The Power of VbE
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The power of Values-based Education to transform lives
Dr. Neil Hawkes - Founder of the International Values Education Trust (IVET)

"Well, I am school'd: good manners be your speed!"

J.E. Blacksell, Headmaster of Banstaple Boys' Secondary Modern School in Devonshire (UK) wrote this poignant quote from Shakespeare's Henry IV part 1, on my school report when I left the school to transfer to Burdrop Secondary School in Wiltshire. I was fifteen years old and had spent just under five years in Devon after my father had been transferred there as an insurance official for a national company. We had formally lived in Swindon and were to transfer back to that area of Wiltshire on my Father's new promotion.

A nostalgic book entitled Pursue Excellence was written in 2010 about the Devonshire school. The author, Terrance Trump, chillingly remembered it being locally nicknamed as, Blacksell's Academy for young thugs! The book gives a history of the school from 1938 until 1972 when it closed. Despite its dubious reputation I have some fond memories of my time at the school. Mr. Blacksell was passionate about theatre and spotted that I had a talent for acting. He encouraged me to develop my acting prowess by playing various leading roles in school productions. For instance, Hotspur in Henry IV (hence his quote on my report), Maria in Twelfth Night and Yum Yum in the Mikado - remember it was a boys’ school! Mr. Earnshaw, the music teacher, encouraged me to audition for the part of Karl, the boy waiter in a local production of White Horse Inn. I was thrilled to act in this musical comedy, which was performed by the musical dramatic society at The Queen's Hall theatre in Barnstable. Despite a generally undistinguished academic school career, my natural talent was nourished and I grew in self-confidence. Undoubtedly, this aspect of my childhood was one of the most important features of my development, as it gave me the confidence to develop all aspects of myself.

I hope that you will discern that my personal story shows how teachers can powerfully help transform the lives of children by nurturing their innate capacities. I like to think that Mr. Blacksell decided to write the Shakespearian quote on my report because he saw in me someone who displayed good manners. This aspect of my behaviour I put down to the rigorous training administered by my paternal grandmother who lived with my family.

Gran was a product of the Victorian age and I remember spending hours in her room whilst she shared with me how she thought I should conduct myself. She covered subjects such as table manners and how to show good manners in conversation by avoiding talking about oneself but instead taking an interest in others; showing deference to adults by saying ‘how do you do’ before they spoke to me. She thought deportment was important so she made me walk up and down her living room with a book balanced on my head. She encouraged me to be a good listener and to observe the behaviour of others. She helped develop my conversational skills too. Sometimes I still catch myself hearing her critical voice in my head, being unnecessarily and inappropriately judgemental, when I am observing the behaviour of others. At such times, I remember to smile with affection at the memory of my dear Gran.

So Gran and Mr. Blacksell were two very significant adults (among others) who watered the seeds of my emerging character and talents and who stirred in me my life long passion for self-improvement.

By now, you may be wondering why I have begun this article about values-based education (VbE) with these examples from my childhood. I think there significance is because in telling them they illustrate two of the guiding principles of VbE, which are the centrality of the modelling of positive values by adults and the influence (for good and ill) of family and teachers: hence the urgency for each of us to understand the power we exert in the relationships we have with children.

May I now transport you to the present day, indeed July this year, when I was holidaying with my wife Jane at our caravan home at Stoke beach in South Devon? Please picture the scene: a beautiful, natural, southwest of England sandy beach with ancient rocks sheltering a small bay. An artist's dream of a day, with crystal clear light, in a cloudless sky: sea almost wave-less and sky an azure blue. It is early in the day and Jane and I are enjoying the tranquility and gentle warmth of the sun as we sit in the bay. It is a near perfect environment and all seems to be in perfect harmony. That is, until a number of families make their way down the metal steps to the beach accompanied by their pet dogs. What then ensued Jane and I felt offered a useful metaphor for the various types of parenting we witness.

