Character Education in the Art Room

Often times art teachers are mandated to incorporate District initiatives in their classroom. And, you know, that normally isn’t a problem. It really depends on how the District wants the program implemented.

The Six Pillars of Character

Character Counts is a Nationwide initiative head up by the Josephson Institute. Their framework centers on the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, Respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. It is an all-inclusive approach “everyone can agree on” and the Josephson Institute prides itself on not having political, religious, or cultural biases.

An Elementary Art Room Framework

When District initiatives are foisted upon visual arts teachers, we can sometimes get a little cranky. As I mentioned, we are bound by a limited timeframe with which to work with our kids. Once you add in the fact that we have SGO (student growth objects) just like “real” teachers, the stakes are raised for us because of the timeframe can be drastically affected should long-term projects be the expected outcome. Fortunately, in my district, I had leeway on interpretation. Perhaps some of the following recommendations can help you, too. I didn’t do posters or offer to do them. Instead, I incorporated the Six Pillars of Character into the framework of my class room guidelines. Over a series of posts, you will see how each of the Pillars can easily be fit into the workings of the art room and should be used to reinforce procedures and accountability in your class.


trustworthiness1Students in my class are taught that the supplies in the art room are a privilege. Students who do not respect my supplies are given other supplies to get their work done. Can’t handle working in watercolor without splashing your neighbor? Then you may be given crayons to complete your assignment. Once you are shown how to use a supply responsibly, you are brought into the circle of trust. It’s a sacred trust really. Once you get kids to buy into your class as a special place with unique qualities, you are going to see a transformation in their perspective towards your supplies. In fact, they should no longer be seen as “my supplies” or “Mr. Phil’s supplies” but our supplies.

Sadly, misuse of supplies isn’t the only topic you would find under the trustworthiness heading. Theft is another one. Because art supplies have a magical (or, sometimes, really practical) quality about them, they sometimes sprout legs. People have tried to handle theft in a variety of ways. Artful Artsy Amy uses numbers and a sign out sheet. I’ve seen others use pom-poms on the ends of markers to make the supplies conspicuous. I think both of these solutions have merit. I’ve tried both in the past when I worked with high schoolers. Much of my supply issue has been helped on an elementary level by teaching the concept of trustworthiness in the art room.

In addition to the supply-as-sacred mantra, another application of Trustworthiness in the art room can be seen in how we, as art teachers, communicate to our students about the dreaded c-word: CRITIQUE. Speaking about another person’s art work or talking about your own piece can be paralyzing. Even worse is when the art teacher talks about your piece in front of the whole class. Yikes! Nevertheless, the critique process is something that students need to take seriously. Incorporating the Pillar of Trustworthiness can help. When students are given a framework for the critique process (or any discussion, really) they are put at ease and many times come to enjoy giving and receiving feedback on his/her artwork. I have modified offerings from the Kennedy Center and also found helpful resources on Pintress. In another post, I’ll review the offerings from each of these sites and how you may use them for your students. I could go on because the Pillar of Trustworthiness involves concepts and ideas that are action oriented that students readily identify with.

  • Be honest
  • Don’t deceive, cheat, or steal
  • Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do
  • Have the courage to do the right thing
  • Build a good reputation
  • Be loyal–stand by your family, friends, and country

Each bullet could be handled repeatedly throughout the year by reminders during lessons or ‘shout-outs’ to students you catch being trustworthy. That’s what I liked about being given the freedom of fitting in the Six Pillars of Character into my daily routine. It no longer becomes a special standalone piece of curriculum but something that is natural to the art room (or any classroom)!


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