How exploring values without preconceptions motivates children and builds learning capacity

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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Rosemary Dewan of the Human Values Foundation discusses the importance of helping pupils realise their dreams and aspirations by way of positive reinforcement and open-mindedness, and how emotional support and guidance can lead to real progress.

No matter what stage we have reached in our lives, no matter what age we are, it is never too late to have dreams and realise them. When children and young people are given the opportunity to systematically explore values, as an integral part of their education, they get fired up because the process makes so many aspects of learning meaningful and relevant, expanding individuals’ horizons while also developing and strengthening their inner qualities. The effects can be surprising!

Values education provides different, lively lessons

Our mindset is key to unlocking our potential. The study of values is an engaging, holistic process that not only builds and strengthens participants’ mental capabilities but their physical and spiritual attributes as well. It appeals because the exploratory process and the activities to reinforce learning are expansive and experiential. Children and young people enjoy feeling empowered as they gradually develop essential emotional and social skills that enable them to better manage and control situations. This is particularly rewarding when, rather than being swamped by negative influences, such as fear and perceived limitations, they can draw upon diligently mastered tools that help them realise their hopes and aspirations.

Participants also benefit from the collective experience and the realisation that they are valuable assets to each other. Teachers frequently notice how their pupils become keener to work alongside them and reach out to and support their companions for the benefit of everyone in the group.

Discussion is an important feature that expands awareness and provides a rich source of learning. Within a deliberately safe, supportive classroom environment, children and young people can pluck up the courage to think outside the box, voice their views and try out their ideas.

By looking into the ramifications of different values in a range of contexts and their positive and negative effects, historically, currently and for the future, learners make connections and become increasingly aware of the potential impacts from selected values. This insight gently stretches minds and helps individuals make well considered, informed choices, including those involving an element of risk.

By way of illustration, one day a very experienced values-based education teacher found that a well-built pupil on the brink of exclusion was being given a last chance to change his attitude and joining her class. The newcomer was shocked by the warm welcome he received from his unfamiliar classmates. Never before had he experienced such attentiveness. He gradually took on more responsibility for his learning and started contributing to school life, becoming a real asset. His organisational abilities and newly acquired interpersonal skills, along with his natural energy and willingness to help led directly to the school winning inter-school trophies for football, cricket, rounders and hockey.

Exciting contemporary education - 10 motivational keys

Both children and adults require emotional support and respond positively to encouragement, love and a belief in what they are capable of. The ten MOTIVATION letters below provide a framework for demonstrating how a sustained focus on values can inspire children and young people so that they acquire tools to navigate successfully through each day, all the while uncovering and utilising their personal gifts and talents. This strategy also challenges teachers and others guiding, coaching and mentoring their charges because the process opens up participants’ hearts, minds and spiritual capacities and sometimes, as described above, leads to surprisingly unexpected revelations, ideas and outcomes.

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