The History Behind Honorable Character™

The Honorable Character story began in 1984 with a high-spirited first grader named Brad. Like many children, he enjoyed the social interaction that school provided, but he frequently received “marks” on his weekly conduct report for excessive talking. Although the school had always placed a high priority on character development, its conduct card reported only negative behavior. A disheartened Brad mistakenly concluded that his teacher didn’t like him because “I get into trouble a lot.” The school’s approach to classroom management showed only one side of Brad’s character … and he was picking up the wrong message as a result. 

Brad’s parents knew his whole person and understood that Brad was a delightful child who simply needed to develop some self-control. His mother, herself an education professional, couldn’t help but wonder how many other children were like Brad—internalizing a distorted message about themselves due to classroom management practices that focus solely on identifying and correcting inappropriate student behavior. If he was getting the wrong message, she reasoned, surely other students were, too.

When Brad’s mom—Vicki Vaughn—became principal at his school, one of her first initiatives was to recast the school’s classroom management practices and procedures. A new model—one that purposely emphasized identifying and recognizing students for their honorable character qualities—became the school’s new standard. Vaughn was convinced that by consistently accentuating the positive, teachers would achieve greater success in drawing out the best qualities within their students.

The results of the new approach to classroom management surpassed even Vaughn’s own expectations. The positive focus improved the school culture. The many compliments that the school received from members of the local community about its students’ character and conduct—along with consistently higher student scholastic achievement—persuaded the staff that the changes made were right ones.

That classroom management program, developed over 20 years ago at Vaughn's Fort Worth school, is still used there and has become a hallmark of the school. Over the years, Vaughn had received repeated requests from her former teachers for permission to use the system at their new schools. During accreditation visits to Vaughn's school campus, team members saw the classroom management system in action, and they often asked how they could get the program into their own schools back home. One accrediting agency designated the school's classroom management system as an Exemplary School Program, generating even greater interest from administrators and teachers at other schools.

Eventually, the administration realized that the Fort Worth school had the opportunity to positively impact the lives of students and teachers who would never set foot within its walls. A team of teachers fine-tuned the classroom management system so that it could be made available to other schools. With the blessing of the school board, Vaughn formed a separate non-profit organization, Honorable Character, Inc., or simply “HC.”

Now that the Honorable Character story has been told, it’s time to finish Brad’s. Years later, while he was attending college, Vicki Vaughn went through some of her son’s old school papers and found Brad’s elementary school conduct cards—the ones developed using the Honorable Character approach. She noticed one particular positive character trait that appeared again and again on those reports: diligence!

“The day Brad graduated with his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, he said something to me that I will never forget,” Vaughn recalled. “He said, ’Mom, I may not have been the smartest one in my class; but it was my diligence that helped me through this.’ My mind immediately flashed back to his elementary school conduct cards.”

Today Brad is a cardiac thoracic anesthesiologist. The strong work ethic that he practiced as a young boy—a trait fostered through the encouragement and recognition of his teachers—became a habit that is enabling him to succeed in achieving one of his life’s goals and to serve as a contributing member of his community.

All too often, character education is limited to telling stories about imaginary people who show qualities of good character. While those kinds of stories are good, Honorable Character has chosen a different approach. In the HC system, the child is the story … the living model who becomes the example of good character. A real-life story with a happy ending!