From My Heart
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In September 2013, I was asked to write an article for Teach Secondary with background information to my new book, From My Heart : Transforming Lives through Values.

The transformational power of values-based education in secondary schools.
Dr. Neil Hawkes

In choosing to title the book, From My Heart, a reader might first think that this is a soppy attempt to do a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ job on education. However Neil takes the reader on on evidenced-based journey getting to the heart of what education should be about – not grades and results but what we as a society want a well-educated 18 or 19 year old to look like.’ Clive Byrne
The cover picture of my book features a photo taken when I addressed the Irish National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) at Killarney. Clive Byrne (quoted above), the director of NAPD, had invited me to Ireland following my address to the European School Heads Association in Cyprus.

As an international education consultant, I am privileged to work with Headteachers in many countries to support their inspirational drive to hold on to their key educational principles. One of these tenets is that the purpose of education is to help students to become humane and thus ensure the flourishing of humanity. Thus, through a process that I have called values-based education (VbE), they will find meaning and purpose in their lives, which the school can nurture and help them to shape.

One such Headteacher, who has embraced VbE, is David Linsell, Head of Ratton School, Eastbourne, who says:

‘Guided and inspired by Neil, VbE now pervades Ratton School. Exploring the meaning of our values and judging ourselves against them has brought clarity of purpose and a common understanding to our work at Ratton. As a result, staff motivation and student behaviour has improved. Our Values-based Education has also proved popular with parents, who cite our strong values as a reason why they want their children to be a part of our School.’

What is Values-based Education?
It is an educational philosophy which bases everything a school does on a community inspired set of universal, positive human values which may include respect, responsibility, justice, compassion and resilience. Values are principles that guide our thinking and behaviour. VbE combines explicit teaching of values with the creation of an environment in which students experience values first hand. VbE becomes a framework for teaching in all subject areas. It gives students an awareness and understanding of positive universal values so that they learn about and experience values at a depth. This process encourages them to embed the values into their personal model of life. Awareness and understanding is strengthened through reflective study. Students gain invaluable social and emotional skills by understanding the need to be empathetic to others and recognise their own self-worth.

Research evidence (Brown et al, 2010) demonstrates that students become more self-confident and self-motivated. Their self-esteem rises and behaviour improves. The school environment becomes less stressful and as a consequence becomes a more satisfying and fulfilling experience for both teachers and students. It enhances the lives of every student, not just those who are more academic. An effective VbE school is calm and purposeful creating a school environment that is more conducive to teaching and learning. In practice, academic attainment increases in an effective VbE school.

Why does VbE work?
Research shows that the behaviour students adopt at school is modelled primarily on the behaviour they witness in teachers and support staff and only secondarily on how they are instructed to behave. Therefore, the staff at VbE schools agree to model the behaviours they want students to adopt – not always an easy task! It is vital that there is staff consensus about how values will be modelled, as students are quick to notice inconsistencies in staff behaviour.
What are the main features of VbE?

The VbE framework is built on a set of universal values that are applied to every aspect of a school's operations.

The framework involves the explicit teaching of positive values and consideration of what those values mean so that they can be living values. A key component of VbE is the provision of values words that create an ethical vocabulary, which I believe enables students to develop ethical intelligence. Students are taught the transformational power of reflection as recommended by neuroscientists (Siegel, 2007) to strengthen their understanding of values, and to control their responses.

Why adopt VbE?
VbE gives students the tools to take responsibility for their own behaviour. It raises their level of awareness so that they are more conscious about the effects that their thinking and behaviour have on themselves and others. VbE provides a great environment in which students develop. The overarching reason to adopt VbE is to provide students with the base to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life, one in which they choose to provide a positive contribution to school and to the society in which they live. VbE takes teaching about values to a whole new school level, with significant results.

Measuring successful VbE
Professor Terrence Lovat research at Newcastle University (Australia) indicates that VbE has a number of significant impacts that include:

Impact 1: Values consciousness
Deliberate and systematic Values Education enhances Values Consciousness. For instance, students, teachers and parents develop an increased consciousness about the meaning of values and the power of values education to transform learning and life. Such increased awareness is more than a superficial understanding of values but is related to a positive change in behaviour. Teachers think more deeply about their teaching and the values that they model both in and outside of the classroom. Students report that their behaviour is more altruistic.

Impact 2: Wellbeing
Students’ wellbeing is enhanced through the application of values-focused pedagogies, which give time for them to reflect deeply on the nature of values and what these mean to them and others. In thinking about, acting on and feeling values, students develop feelings of self-worth, empathy and responsible personal behaviour. Evidence from the data shows that values education has a very positive effect on the sense of self of students who are ‘at risk’, marginalised or disadvantaged. Students develop a greater understanding of the impact of their actions on the wellbeing of others.

Impact 3: Agency
Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make choices and act on them. The evidence shows that Values Education strengthens student agency when it involves various forms of giving, outreach and working in the community. For instance, through values action projects that allow students to enact their values. Agency is developed through meaningful real-life experiential learning, such as in the engagement in community projects, when there is opportunity for the development of student voice, initiative and leadership; and an explicit focus on ethical, intercultural and social issues. For values learning to take place activities have to be deeply personal, deeply real and deeply engaging. Relationships between students and teachers are enhanced through such activities. This research finding has wide implications for teacher agency and teacher education in terms of understanding appropriate pedagogy in the context of enquiry-based curriculum.

