About the Course

Today’s educators juggle many responsibilities. Between crowded classrooms, personalized learning plans, and a constant stream of papers that need grading, it can be hard for teachers to keep their heads above water, let alone find the time and the energy needed to form the character of their students. Meanwhile, administrators wrestle with broader pressures like standardized testing, budget crises, partisan school board debates, and school safety. 

In this pressurized environment, how can educators develop the hearts and minds of their students? Does character formation even have a place in our pluralistic school settings? These are complex questions without easy answers, but it’s clear that educators need to take seriously their calling to form students into whole people. Come along as Matthew Hoehner, D.Min., Executive Director of Christ Community Lutheran School and former Executive Director of Open Sky Education’s St. Louis region, and Ellen Bartling, Ph.D., National Director of Content and Operations for the Character Formation Project, explore principles and practices for character formation in K–12 education, including tangible outcomes for teaching virtue in the classroom.

What You'll Learn

  • Why is it important to teach students virtue as part of their education? 
  • What difference does virtue make in the classroom?

  • What is the value of character education?

  • What are some of the common obstacles educators face when it comes to cultivating the character of their students?

  • How can educators teach virtue in a pluralistic society?

  • What does it mean to educate students as whole people? 

Course curriculum

  • 1

    How is Character Formed?

    • Introduction

    • Our Character Crisis

    • The Role of Teachers

    • Pain, Struggle, and Sacrifice

    • Purpose and Practice

  • 2

    Identity, Purpose, Actions

    • What Does Character Consist Of?

    • A Theology for Civic Virtue

    • Character in Action

    • More Caught Than Taught

    • Love and Respect

  • 3

    What is Your Aim?

    • Introduction

    • Roadblocks to Character Formation

    • "Some Practice Might've Helped"

    • Human Flourishing is Our Aim

  • 4

    Why Grow Character?

    • Why Character Matters

    • What is Virtue?

    • What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

  • 5

    How is Character Grown?

    • Ideas for Implementation

    • Creating a Culture of Character

    • Telling Stories of Character

    • Beyond Behavior Modification

    • Character-Based Decision Making


National Director of Content and Operations, Character Formation Project

Ellen Bartling

Ellen served in Wisconsin public schools for 32 years before joining Open Sky Education’s Character Formation Project in 2013. Her experience as a classroom teacher, district level director of curriculum, assessment, instruction and staff development, elementary principal, high school principal, and district superintendent brings to the project a depth of practical knowledge about the way students learn and school climate and culture are created.

Executive Director, Christ Community Lutheran School

Matthew Hoehner

For the last five years, Matt has served as executive director of Open Sky Education’s St. Louis region. In this role, Matt is leading the development of a region of high performing EAGLE public charter schools and Compass Educational Programs. Matt also works with the Character Formation Project, serving schools and organizations across the nation and the world.