Why are values important to teach?
When you teach science or mathematics you give children a vocabulary, which allows them to access these subjects. Similarly, when teaching values you are giving children a common vocabulary to help them to be the best person that they can be. Values education helps them develop a moral compass that guides their thinking and behaviour.
Giving children opportunities to experience values helps them to develop a common ethical vocabulary, which I believe develops an ethical way of thinking and behaving, which ultimately nourishes what I term ethical intelligence - the ability to act morally by living positive values.
How can you introduce values?
Ideally, the school holds a forum of all stakeholders to decide what values they think are important to learn about. However, if you want to introduce values just in your classroom then identify a set of values with the children. They love finding out what words such as respect, responsibility and empathy actually mean.
You will now have a common values vocabulary. I recommend that you choose at least 22 words. Research evidence highlights the importance of a wide values vocabulary, supporting the growth of ethical intelligence.
If you adopt values-based education for the whole school, then explicitly teach about the values on a two-year monthly cycle. Introducing each new value in an assembly. You then deepen the children’s thinking in your classroom.
Remember, continuously use all the values words as you talk with the pupils. "Well done John and Matthew you showed great cooperation when you were working on that piece of work.”
Think about how you role model the values. The children soon know if you are failing to walk your talk. Remind all the adults in the school community that they need to agree how they will behave once the set of values have been chosen.
Make the values lessons fun, relevant and experiential. I enjoyed watching Simon, a foundation stage teacher at Long Crendon School in Buckinghamshire, giving his pupils a lesson on trust. The children were taking turns to be blindfolded and led over an obstacle course. I heard him saying things like, “Good trusting Matthew.” At the other end of the age spectrum I watched Gemma, a skilled teacher at Ratton School in Eastbourne, working with a Year 10 ethics class who were engaged in thinking about the ethical dilemmas involved in various methods of fertility treatments. In this lesson I witnessed the power of values, such as justice and responsibility, to expand and deepen the students’ thinking.
I am on record as saying that the most important skill to teach is reflection. Start by developing the practice of ‘pausing to be’ daily with your class. Neuroscience research shows that by sitting quietly, and focusing on our experience of breathing changes the structure of our brains allowing us to be more in control of ourselves.
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