Impact 4: Connectedness
The research shows how a focus on values builds positive and wide-ranging connections between teachers, students and parents – this is called relational trust. It supports student engagement in learning, improved parent engagement in their children’s learning and allows teachers to develop new relationships with their students, each other and the parents and families in their school community. The research findings show that the values lead to improved stronger relationships between teachers, students and parents e.g. more respectful behaviours in the classroom, school and home. Community engagement leads to quality outcomes for teachers, students and parents.

5: Transformation
Change and transformation was at the heart of the values focus and is the result of teachers and students being urged to engage in continuous reflection on the actions they implement in their schools. Key changes are noted in professional practice as well as personal attitudes, behaviours, relationships and group dynamics. Transformations are experienced and observed by teachers, students and parents alike.

The data points to profound transformations in student learning and achievement. Academic diligence is enhanced so that students develop deeper understanding of complex issues. Students and parents experience personal change and report changes seen in others. For instance, a student said how the class had positively evolved and that values had helped them to become more mature, adjusted kids.

What do UK VbE schools tell us?
In secondary schools in the UK, such as Ratton School at Eastbourne, the values vocabulary is evident about the school. Ratton displays its core values on quality posters. The Headteacher, David Linsell, has a picture of what he describes as the Ratton Bus on his office door. On the bus, the school’s core values are displayed, Respect, Integrity, Excellence, Enjoyment and Participation. Whenever David is interviewing new staff, he asks them, “Are you on our values bus?”

On a visit to Ratton, I was so impressed to see the values vocabulary being implicitly used across the curriculum. For instance, values were evident in a skilfully crafted ethics lesson with Year 10, which had, as its focus, the moral efficacy of fertility treatments. The open and honest discussion of moral dilemmas is an important aspect of the values curriculum for adolescents. It gives them the opportunity to talk about difficult social and moral issues, away from the environment of playground peer pressure. Also, in a drama lesson with Year 9, I witnessed the use of the school’s values in a creative session that was helping students to understand the power of body language and emotions.

In another outstanding values-based secondary school, Aylestone, in Hereford, the care of students is very evident in the way the school caters for new students if they arrive during an academic year. On arrival at the school, a student is placed in the learning centre for a few days and given time to find out about the school and for the school to assess the new students needs. The student adjusts to the school’s values culture through a carefully constructed induction programme.

This is a school where the values vocabulary can be seen in action in all aspects of the school’s life. Headteacher, Sue Woodrow, says:

‘Neil’s message advocating a Values-based Educational approach, is both timely and powerful. Anyone who has used VbE within their school will tell you that mutual respect and trust is built through paying attention to the way people discuss, define and model their shared values. These explicit debates and agreements lead, if successfully and determinedly modelled, a school community that is built on trust and interdependency. This is the strong ‘glue’ that makes schools successful. However, make no mistake, Neil does not advocate a ‘fluffy’ poorly defined culture where relationships take centre stage for their own sake. This is the building block whereby top quality educational experiences for children are focused upon and ensured, and most importantly, raising achievement and life chances for children is at the top of the agenda. I unreservedly recommend that all school leaders from secondary schools read Neil’s new book and act on its wisdom. Also, invite Neil who is an inspirational speaker to visit your setting for a thought provoking and practice changing event!’

Lastly, I want to mention the values leadership of Paul Daley, Principal of Sancta Maria College in New Zealand. In my view, Paul is an exceptional leader and has a significant influence not only in the life of his college, but on the direction of education in New Zealand. One of Paul’s engaging qualities is an endearingly dry sense of humour.

There is a story about Paul that one day he was working at his desk in his office. The room has reflective windows through which he can observe students during break times, but they can’t see him. All they can see is the reflection of themselves. Paul was sitting at his desk when a Year 7 boy came to the window near where he was sitting and started looking at himself as he combed his hair. Paul observed this for a moment and, with a glint in his eye, decided to slide the window open and speak to the student, who he thought would be amazed to see him. After a moment’s hesitation, with the two just looking at each other, the boy coolly said, ‘Could I have fries with that order, please!’ Paul dissolved in laughter at this comical situation.

Four years later, he remembered this event and asked his personal assistant to buy a small portion of fries. The teacher on break duty was asked to arrange for the student to come up to Paul’s window, not knowing why. When Paul saw him standing there, with a flourish he opened the window and said, ‘Sir, here are your fries, sorry the order took so long!’

This story wonderfully demonstrates a key feature of a VbE school, relational trust in action, and the vital importance of keeping a sense of humour in our schools.

I hope that David, Sue, Paul and I have inspired you to think about what you are doing in your school to ensure that it is a values-based. I hope you enjoy and find my book to be a practical resource for developing the educational practices of your school. If you would like any further information then please look at the website of the International Values Education Trust (IVET):

My vision is that every secondary school will explicitly become a values-based school. I hope that as an educator you will feel inspired to influence such a development in your own school. Together we can turn this vision into a reality and thereby transform the educational system.

Brown, David, Hamston, Julie, Weston, Jane and Wajsenberg, Jenny (2010). Giving Voice to the Impacts of Values Education: The Final Report of the Values in Action Schools Project. Carlton South: Education Services Australia.
Lovat, Terence J., Toomey, Ron and Clement, Neville (eds) (2010). International Research Handbook on Values Education and Student Wellbeing. Berlin: Springer.
Siegel, Daniel J. (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.