Leadership and Character Development: Schools of Thought

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Transitioning from a focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to Leadership and Character Development (LCD) entails a broader perspective, including reviewing alternative paths to schoolwide behavior management. ESC Region 13 professionals Paula Freeman, Ph. D., and Monica Kurtz, M. Ed. discussed how school leaders can support schoolwide academic advancement, intrapersonal skill building, and social interaction. Get a glimpse of a conversation as they discuss creating inclusive and supportive school environments.

Conversation on Learning Environments

Paula: Hi Monica! Welcome to Schools of Thought, a blog about growing happy and healthy school communities designed to support all learners. 

Monica: This sounds super cool, Paula!  

Paula: I was wondering…how can we help schools support students who tend to disrupt the classroom environment?

Monica: I think we start by remembering every child who walks through the doors of your school is important. Some students come to school ready to become part of our community, and some do not have the skills they need to be part of a healthy learning community.

Paula: You are so right. So how can we design our learning environments to ensure that each student, regardless of the uniqueness of their learning needs, has a place to thrive?

Monica: We have to respect the uniqueness of each learner (grownups, too!).

Paula: I see! When we use purposeful design to support our schoolwide academic, behavioral, and social goals, a transformation happens. When students are universally regarded as valuable and inherently worthy of support and instruction, then we co-create the school environment to meet the unique needs of each person.

The problem I see is that the current behavioral intervention model assumes students with academic, behavioral, and social deficits need to be removed from the community, taught behavioral or social skills, and then returned (good as new) to the community.

The problem with this type of intervention is isolating students from the community where they need to use the skills. A disability rights advocate, Norman Kunc (2014), stated, “Removing a student to teach isolated skills is like removing a person from a swimming pool, teaching them to swim in the parking lot, and then dropping them back in the water.”

How Do We Keep Learners Purposefully Engaged?

Monica: First, let’s start by considering the reason a student attends school. There are many reasons, including academic advancement, intrapersonal skill building, and social skill building.

Paula: Leadership and character development opportunities can include all three!

Monica: That sounds great! How do we get started?

Paula: Begin by asking the stakeholders. Think of a location in school: the classroom, restroom, hallway, cafeteria, gym, or common area. Then go to this location and engage students, teachers, administrators, and all stakeholders (people in the space) to co-create the design of the space so that everyone can contribute to academic advancement, intrapersonal skill building, and social interaction within this space.

First Step to Making Changes at Your School

Get in touch with us to begin creating a plan for your school. Our aim is to tailor a toolkit for specific environments, making it possible to swiftly put the process into action. Begin your process today by emailing Paula Freeman, Ph. D., at Paula.Freeman@esc13.txed.net or Monica Kurtz, M. Ed., at Monica.Kurtz@esc13.txed.net.


YouTube video by Shelly Moore

Paula Freeman, Ph.D. is a Doctor of Counselor Education and has a passion for interpersonal skill building through leadership and character development. She believes in evidence-based practices in schools. She has experience in teaching students who receive Special Education services and Emergent Bilingual supports. She has been a bilingual Professional School Counselor for the past 20 years in diverse school settings.

Monica Kurtz is a Behavior Specialist at Region 13. Her background includes over 10 years of experience in early childhood education, as well as 15 years at the Texas School for the Deaf working with students from Kindergarten to adult-learners who are deaf and also have additional disabilities. Her work at Region 13 includes supporting and coaching behavior teachers and programs, supporting the PREPARE curriculum, and working with educators to support individual students. Monica has a master’s degree in education, focusing on trauma and resiliency in curriculum. She is passionate about working with educators in understanding the effects of childhood trauma and how to build resiliency and student coping skills.

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