To explain: the first to arrive at the beach was a young family with an obedient black Labrador named Bruce. The family carefully chose a part of the beach where they could erect a tiny tent into which they placed their sleeping baby. Bruce was commanded to sit by the tent’s entrance and with his nose on his paws he remained a motionless sentinel until he was called to accompany his master to swim in the sea. The dog was a model of good behaviour, with the owner giving the dog a sense of security through the clarity of his instructions and his obvious clear unambiguous boundary setting. It was a great sight to witness, as dog and man seemed to be in perfect harmony. After a swim together they returned to their camp and again the dog returned to his watchful position by the tent.

Next to arrive were a middle-aged man and woman with a small collie. They took up a position near to us - almost too near given the space on the beach. After a brief pause to establish themselves in their chosen spot on the sand, the woman began encouraging the reluctant collie to accompany her to the sea. The dog did its best to resist, straining its lead, obviously considering seawater as something to be avoided at all costs. Undeterred, the woman started to drag the dog to the sea as it began a cacophony of incessant whining that echoed chillingly round the bay. What was so incredible was the way in which the two people seemed totally oblivious to the disturbance to others that their dog was creating. After a while the woman brought the dog back up the beach but the respite was short lived as the process soon began again as she was determined that the dog would go into the cool water. As Jane and I watched we were entranced observing the performance, which was repeated five times during the next hour.

However, we were soon to realise that this scene was unexceptional compared with the next group that came to enjoy the special naturalness of the beach: Lily arrived or should I more accurately say she erupted down the steps onto the beach. Lily was a huge, off-white fluffy cross breed. The dog's uncontrolled behaviour mirrored that of the family who accompanied her - screaming unnoticed orders at the dog and arguing among themselves. They decided that Lily had to swim and we observed various members of the family (mum, dad and two boys) who threw rocks, sticks and each other into the water trying to entice Lily to swim which soon she did! Have you ever had an enforced shower whilst in your clothes? This is what we soon experienced as Lily, sodden, made a beeline for us and whilst loudly barking gave us a thorough drenching as she shook her massive coat of fur, emptying its contents over us. Reaction of Lily's family? You will probably guess! They totally ignored what she had done and merely threw a stick into the sea for her to repeat the process on another unsuspecting family. The crowning moment was when unobserved lily defecated in the middle of the beach, under the watchful gaze of a colony of flies! However, the pièce de résistance of the morning was yet to arrive as a superior looking Jack Russell followed its owners onto the beach. They were a courting couple strolling hand in hand, with the occasional loving gaze, across our beach on to the next bay; oblivious to the antics of their little Casanova who en passant tried unsuccessfully to mount his fellow dogs!

By this time Jane and I were in fits of laughter as we tried to understand that people not only model their behaviour to their children but also to their pet dogs. It was obvious that awareness, good training and modelling created the behaviour of the well behaved dog, whereas the unconscious awareness of the other dog owners created indiscipline and disharmony in the others. On observing the families and dogs later leaving the beach it was the gentle family with the well-behaved Bruce who seemed to have enjoyed themselves the most because they had a appeared to have lived in harmony with each other and their surroundings. Importantly each family had a choice, a choice that lies within each of us: to act from a part of us that reflects selfishness or one that reflects more altruistic behaviour - in other words to behave like a swine or a saint! I suspect that you can recount from your own experience similar situations. VbE encourages a shift of conscious awareness that focuses on the later whilst recognising that we are fallible.

I recall, again at Stoke Beach being invited by a younger friend Andy to learn to water ski. I took up the challenge and whilst my son Nick controlled a motorboat Andy, an experienced skier, instructed me in the art of water skiing. It was a calm sunny day, water conditions were perfect in the bay and whilst in the boat I put on the water skis that felt so big and cumbersome for my smallish feet and lithe legs. Nick lowered me into the water and told me to hold onto a blue plastic handle that was at the end of the towing rope. Andy told me to keep my knees up to my chest and angle my skis upwards and that the boat would draw the rope tight. I was to remember to keep my arms outstretched and not to try to pull the boat to me by bending them! When I felt ready I was to momentarily lift one arm to signal readiness, immediately replacing my hand on the handle before the engine of the boat roared into action and I felt the pull on the rope that would lift me out of the water.

