PCA was invited by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to take part in three days of meetings in Washington, D.C. in July. The first two days were at the National Academy of Sciences Workshop on Approaches to the Development of Character and the third day was a "Grantee Convening" including other grantees such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Boy Scouts of America, YMCA of the USA, 4-H, Outward Bound, Girls Inc., Playworks and Coaching Corps.
This event brought together leading researchers and practitioners to talk about "Approaches to the Development of Character" in programs that run during and afterschool.
Dr. Richard Lerner, the Director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, moderated two sessions during the Workshop:
- What is Character? Moving Beyond Definitional Differences
- Investing in Implementation and Evaluation
Here are six major take-aways from our time in D.C.:
- Character is a developmental phenomenon - not a bunch of traits that people are either born with or not.
- What is considered "good" character can change from one context to another, which makes it challenging to measure!
- It can be helpful to think about "performance character" (grit, self regulation, etc.) and "moral character" (empathy, honesty, etc.) together. Each one needs the other. In other words, a person could be very gritty, but she could use this for "bad" or "good."
- Environments that foster Positive Youth Development (PYD) have 1) caring adults, 2) challenges for youth to tackle, and 3) opportunities for youth to lead.
- Rather than simply thinking of evaluation as a way to "prove" your model, think of it as a way to "improve" your model.
- The power of reflection and conversation came up again and again. Make space to reflect back on experiences. This applies to our work on many levels.
Many thanks to the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for making our attendance at this event possible.