The newest teachers at the Washington D.C. Maury Elementary School haven’t been to college.

The program, called Roots of Empathy, was conceived nearly two decades ago in Toronto and has since become common across Canada. Now it has been imported to the United States, amid growing concern about classroom bullying and growing conviction that teaching certain character traits — such as persistence, self-control and self-confidence — is just as crucial for students’ futures as teaching academics.