That was the theory! What happened in practice was as the boat began to pull me I was thrust headfirst and dragged through the water. It felt as though I was receiving an enema through my nose! Three times I tried and each time dismally failed. Bit by bit I felt my confidence evaporating and what's seemed an idyllic day was turning into a menacing nightmare of experience. I did not want to lose face by asking to be taken into the boat so I asked to try once more. (I realised too that Nick and Andy wanted their turns.) I rehearsed all that I had been told - arms outstretched, knees bent, angle the skis. I heard the engine raw again as I felt the intense pressure on my legs that struggled to hold the skis steady as I felt the beginning of a lift out of the water. My arms then bent, the rope went slack and I fell backwards into the water, letting go of the rope as the boat powered into the distance – a very lonely moment.

The boat turned – at this low moment it seemed to me to take ages to return - and eventually came to a halt by my side. Andy dropped into the water and came behind me, smiling and gently reassuring me that this had all happened to him and that he was confident that I would be able to ski. He held me from behind and gently went through the routine again of what I should do and how, when I got up out of the water, it would all then seem so effortless. I believed him; I trusted him and I felt his strong energy willing me to do it. Again, I held the handle to the rope, Andy shouted to Nick that I was ready; he whispered in my ear, “You can do it Neil, trust in yourself”. Andy held me steady and I felt the tug of the rope and the force of the water as my legs controlled the skis as they rose out of the water with me on them. My arms were straight: I was up! I could do it! The almost indescribable feeling I had at that moment I shall never forget, as it was like passing into another dimension of experience. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. I heard Nick in the boat shouting, “You're brilliant dad!” Three times round the bay I circled; glancing to the beach I could see family members waving their congratulations. The boat slowed and my turn came to an end and I felt a special joy that is experienced when we battle with our inward fears and lack of experience and achieve success.

For me this story illustrates some of the guiding principles of values-based education. Let me begin with the environment. For me to be a successful skier I needed to be in a stable environment, that would help me to feel safe and would not distract me as I strived to master a new set of skills. I needed to have a secure sense of self so that my self talk would be positive and maintain my confidence and self belief so that I would keep on trying to master the techniques required to water ski. I needed to be in relationship with someone who could tutor me in the process and even more importantly have a strong belief in me. Andy saw my potential, and ignored the fact that I was continuously failing to succeed. His smiling eyes, patience and belief in me modelled what I believe is the key to being a great parent and teacher: seeing a person as they could be and not seeing them as they are. Goethe said, ‘If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.’
I was made to feel capable of becoming a skier and tasted success thanks to Andy seeing that I had the capacity to ski. Andy and Nick's language was values-based full of positive adjectives including: ‘trust in yourself Dad, we have confidence in you, maintain your determination, reflect for a moment and then have another try, fantastic Neil, now you feel the joy of persevering’. Finally celebration: Nick, Andy and the family all celebrated my achievement, which massaged my self-confidence and desire to have another go and to improve my technique.

The process that I have described in this simple story holds good for behaviour in families, schools, communities, businesses and countries. It is a values-based way of living and being and a way of nurturing a positive transformational state of consciousness. It is such consciousness that humans need if we are to transcend the limitations of restrictive habitual thinking that limits our potential.

