefits of the work done at the lower levels.  I would have to agree with that.  By the time the students get to us we get the luxury of expecting good character and a vast majority of the time, that is exactly what we get. 

Below you will find the video that was created and shown at the Rotary meeting.  I am very happy with the way it came out.  I recently shared it via Twitter with the Character Counts Iowa program and they sent it out to all of their followers and put it on their Facebook page.  I don't think there is a higher compliment I could pay the Character Counts program and those in the Okoboji School District who have worked so hard to implement it than to hear student after student say "It's not what we do, it's what we are."  Since the first day I stepped into Okoboji High School for my interview last spring, I knew there was something different about OHS students.  After learning about the importance everyone in the district places on strong character, now I understand why.  Character really does count in the Okoboji School District.

Make the week great!



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Mary,
    I wanted to tell you that I did delete your comment but not because I felt the questions were inappropriate. I would love the opportunity to discuss your concerns and questions face to face, via email, or on the phone. I do not however feel that an anonymous comment posted on a public blog is an appropriate medium or way to engage in such a conversation. If you would like to talk more about your concerns I wholeheartedly welcome you to stop by, email, or call. I thank you for your concern for our school and your involvement!

  3. I must say I am offended that you did not answer her and made her sound like some lunatic. I was quite interested in what you had to say. I asked my daughter and her friends the same question they pretty much said the same thing. So am I right in thinking that if people do not agree with you you will delete what they say.

  4. Saphiremom,
    I am sorry that you were offended by my deletion of Mary's comments. I certainly did not intend to speak disparagingly about her and I think the idea that my response makes her sound like "some lunatic" is quite a stretch. On the contrary, the nature of my comments were that I would be happy to sit down with her to discuss her concerns. Her concerns about my job performance were very specific to her and individual and therefore I feel an individual interaction is the best way to discuss them. Unfortunately when I tried to reach out to her I found that no students who were absent on the first day have a parent named Mary. I made a public invitation on the comment that I would be very happy to make time to meet with her at her convenience, but have not heard back.

    It is true that in the 4 weeks I have been here I have not yet learned the names nor been able to develop relationships with all 300 students in our building. I believe that knowing the students in this way is essential and I work diligently every day to get to that point. When I got the job last spring I asked for a yearbook and began the work of putting names to faces. Unfortunately this only gives me the junior and senior pictures as this years book is not in yet. Also, remembering names has always been something I have had to work very hard at. Especially when I do not have a context past a picture on a page, it is hard for me to transfer that memory. I am not saying this to sound attacking in any way, but have you ever been given 300 new people and expected to not only memorize names, but to develop individual relationships with each one within 3 or 4 weeks? Maybe you can do this much faster than I, in which case I would love to know your secret. For me, developing those relationships takes time. In Lisbon I had that with each student, but I was there for four years. The first year was much like this one for me, a lot of time spent trying to learn the kids and lay the foundations for those relationships.

    The past two weeks I have scheduled my day around passing time in an attempt to get through every hallway in each 3 minute passing period. This gives me the chance to see and talk with students and teachers alike. I also attend both lunch shifts and the conversations I am able to have with students during those times are often the highlight of my day.

    I assure you that I am not a person that only talks to the "athletes" or those with "influential parents." I wouldn't know who the influential parents are for the most part - if you are accusing me of not knowing the kids how in the world would I know their parents?

    Some of the best relationships I have formed, the ones in which the kids already make it a point to stop in and talk every day, have been with kids that aren't involved, that aren't sitting at the popular table, and frankly with some of the kids that need it most.

    As I said to Mary - I would be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss any concerns you may have. You can reach my via email, phone, or stop in any time. I try to be a pretty open book. That was the reason for starting this blog and also for sending out the "generic emails" as Mary referred to them.

    The ironic thing is that this exchange, as well as a number of great conversations I have had with other parents, probably would not ever have started if I, and our other administrators, had not begun using these new methods of communication to increase parent access to information and discussion. We may not all agree all of the time, but we do all have the same goal and I look forward to continuing to work with you and all other stakeholders to see it accomplished.