Values impact every area of life and learning
Values provide reference points that guide our thinking, help us to make consistent, informed choices and drive our behaviours. They have a bearing on our wellbeing, influencing our emotions and interactions with one another, as well as how we manage our shared home, Planet Earth. In different contexts, whether as individuals, organisations or society in general, values underpin standards, determine priorities and profoundly affect the way we conduct our lives.
The time available to deliver a school curriculum is finite. Today much of its content is seemingly driven by economic and financial factors and a need for young citizens to master competencies aimed at employability. In drilling for tests and exams there could be a danger of squeezing out areas of learning that uncover individuals’ interests, talents and passions and which develop essential emotional and social competencies, including life-enriching attitudes, skills and knowledge that equip children for the many challenges ahead of them and that mothers and fathers of future generations will require for successful parenting.
Setting the stage with the school’s ethos
In educational establishments it is important that stakeholders collectively take time to create a sparkling, caring ethos with high expectations and clear boundaries. The resulting culture constantly rubs off on everyone, including visitors. A school’s vision, mission and core values set the tone, as do the efforts to ensure the beauty of the learning environment and the quality and commitment of all the adult role models making up the community. A calm and purposeful climate is conducive to beneficial effects on the mental, physical and spiritual happiness and therefore on the motivation, learning ability and achievements of pupils.
From appreciation to reflection to consolidation
From a young age participants in innovative 'values education' schemes of work begin to delight in making connections, as both positive and negative values, cropping up in discrete academic subjects, are brought to their attention. They start to appreciate the influences on what has happened and people’s attitudes and behaviour in the past and how the specific values show up in life today.
As they observe, read about, write about, reflect upon and discuss different values, they begin to consolidate and apply the knowledge gained across different subject areas and during more practical sessions such as physical education and drama. They find that the growth they experience is stimulating when putting their new vocabulary, skills and learning into practice, at school, at home and in the community.
For example, considering the London 2012 Games, they could well conjure up an inspired vision for themselves and, with encouragement, reflect upon their own attitudes. At times they will put their own habits under the microscope to check that they are in alignment with what they want to achieve. Occasions may arise when facilitators will need to be particularly sensitive and supportive to enable individuals to make the changes they desire.
Adventurous cross-curricular and extra-curricular learning
It is widely recognised that achievement levels rise when children find that their learning experiences are fun, interesting and relevant. Since values affect every aspect of our lives, engaging themes can be chosen to open up a creative, structured way of making good progress towards developing enthusiastic, successful learners; confident individuals; and responsible, well-rounded citizens.
School assemblies provide a cohesive starting point for introducing a wide selection of real-life values, in conjunction with, for example, plans for SMSC work, PSHE education, Citizenship and SEAL lessons. Further discussion within classrooms and experiential activities tailored to different stages help to reinforce learning and develop a personal morality.
Systematically exploring and consciously applying a growing breadth of values in discrete academic subjects and during activities such as PE or while serving within the school community naturally helps learners deepen their understanding of themselves, others, inter-personal relationships and their place in and how they can contribute to society.
A flexible approach is vital for flexible mindsets. Issues and events, including beyond the school gates, perhaps highlighted by the media, can provide expansive and timely learning opportunities, new insights and a greater awareness of and respect for other people’s values and how they have been shaped by their experiences, beliefs, cultures and traditions.
Extra-curricular activities offer further stimulating and practical opportunities to explore, internalise and put into practice even more values that, over time, contribute to self-worth, greater confidence in abilities and the application of transferable life skills. Such participation in different contexts develops attributes that can lead to working more effectively and harmoniously with a wider range of people. It draws on resilience and competencies to manage emotional responses, stresses and tensions arising in unfamiliar situations and from more exacting demands.
A ‘whole school’ approach
Just as a whole-of-school approach is essential for effective spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of all pupils and for the collaboration of all staff in order to nurture children who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) or behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD), so a whole-school, fully integrated, cross-curricular approach to values literacy is key to achieving a happy, sensitive, supportive culture that fosters a high quality, coherent, holistic education, which equips young people so that they can flourish in life. Additionally, this united approach expands the potential for social cohesion because of its nature to attract buy-in from parents, carers and the community.