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Jul 20, 2023

Educarácter: Building Character Through a New School Culture at Mexican Public Schools​ (video)

A program inspired by the servant-leadership model is showing how schools can play a role not only in intellectual development, but also in shaping educators' and students' emotional, social and moral character.

By Templeton Staff

A tri-national collaborative project finds school principals at public schools in Mexico who undergo leadership training centered around fostering character strengths demonstrate success leading their schools. This documentary highlights how Educarácter training implemented through The Character Education Leadership Project for Mexican Public Schools (CELMex) is helping educators and students cultivate their inner development. The training encourages traits such as humility, courage, gratitude, compassion, empowerment, stewardship, and foresight, in order to build a path toward wellbeing and human flourishing. With backing from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, this project was carried out by a team of researchers from Universidad Panamericana in Mexico (Principal Investigator: Daniela Salgado), the Center for Character and Citizenship of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (Marvin Berkowitz, Mindy Bier), and the Universidad de Navarra in Spain (Juan Pablo Dabdoub, Aurora Bernal, Martin Martinez). It also included collaboration with the Secretary of Education of Jalisco in Mexico.

Watch the video to hear from the project leads, educators who've participated in the program and the students they've impacted.

Key takeaways

Broadening Education to Include Inner Development
"To shape character is neither an extra nor just another possibility. It's not an innovation. It's a necessity," says Daniela Salgado, Director of the School of Pedagogy and Psychology at Panamerican University, Guadalajara, and P.I. of CELMex. "When we talk about character, we mean the human dimensions that aren't strictly intellectual."

Education is a fundamental human right. Quality education is one of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set in hope of transforming our world by 2030. Education empowers individuals by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain good health, secure employment, and foster tolerance. However, students who are not emotionally well cannot effectively engage in their studies. In Jalisco, Mexico, as in many areas across the globe, education disruptions and other issues stemming from the pandemic exacerbated existing challenges for students, including material shortages and mental health concerns. Many students experienced loss and food insecurity. At around the same time, social media platforms emerged as a hotbed for cyberbullying, further negatively impacting students' self-esteem. Students also face problems stemming from dysfunctional families, parental abandonment, and early pregnancies. The schools have had to contend with issues such as drug use, violence, theft, and gang activities. By teaching how to nurture character strengths, the Educarácter program aims to address these issues. "School is an extension of family. So is society, social media, culture, the street and friends. Education in all its dimensions should encompass all of these areas," says Concepción Naval Durán, at the University of Navarra. "Character is a set of capabilities people have to act. And by to act, I mean to live. It comes down to reasoning, emoting, self-mastery, being prudent, knowing how to relate to others, to search for the good."

Educarácter is inspired by character education based on the servant-leadership model. The program has two intentions for participating school management teams: Personal transformation, so that the educators can embody the traits they wish to instill and nurture in their students; and obtaining the knowledge and skills to implement practices to transform their schools into communities that cultivate the moral and civic character of its members. Juan P. Dabdoub, professor at School of Education and Psychology at the University of Navarra, and co-director of CELMex, explains that the mission of the principal at each school is to make the educational teams of teachers and coordinators that they lead flourish, because they will in turn help the students and community flourish. "We teach what we are. There is no on-off switch for setting an example for children," says Dabdoub. "Practicing good character education is not romantic — it's real. You practice just by being there, working, doing," shares a participant in the program.

PRIMED for Learning
To create Educarácter, the team adapted methods developed and tested by the Center for Character and Citizenship — including the PRIMED model of learning — for educators and students in secondary public schools in Mexico. PRIMED is an acronym for the following six pillars.

P = Prioritizing Character Education; This is key to flourishing for educators, students, and those in their communities.
R = Relationships; A network of healthy relationships is critical to student flourishing and success.
I = Intrinsic Motivation; Character strengths become part of who you are.
M = Modelling; Be the goodness that you're trying to nurture in the students.
E = Empowerment; Honoring everyone's voice is important.
D = Developmental Perspective; It's crucial to educate for the long term, and to understand that each student has a history and a future.

Marvin Berkowitz, creator of PRIMED, says "We can think of a person of character as someone who holds core ethical values. That you hold these values and internalize them - that's intrinsic motivation." He believes "teaching is more than a job — it's a calling a calling to service." He explains that effectively implementing this service requires embodying three attitudes. "One, you have the head — you know what your values are and you can reason about them. Two, you have the heart — you care about values, they authentically matter to you, and you have the requisite moral emotions like guilt when you transgress, empathy and sympathy for the plight of others. Lastly, you have the skills in your hands to act upon these values."

Salgado agrees. She says, "We are looking for people who are free and capable of self-determination. We are not after behavior - behavior is something we can manipulate through rewards and punishments or through disciplinary measures. We can modify behavior. But we cannot say we have educated someone or to have made a contribution to that person's life, unless we incorporate the three areas of character education, the three human dimensions: head, heart, and hands."

Another important aspect Salgado emphasizes is "to be able to find the truth and to develop out intellectual capabilities, we need to also awaken a desire for the good — to enjoy goodness, to want it because you enjoy it, and to take pleasure in it, while also acting on it, and enacting it."

The Difference and Results
Dabdoub shares four elements that set their program apart:

1. "Take it slow. The Educarácter program provides advice to help educators make a five year plan to transform their school."

2. "We try to help participants develop their capabilities to design and implement the initiatives their schools need."

3. "We emphasize that it's not about doing more — its about changing the way that they do things."

4. "The design principles we suggest for this intervention are based on 7 decades of research done in many schools around the world."

One participant in the program shares: "As we addressed conflicts within the school and provided help to resolve issues, physical fights among students decreased significantly." A participating principal says, "Students approached me once and said they found 500 pesos, asking me what to do with it. These little details show that something positive is happening."

"The course nurtures my inner life," says one participating educator. "You are shaping people with your attitude," says another. "The development of character is a way to give back to society or share with others what I have received."


This TWCF-funded project was a collaboration between researchers at the Panamerican University in Mexico, University of Navarra in Spain, and University of Missouri-St. Louis in the US. It was directed by Daniela Salgado, with executive management by Ligia García Bejar, and co-directed by Dr. Juan P. Dabdoub.