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2008 Minnesota Promising Practices Award Program

*Orono High School, Long Lake, MN
Student Leadership

A representative group of students creates a vision and plan for character education.

Principle 9: Fosters shared moral leadership and
long range support of the character education initiative.

Topic: Student Leadership

Orono High School’s main objective for making student leadership an integral part of its character education initiative is to include students who represent all grade levels and student groups in articulating their vision of the kind of school community they want. The school then encourages students to contribute actively to make that vision a reality. Student representatives have met with teachers, building administrators, district character education coordinators and founder of the CHARACTER COUNTS! program in order to discuss the district’s character education initiative. Students designed an action plan to introduce the six pillars of character to the entire student body. They presented their plan to the faculty, garnering faculty support and assistance for implementation. They created a larger group of 42 student leaders committed to influencing school climate, devising a selection process to identify students for this larger group, then meeting at a two-day character retreat. Through this student leadership experience, students are acquiring a common language to identify and define the qualities of character that we value. The practice of students teaching each other has had very powerful results within the school.

Contact: Ms. Kristine Flesher, Director of Special Services:

*Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School, Audubon, MN
Talking Circles

Students learn empathy and practice social skills
by participating in discussions inspired by
Native American traditions.

Principle 4: Creates a caring school community.

Topic: Class Meetings/Cooperative Learning
In an effort to foster burgeoning social skills, empathy for others, and a feeling of school connectedness, students at Lake Park–Audubon Elementary engage in daily Talking Circles. The school social worker received training in the traditional Native American practice while attending a restorative justice seminar. She introduced the practice to the staff and trained teachers to hold Talking Circles in their classrooms. Students sit in a circle and are asked to share on a particular issue raised. A “talking piece” like a shell, stick, rock or feather is passed around the circle and each student has the opportunity to speak and be heard when the talking piece is passed to him or her. Students learn empathy by listening to their peers and know that silence is expected until it is their turn. Students are given permission to speak about “whatever is in their heart,” giving them a voice and freedom they normally would not be given. The opportunity to process thoughts and feelings in this way fosters a sense of safety, connection and acceptance reinforced by the Talking Circle rules of conduct. Fewer discipline referrals have been issued as a result of the practice.

Contact: Jennifer Heggestuen, School Social Worker:

Ellis Middle School, Austin, MN
EXCEL Program

Middle school students prepare and deliver character lessons based on the six pillars of character to kindergartners students.

The EXCEL Program is a cross-age mentoring experience between Ellis Middle School students with the kindergarten students of Woodson Kindergarten Center. Ellis students prepare, present and evaluate character lessons to the kindergarten students based on CHARACTER COUNTS’ six pillars of character. This practice helps Ellis students mature, gain self-confidence and learn new social skills. In addition, they learn public speaking skills, personal organization and most importantly how to become a kindergarten teacher for one hour.

Contact: Cathy Cooper, Ellis CHARACTER COUNTS! team leader:

*Denotes a Minnesota Promising Practice that has received national recognition by the Character Education Partnership (CEP).

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