Why values can inspire a generation

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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Website: www.humanvaluesfoundation.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Human Values Foundation explores how values literacy is such a rewarding curriculum ingredient.

As teachers in England continue to plan for the implementation of their new, inspiring and expansive curricula to take effect from September 2014, now could be an appropriate time to consider a curriculum ingredient found to have widespread, rewarding impacts on children, young people, teachers and other adults making up school communities, along with parents and carers.

A school’s curriculum is designed to meet the various needs of its pupils and, through different, tailored, appropriate, formal learning pathways and informal opportunities, empower them to reach their full potential and prepare them for life. It is recognised that modern curricula need to be more open and flexible than in the past. The challenge is to craft them so as to raise aspirations, deliver tangible improvements in teaching and learning, and lay the foundations to enable learners to successfully manage whatever the future may bring and its dynamic effects on all aspects of their daily living.

What we value in life, motivates us and drives us. Valuing learning is a key message in the creation of a culture of learning. This is a very important concept for children and young people to grasp, particularly if they want to achieve personal fulfilment and be capable of earning a living in their chosen way.

Long gone are the days when learning was primarily confined to childhood and the classroom and knowledge acquired was applied principally in the workplace. The constant flow of new technological and scientific innovations has ensured young people are aware that to thrive, they need to proactively embrace continuous development and respond effectively to the myriad of opportunities to improve upon and expand their knowledge and skills.

Values literacy – an educational raising agent

Experience the world over shows that good, explicit, systematic values education in the curriculum mix acts as a raising agent, making a significant difference to the quality of the education of children and young people. Why? Because it underpins all that takes place in the school, binding together all other initiatives and subject learning. Crucially, it provides building blocks that progressively nurture participants’ social and emotional wellbeing, which in turn helps to deepen their knowledge and understanding and develop personal qualities and skills that can ramp up their achievement levels and sense of fulfilment in every aspect of their lives.

What is social and emotional wellbeing?

Our social and emotional wellbeing is reflected in the state of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Owing to the complex and protracted development of human beings, what might be considered normal at one age, could be of concern in the case of an older person. For example, an aggressive outburst by a toddler might be viewed as normal but were a 16-year-old, say, to exhibit the same aggression, that behaviour might be a sign of poor social and emotional wellbeing and psychological health that is inhibiting progress.

Wellbeing definitions are broadly along the lines of:

  • Social wellbeing – is the ability to form good relationships with others and to avoid disruptive behaviour, delinquency, being violent or a bully.
  • Emotional wellbeing – includes being happy and confident and not feeling anxious or depressed.
  • Psychological wellbeing – encompasses a feeling of autonomy and control over one’s life, having problem-solving skills, being able to manage one’s emotions, be resilient and attentive, able to experience empathy and have a sense of involvement with others.

Why is it important for children and young people to learn about values while at school?

Values are principles that help to establish anchors and standards. They act as guides for our thinking, decision-making, including our lifestyle choices, and our behaviour. Research has shown that when children and young people are taught about values, in school, in a planned and systematic way that enables them to explore them and put them into practice in a safe and supportive environment, they tend to become more emotionally stable, show a greater commitment to learning and derive more pleasure from it, benefit from enriched interactions with their teachers, peers, parents/carers and others, develop a better understanding of their own and other societies and their horizons are broadened as they become more outward-looking, wanting to care, share, assist others and play their part in the stewardship of the environment.

Considering values across the full spectrum of their learning, as children and young people begin to develop a fluency in them, their mindsets change and they delight in recognising the differences and the enjoyment they experience in gaining, for example:

  • more confidence and higher self-esteem
  • a better understanding of what it means to have rights and responsibilities
  • a more positive attitude towards their education
  • easier and more meaningful relationships with all school personnel, and
  • an increased awareness of how to fulfil their unique roles as global citizens.

A key component of values education is timeslots to practice and benefit from being still and reflective. Pupils are often at their most creative immediately after such times of quiet.

How does teaching children and young people about values fit in with the aims of the school?

With more autonomy and greater freedom, one of the main aims of a school is likely to be a focus on how best to deliver its curriculum, taking account of the interests and backgrounds of its pupils, resources available and the context of the school.

Explicitly teaching about values promotes collaborative working and opens up children’s hearts and minds. It’s conducive to fulfilling the three principal aims of the National Curriculum, which are that all young people become:

  • successful learners, who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
  • confident individuals, able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives, and
  • responsible citizens, who make a positive contribution to society.

Collaborative engagement

Values education is most successful when it has buy-in from all stakeholders. A unifying exercise is a collective review of the various sources of influence and factors that can impact the capacity of young people to engage with learning in the most effective ways for them. Important elements that contribute to the best possible conditions to learn and teach and promote a supportive, whole-school approach include examining the following and responding imaginatively to stakeholders’ viewpoints:

  • the culture and ethos of the school
  • physical aspects of the school
  • leadership within the school
  • the school’s morale
  • its development and, if relevant, improvement plan
  • classroom and peer behaviours
  • the management of bullying and any other detrimental behaviours
  • role modelling of staff towards other members of staff, towards pupils and pupils towards each other and towards the adults making up the school community, and
  • barriers to engaging parents/carers in their children’s education.

Values education – an uplifting part of the learning toolkit

In essence, the values education process affords enjoyable, purposeful and challenging experiences. It embraces all areas of learning, raising standards and the likelihood of children achieving their potential and becoming responsible citizens, equipped to lead fulfilling personal lives. What is taught within its curriculum helps citizens-in-the-making learn respect for self, others, law and order and the environment. It’s conducive to developing critical thinking skills, informed decision-making, exemplary behaviour and a desire to help others lead successful lives as well.

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