The Program for Leadership and Character employs seven strategies for character development. These strategies have been identified through a rigorous analysis of research in philosophy, psychology, education, and other fields.
A concise description of each strategy can be found below. For a more detailed account, including methods for integrating these strategies in the classroom, see Michael Lamb, Jonathan Brant, and Edward Brooks, “How is Virtue Cultivated? Seven Strategies for Postgraduate Character Development,” Journal of Character Education 17 (2021): 88-108 and Michael Lamb, Jonathan Brant, and Edward Brooks, “Seven Strategies for Cultivating Virtue in the University” in Cultivating Virtue in the University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), 115–156.
Habituation through practice
This strategy supports the development of character by prompting students to put virtue into practice. Just as one acquires the skills of a painter with intentional, repeated practice, one develops virtuous character by repeatedly striving to think, feel, and act in appropriate ways until they gradually become habits.
Reflection on personal experience
Although acts can be performed simply out of habit, virtue requires us to understand why and how we act as we do. Encouraging students to reflect on their personal experiences helps them to wrestle with the morally relevant features of the situations they have confronted, identify possible alternative ways they might have responded, explore their own motivations, and consider how they would like to grow in the future. This strategy is especially useful in cultivating practical wisdom and the capacity for good judgment.
Engagement with virtuous exemplars
Much as beginners often develop their own style by first studying celebrated artists, students of virtue can gain a great deal by studying and emulating those who have lived exemplary lives. Such exemplars need not only be great figures of history but might instead be parents, teachers, or peers. In addition to providing a sense of “elevation” that strengthens our desire to do good, such exemplars demonstrate what it might look like to embody given virtues in concrete circumstances.
Dialogue that increases virtue literacy
Exploring the shape of the virtues and their bearing on particular situations, this strategy allows students to wrestle with potentially difficult scenarios that they have faced or are likely to face, to think through the complexities of such cases, and to learn from one another so that they gain a greater appreciation of the ways virtue might be embodied in a variety of real-life contexts.
Awareness of situational variables and biases
One’s character is never shaped solely by one’s own intentions. Among other factors, it is always shaped at least in part by the cultural influences, common modes of thought, and specific features of the situations that one encounters. This strategy promotes increased awareness of these variables and their formative power so that we can recognize their influence and seek to counteract them when needed. In addition to helping overcome biases, such an approach also encourages students to be mindful of the kinds of situations that are likely to bring out the best––and worst––elements of their character.
When we are likely to forget something, we find it beneficial to create a reminder to jog our memory. When we might forget the kind of people that we want to be, moral reminders serve a similar function. Whether in formal practices, such as honor pledges, or informal mechanisms, such as inspirational quotes placed in prominent locations, moral reminders prompt us to recall our moral commitments and live into them.
Friendships of mutual accountability
Friendships of mutual accountability support the development of virtue in a number of ways, including by providing a context that encourages specific behaviors, creating space for reflection and dialogue, and exposing us to relevant and attainable exemplars. Not only that, but friends often prove invaluable when we encounter difficulty, helping us through tough times and holding us accountable when we fall short of our ideals.