I was lucky to have Nick and Andy supporting me as I attempted and succeeded in developing a new skill. Sadly though, what of the child who lives with constant criticism that undermines their sense of self? I am a supermarket watcher. I have leaned so much about parenting by watching parents and their children shopping in the supermarket. I'm sure you have noticed too the incredible range of behaviour by children and their parents. If an adult has a poor sense of self then this is often passed on to their children as limiting values. These values limit our potential to become what we are capable of becoming. Consider this sentence which I recently heard as I shopped in the vegetable section of Tesco: "Shut up you little bugger you're nothing but a nasty bit of work." As a teacher I could predict how the child at the receiving end is likely to behave in school. He will lack a secure sense of self, as he will believe that he is a nasty child. Notice the parent was telling the child off not his behaviour - a common error that I see across all sections of society. His behaviour will probably deteriorate as he is seen for his current behaviour not for what he is capable of becoming. In my desire to nurture a values-based society I see this as an issue that society has to address giving practical support to adults who seem incapable of having a secure attachment with their children because they in turn did not have one with their parents. A values-based society has to balance individual rights and responsibilities with those of society in general. It is my contention that too much weight is giving to the freedom and rights of the individual at the expense of the greater harmony of society. Education I believe is key to making a powerful contribution to redress this balance but schools are hampered, in my view, by an imbalance and weighting given to the acquisition of knowledge, exams, external qualifications, which is at the expense of helping children to realise that the purpose of education is to enable them to be more humane thus ensuring that in society all are empowered to flourish.

I have just finished reading Judy Picoult's superb novel entitled, The Storyteller. This gripping book, some of which is set in Auswitch concentration camp, depicts how so called educated people can become totally indoctrinated and inhumane in evil systems, totally disregarding the common humanity they share with others. Similar scenes are still being played out today throughout the world.

I am therefore suspicious of school systems that are purely economically or ideologically driven. I think they are products of the 19th century and do not support the creative transformation of consciousness that the world’s problems so desperately demand. Of course children need the basics of the three r's but I believe other basics must be taught in tandem, which is what I see values-based schools achieving. The basics include; reflective practice; an ethical vocabulary based on universal, positive human values such as respect, love, compassion, justice, joy and responsibility; modelling of values-based behaviour; focus on good relationships. All these leading to a new level of self consciousness, a paradigm shift, that acts as a personal moral compass that has a positive impact on creating a fair and just society.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that a current lack of mental health in people will challenge my vision for a fairer world becoming a reality. With tongue in cheek I often wonder if our political leaders should be subjected to regular mental health checks to ensure that they are more likely to speak and act from a stable mind. Seriously, I do think that human being generally are subjected to a greater degree of certain types of mental stress than in previous generations leading to a decline in mental health; although paradoxically, in western countries, physical health has improved as is evidenced in the fact that people are living longer. I think that a focus on positive values helps us to maintain our mental health. Values also help us to behave from a common set of principles. Richard Barrett, Founder of the Barrett Values Centre has outlined the importance of shared values in his book, Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations.
I agree with Richard that values create a shared basis on which we can make decisions. Peace in the world is more likely to be attained if there is a universal culture of shared human values. In my travels overseas I have observed that at the core of who people are a set of basic values. My friend Floyd Woodrow, who was a British negotiator during the breakup of Yugoslavia, told me that all ethnic groups wanted similar things for their families: peace, shelter, food, education and a stable social structure. If this was the case then surely they could accommodate each other and put aside mistrust, hate and fear? What the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats commonly wanted transcended religion and ethnicity. Such understanding necessarily leads to a reassessment of the important differences in the role of beliefs and values in society. Values have a universal power because they transcend contexts such as, where we were born, our religion and our culture. However, Richard points out that our beliefs are always contained in a social and cultural context. Beliefs come from our shared sense of cultural heritage whereas values emanate from our shared sense of humanity. In my view, values-based decision-making reflects a higher order of consciousness than beliefs because the dynamic of values transcend ethnicity, religion and all other cultural and societal factors. In countries where there is civil unrest because of ethnic and religious factors I would urge leaders to encourage decision-making based on values not beliefs. May I emphasise the point that I believe that we should focus on universal, positive human values because all people share them. However, if we argue from our beliefs then the result is disharmony and in the extreme war. Examples of disharmony can be seen in parts of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Northern Ireland where often people think and act from a belief-base rather than a values one.

