Using values education to aid the whole pupil

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” Schoolchildren’s successes can be brought about with informative, systematic values education that progressively develops and nurtures the whole person. Key to achievement is a mindset intent on mastery through proactively capitalising on learning opportunities that crop up in all contexts.

During the past two decades, the scientific understanding of human development has skyrocketed. A paradigm shift is taking place in how our children are educated. Scientists are making it ever clearer that a child’s acquisition and use of knowledge through a process of “cognitive development” is only 50% of the education equation. As many people raising, teaching, guiding and mentoring children and young people know from their own experiences, the other critical half is social and emotional development.

Global research shows that values education, which by its nature is engaging and exciting because it relates to all areas of our lives, is essential to effective, contemporary schooling. The ongoing process fosters lasting, life-enriching values that contribute to a modern, informed, whole-person and integrated, ethical, moral, emotional, social and spiritual education. It lays the foundations that enable all young people to fulfil their potential throughout their school careers and on into their adult lives.

Mind over matter

In today’s world, where equality of opportunity is being more widely promoted, education is of paramount importance. However, academic attainment and exam success alone are only part of the profound moral responsibility of schools to children, parents and society at large. Good character strengths are a greater predictor of success in life than exam passes - and a key factor in learners’ rounded growth and development is their attitude.

Following decades of research on achievement and success, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck came up with a simple idea that makes all the difference to what a person can achieve – his or her ‘mindset’. Her work has demonstrated that in a ‘growth mindset’ individuals believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

There is plenty of evidence that teaching a growth mindset has created motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education and sports. This approach to education not only improves wellbeing and enhances relationships but, crucially, it’s conducive to creating a love of learning and a resilience that is an essential quality for greater accomplishment.

Young children and teenagers blossom and thrive when they realise that a positive attitude, coupled with determined effort, is an exhilarating route to mastery of a range of skills that lead to real, sustainable learning and progress. Their self-esteem is boosted; their future trajectories can look much rosier and they begin to relish challenges as learning opportunities. Rather than be daunted or fearful, they start to view mistakes as sources of valuable information from which they can forge ahead.

The spiritual component of their development awakens their capacity to be reflective and allows them to cultivate and muster inner resources, which, reinforced by their positive attitude, give them qualities that enable them to overcome obstacles and bounce back from disappointments. They understand that they have choices and so learn to devise well considered strategies that provide fruitful pathways to mounting, rewarding progress and successes.

The significance of Values Literacy

Values are beliefs and ideals that we use to make judgements about what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable. They determine principles and standards, drive and motivate and help us to prioritise things that are important, of worth and beneficial to us. Values impact all aspects of our lives, both as individuals and as communities, from private families to the entire family of human beings.

Our personal values are central to who we are. They influence how we think, feel, make choices and behave. By becoming more conscious of their effects, we can better use them constructively to guide and manage our lives, relationships, communities and the environment.

The concept of values literacy could be considered as individuals' understanding and knowledge about a wide spectrum of values and their ability to choose and skilfully apply appropriate values within different settings in real-life situations. The learning process is enlightening and empowering.

Consider six VALUES prompts and some of the excitement they can generate.

V - Vision: ideas, goals, transformation, improvements, excellence.
A - Attitude: positive, work ethic, resilient, sensitive, passionate.
L - Love: of life, challenges, opportunities, learning, nature.
U - Understanding: of self, others, qualities, mindset, culture, bigger picture.
E - Education: information, strategies, skills, lifelong learning, toolkit.
S - Service: purpose, empathy, contribution, connections, teamwork.

The need for whole-person development

While academic performance and outcomes in terms of passes and grades have a part to play, as human beings we have multi-dimensional capacities that call for informed nurturing. Experiential learning that embraces all aspects of our makeup can generate a wide variety of feel-good factors, give us meaning and purpose and enable us to understand ourselves better, deepening the scope of our relationships and connections with everything around us.

Values affect our entire existence and good, systematic values education nourishes and develops the whole person – our spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social domains. Gradually building an understanding and fluency in values increases our ability to make the most of ourselves and adds to the traditional mind/body/spirit approach to education, advancing our emotional literacy and our social literacy. In school contexts, this transformative, enlightening, cross-curricular ingredient will serve 21st-century children and young people well both throughout their school careers and on into the unchartered future.

Consider five SPIES capacities and a few ways they can raise aspirations.

S - Spiritual: beliefs (religious or otherwise), imagination, reflection.
P - Physical: diet, exercise, rest, multi-sensory experiences, healthcare.
I - Intellectual: experiential, self-initiated, real-world, lifelong learning.
E - Emotional: love, feelings, creativity, passion, interests.
S - Social: interpersonal skills, teamwork, culture, diversity.


The combination of quality values education and holistic, whole-person development is transforming teaching and learning and laying solid foundations for success, fulfilment and happiness. This integrated approach capitalises on teachable moments in all contexts, allowing students to truly blossom. By degrees, individuals become eager to take charge of their own lifelong learning and accept more responsibility for shaping their futures and society generally.

Do you encourage similar values in your classroom? Let us know in the comments!

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