The value of character education
January 24, 2020
Jewish Academy of Orlando launched Positive Education, a character education program across all grades. This program is introducing students, teachers and the JAO community to the language of character strengths from the field of positive psychology, integrated with Jewish values.
In the Jewish tradition of Mussar, there are 48 Jewish virtues or values (in Hebrew middot, the plural form of middah) that serve as the basis for the study of a variety of Jewish texts. Positive psychology has found that every person, regardless of culture, religion or age, possesses 24 character strengths including kindness, teamwork, bravery, creativity, and more. The program launched immediately after the Jewish High Holidays.
Each week, students are introduced to one of these character strengths, or Middot in Hebrew. For example, one week was devoted to the middah of gratitude. Teachers guided students in discussions and activities about gratitude. Some classes had students create letters and cards of appreciation.
Becoming familiar with the language of character strengths is the goal for this first year of the initiative. Understanding that everyone has these strengths, and uses them in different ways, helps provide a positive lens for students (and teachers) to view themselves and others. These character strengths are the backbone of positive psychology, the pathways to a life of well-being and flourishing, which can help people live a better life.
"Teamwork, leadership, kindness, honesty, fairness, forgiveness, perseverance, and humor are top character strengths that we focus on daily in PE class," said Ann Montgomery, PE teacher. "This year, with our positive education program, we are digging deeper into the meaning of each word. Having a common language at school has been extremely helpful."
Ultimately, learning about and working with character strengths can help students become more self-aware, more empathetic, and more capable of managing and overcoming obstacles. Incorporating these "softer skills" with the traditional, rigorous academic curriculum will help JAO pursue the goal of educating the whole child to be strong leaders and contributors to the community.
According to Interim Director of Academics Amy Polacek, "Character education has always been a part of Jewish education. However, there is a new urgency in today's world to make social-emotional wellness a priority and to truly live the values that are at the core of Judaism. As we build our program, our Jewish values will be the bedrock, creating a whole-school movement that embraces each individual and fosters growth. Our goal is to help our students, staff, and families recognize their own incredible potentials."
Parents are also supporting the program. Jennifer Hennessee, JAO parent stated, "Our family is so happy that JAO has included this positive education program into the school! Our daughter really loves learning about the different character strengths and comes home sharing what she has learned each week! It's a wonderful way to enlighten our children about all of their strengths and how to use them effectively."
Head of School Alan Rusonik added, "Not only is our focus on academic excellence but also on educating the whole child, instilling the values of kindness, self-awareness, mindfulness, leadership, and character. The idea of 'good character' explicitly supports our school's efforts to help students appreciate and empathize with others, to think of the world outside themselves, to realize there is more than just their viewpoint." Rusonik continued, "We hope to foster within our students a strong sense of self and of Jewishness so that they may go out and change the world through the concept of Tikkun Olam."
Jewish Academy of Orlando serves central Florida students of all faiths from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. The school delivers a whole-child education fostering academic excellence and character education rooted in Jewish values. Jewish Academy of Orlando is accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools.
To learn more about Jewish Academy of Orlando, please visit: jewishacademyorlando.org or follow the school on Facebook facebook.com/JewishAcademyOrlando.