May I invite you in conjunction with your own family to practice interacting with each other based on an agreed set of family values? Have a monthly value such as peace, love, trust and responsibility that the family is considering and place this on the family refrigerator with a magnet. At meal times share what the value means to each other and how it is affecting each person. In times of family disputes think of the values before arguing with each other. Learn what I have termed the wisdom cycle: pause, reflect, discuss and action. I am convinced that disputes can be minimised if before taken any action, such as speaking our minds, we agree to pause and reflect. Try this at work if a meeting is becoming emotionally charged and folk have stopped listening to each other. Reflecting on values helps each of us to return to a grounded centre of consciousness that helps us to work cooperatively with each other.

I am convinced that if adults and children spend time each day in silent reflection then it builds their capacity to both live their values and build up what I term supra-awareness, which is the capacity to live life from a higher state of consciousness. The habit of reflection that I have written extensively about in chapter 10 of my book, From My Heart: transforming lives through values develops a transformational skill in people, which is to be the objective observer of ourselves. This skill when embedded helps us to act from a higher state of consciousness. My wife Jane has devoted half an hour each day, early in the morning, for several years to sitting in silent reflection. She says that developing this habit has enabled her to be attuned to her wise self and less influenced, whilst acknowledging them, by emotions and feelings which may be unhelpful if allowed to be played out in her behaviour. Neuroscience is showing that reflective behaviour lays down neural pathways in the brain that give us the capacity to moderate our emotional responses and help us to behave more morally. I recommend that you look at the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel’s book Mindsight (Siegel, 2007) for more information on this subject.

Acting from positive values gives us the chance to sense the deeper meaning and purpose of our lives, to be able to sense and shape our future, to dispel the myth that nourishing the ego through competition with others leads to happiness. By focusing on values we share together a common purpose and act from a deeper sense of awareness of other people. This does not imply a denial of individual differences, needs and desires but creates a platform on which we can come together as fellow travellers on this universal stage.

As the 21st century unfolds I think that to ensure our survival we need to understand that the limiting values, such as greed, envy, anger and jealousy we carry in our psyche are the result of a natural selection process. We are the genetic product of our predecessors who survived and we carry their DNA. Although humans carry genetic information that encourages competition we also have information that encourages us to be cooperative.

When a teacher of young children I would sometimes remind them that when they were tempted to behave badly they could think that they had two little people, which sat on each shoulder. One of these would tell them that they should behave well and the other tried to persuade them to behave badly. Which one did they should heed? I remember lots of fascinating responses as children found this idea a useful way of talking about their behaviour and how they were tempted. As adults we have the capacity to act from a position of selfishness or altruism or somewhere in between. If we are stressed or in a threatening situation then we are more likely to act from one of the lower levels of consciousness (see Richard Barrett' work). These lower levels are concerned with personal survival, the need for relationships and the desire for self esteem. Sad to note that I observe too often that human behaviour relates to those lower areas of consciousness that are ego driven (in this context I define ego as that part of the psyche that acts from selfish self interest). However until they are met we find it difficult to aspire to the higher levels of consciousness, to be altruistic, which begins with transformation, leading to internal cohesion, leading to making a difference and service to others.

My wife, Jane Hawkes, and I believe that people who feel stressed and overwhelmed by life benefit from what we describe as values therapy, an aspect of what we call the inner curriculum. Values therapy enables us to consider the values that are driving our behaviour and to choose the values that we would like to live in our lives. This conscious process allows us to step back from the events that have formed us, the relationships that nurture or impede us and the actions we take in our lives: instead take an empowering responsibility for ourselves by gaining personal control that is literally life-changing.

