What the Students and Staff from Clear Lake High School Taught Us

Krista Gypton · March 11, 2020

We sat down with students and staff from Clear Lake High School and asked them what they felt about SEL and character development and the impact that CharacterStrong has had on their campus. Here are some key things that we learned: 

SEL and character education is good for everyone: 

It can be tempting at times to get carried away focusing solely on our most challenging students and allow ourselves to believe that they are the only ones who need, or would truly benefit from, social-emotional learning and character development. This work is important for everyone. It’s important for us as educators as we continue to grow and learn. It’s important for those “A” students for whom school seems to come easily. It is important for our most challenging students. 

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you could be the star football player and be involved in so many activities, this is still stuff [stress and anxiety] that you go through, emotional learning is necessary for everyone.” - Student

“At the end of the day we don’t really know everyone’s story and these character lessons give us an opportunity to dig deep and it brings up topics that we don’t often get a chance to talk about and it might surprise people that others are going through the same things they are.” - Student

“It’s nice to know that these are things you are able to talk about and it’s not something you have to do alone.”  -Student

“One thing that sticks with us our whole life is our character and it can grow. No matter how hard life gets, or our technology changes, or the way we relate with other humans changes, our character will still stick with us, so what we are learning is one of the most important things.”- Student 

“Once everyone opens up and admits their faults and being human everyone can start to grow.” -Student

The proactive approach of the curriculum is better than the usual reactive approach: 

We spend a lot of time in education working on how to react to issues when they happen and walking around our campuses looking for the problems. Imagine a place where we invest so much time and energy into filling emotional toolboxes and in character development that we get to to the root of why the issues even take place to begin with. 

“Before our advisory curriculum used to be cautionary tales about cyberbullying or what could go wrong in your life… but this is about planting the seeds for an overall community where those problems are going to be less prevalent because of our values that we are forming. Someone might look at it on the face and think you guys are ignoring the problem, but really it’s a strong approach to solving the problems at their roots instead of just trying to punish.” -Student

“It’s improving the relationships in the classrooms between the students and teachers.” - Principal

Teachers should share their own experiences when challenging the students to do the CharacterDare Challenge of the week: 

We lead by example and we can never expect our students to bring more to the conversation than we are willing to bring ourselves. When we share with our students ways that we are working on our own character and emotional health, we are also sharing with them that we value the importance of the work. When we struggle aloud and share our process of getting through to the other side of that struggle, we are providing roadmaps of ways students can do the same. It’s not comfortable, but it is important. 

“My art teacher is the one who does the CharacterDares with us and he always has a little mini-lesson on psychology or something related to the values of the dares.” -Student

“If you show us that you are scared it shows us that you are vulnerable too and it gives us something more to relate to. A teacher might think they are alone and if they share their story it  gives us permission to share our own.” -Student

“Don’t be afraid to get involved with it. Get used to it, get comfortable with it. The more you get into it the more you will get out of it.” - Student

Empower students to lead staff in the work:

Too often we forget one of the most valuable resources we have at our fingertips: students. When provided an opportunity and proper support, students will rise to the task. They provide a meaningful perspective, lighten our plates and mutually benefit from the process. It’s a win-win and all we have to be willing to do is get out of their way.  

“To start the year off we did a two-day leadership camp and we invited about 100 kids to it and we use those kids at the beginning of the year to run through the CharacterStrong curriculum with our staff.” -Dr. David Drake, Principal 

“If you give them a chance, they will lead it and you are just there to listen.” -Teacher

School Leadership must make it a priority:

Face it: if leaders are not willing to carve out space and protect it, if they are not willing to put extra energy and time behind it, if they aren’t willing to say yes as often as possible when teachers or students have ideas about implementation, then this work cannot get done long term. It has to be schoolwide, it has to be consistent and it has to be valued. When it has these intentional elements, it cannot be stopped. 

“Every single faculty meeting we celebrate something that has gone on related to SEL. We have our character moments that we celebrate. Our campus is PBIS which really fits hand in hand with CharacterStrong. I send a newsletter out once a week to parents and in it is a character moment and we celebrate something that a student or group of students has done that goes along with the character lesson that we’ve got going on that week. I’ve started using the Family CharacterDares for our community” -Principal

“About a few months ago I was walking with my soccer coach and he was saying that he had a staff meeting to go to and usually no one is excited to go to those but he was telling me about the character development that Mr. Drake does and that he was excited to go learn new ways to develop our school’s character.” -Student

“Mr. Drake shares the Dare on the announcements every day.” -Student

“I create posters that have pictures of kids doing things that exemplify the core values that we have.” -Principal

Take advantage of using social media for good:

A good friend and fellow educator Kevin Ozar told me a while back that, “we have to teach them how to play safely in their playground” when we were talking about social media. One of the best examples that we can set is by harnessing the powerful tool of media and using it for good. 

“Every time I go on Twitter I see Mr. Drake posting something about one of our sports teams, or something positive that was accomplished, and every time I see it I think I really want to get involved.” -Student

“The Dares are posted on social media...I even know people who record themselves doing the dare.”  -Student

Check it out here: https://www.instagram.com/characterstrong/

It takes a team effort to build a truly safe and positive CharacterStrong school. The best part is that the students can be your biggest advocates if you intentionally and completely invite them to be a part of that team. We have a lot to learn from those we are serving and, given the chance, they will not only teach us but lead us. 

Want to learn more from these amazing students and staff check out the original webinar HERE




Krista Gypton

Krista Gypton taught for 19 years and has received numerous awards for her teaching and student community service, including the 2008 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. She is an emphatic believer in the power of service to others and has traveled as far as South Africa with students to give back. She has been a keynote speaker and trainer for the past 11 years, both nationally and internationally.