The power of values-based education (VbE) is at both subtle and yet profound in its impact. In my book, From My heart transforming lives through values I take the reader on a journey of discovery that outlines the basic practices that make VbE so profound. Readers discover that values-based education is not a teaching program it is an educational philosophy that is based on what I have termed the philosophy of valuing – valuing self, others and the environment. The practical outcome of this philosophy is VbE, which is a framework for teaching and learning based on everything that happens in the school. It gives students an awareness and understanding of positive universal values. Students learn about and experience values at a depth that encourages them to embed the values into their personal model of life. Awareness and understanding is strengthened through reflective study. Students gain invaluable social skills through sensitivity to others and recognition of their own importance and of the importance of others.
Students become more self-confident and self-motivated. Their self-esteem rises; their behaviour improves and the environment becomes less stressful. School becomes a more satisfying and fulfilling experience for both teachers and pupils. It enhances the lives of every student, not just the more academically gifted ones. An effective VbE school is calm and purposeful.
Another impact of VbE is that the environment is more conducive to academic study. In practice, academic attainment increases in an effective VbE school. A rich source of evidence for what I am claiming comes from research conducted by Professor Terry Lovat et al at Newcastle University in Australia.
The voices of the many people who have found VbE transformational are heard in the pages of my book From My Heart and I think that it is important in concluding this article that you hear two of these voices that I hope will inspire you to want to find out more about VbE (see and adopt the principles and practices of VbE in your life and work.

Sue Cahill is the values/well-being leader at St Charles Borromeo School (in Melbourne). Sue is passionate about values in action and demonstrates this in the way that she ensures that the school has strong, practical, daily links with parents and the community. Parents seek her out to share their natural worries and concerns about their child’s development at school. Sue liaises with other members of staff and the principal. For instance, Sue describes how a grandfather came to see her to let her know that his daughter, the mother of two pupils at the school, had been hospitalised. Sue then mediated with the children’s classroom teachers, informed the principal and met with the children to see that they were settled.
On another occasion Sue’s values work is seen in action when a parent met with Sue to talk about new court orders regarding the shared care of their child due to the separation of the parents. Sue informed the classroom teacher and, because the child seemed anxious, informed the principal. Sue met with the child to make sure she was coping with the new living arrangements. Sue then contacted the parents individually to let them know how their child was managing. This partnership between school and family is a trusting one that benefits all, but particularly the child. I picked up a great idea from Sue: values fridge magnets which I talked about earlier. These small, attractively designed, magnetic posters display the school’s values, such as, ‘We agree to live by our values of: confidence, responsibility, tolerance and courage ...’.
My second example is based on the work of an outstanding college principal in New Zealand who I believe embodies the humour and humanity of a values-based leader. This is Paul Daley, principal of Sancta Maria College (in Auckland) who embodies positive values and has the natural ability to foster relational trust in staff and students (relational trust being an outcome of the values-based school).
In my view, Paul is an exceptional values 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 him 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 relational trust in action, and the vital importance of humour and fun in values-based education.
In conclusion, I hope that by engaging you with a series of meaningful stories I have given you a glimpse of the power of values-based education. I have not attempted to give you the intellectual underpinning and research evidence that underlies my work as you can read about it elsewhere (see the bibliography). What I trust you have understood is that effective VbE depends on a deep sense of what it means to be human and the potential positive effects that we can have on others. This requires us to take greater responsibility for our behaviour, which is then displayed in the relationships we have with others. I define a value as: a principle that guides our thoughts and our behaviour. My sincere wish is that you will nurture the values that will guide you as you live your story. I hope that they will bring you personal satisfaction; enabling you to contribute to the transformational international movement of values-based education, which is being promoted by the International Values Education Trust (IVET).


Barrett, Richard (2012). Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations. Fulfilling Books.
Hawkes, Neil (2003). How to Inspire and Develop Values in your Classroom. Cambridge: LDA.
Hawkes, Neil (2010). Does Teaching Values Improve the Quality of Education in Primary Schools? A Study about the Impact of Introducing Values Education in a Primary School. Beau-Bassin, Mauritius: VDM Publishing House.
Hawkes, Neil (2013) From My Heart: transforming lives through values. Carmarthen: Independent Thinking Press.
Lovat, Terence J., Toomey, Ron, Dally, Kerry and Clement, Neville (2009). Project to Test and Measure the Impact of Values Education on Student Effects and School Ambience. Report for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations by the University of Newcastle Australia. Canberra: DEEWR.
Picoult, Jodi (2013). The Storyteller. Hodder & Stoughton. UK.

Siegel, Daniel J. (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Trupp, Terance (2010). Pursue Excellence. Graphic Detail Ltd. Somerset. UK