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Transforming your Teaching through Values

Please imagine the scene: two proud Year 2 pupils showing me Oatlands Infant School in Surrey. Head teacher, Pat Beechy had asked them to talk to me about what the school was doing to show its values. I was taken to the entrance hall to look at a fabulous display depicting the school's values as part of a beautiful tree. I asked them to explain to me what values are and was told by Sam, “Values help us to be happy and keep you out of trouble.” Sophie added, “They help you throughout your life…when you are angry they help you to come into a better mood.” I asked her which value she would think about if she felt angry and after a moment’s reflection she said, “Um…Peace!“

Such a discussion with children is powerful evidence for why, increasingly, teachers and schools are teaching and modelling positive human values such as respect, trust, tolerance and responsibility.

Why are values important to teach?
When you teach science or mathematics you give children a vocabulary, which allows them to access these subjects. Similarly, when teaching values you are giving children a common vocabulary to help them to be the best person that they can be. Values education helps them develop a moral compass that guides their thinking and behaviour.

Giving children opportunities to experience values helps them to develop a common ethical vocabulary, which I believe develops an ethical way of thinking and behaving, which ultimately nourishes what I term ethical intelligence - the ability to act morally by living positive values.

How can you introduce values?
1. Ideally, the school holds a forum of all stakeholders to decide what values they think are important to learn about. However, if you want to introduce values just in your classroom then identify a set of values with the children. They love finding out what words such as respect, responsibility and empathy actually mean.

2. You will now have a common values vocabulary. I recommend that you choose at least 22 words. Research evidence highlights the importance of a wide values vocabulary, supporting the growth of ethical intelligence.

3. If you adopt values-based education for the whole school, then explicitly teach about the values on a two-year monthly cycle. Introducing each new value in an assembly. You then deepen the children’s thinking in your classroom.

4.  Remember, continuously use all the values words as you talk with the pupils. "Well done John and Matthew you showed great cooperation when you were working on that piece of work.”

5.  Think about how you role model the values. The children soon know if you are failing to walk your talk. Remind all the adults in the school community that they need to agree how they will behave once the set of values have been chosen.

6. Make the values lessons fun, relevant and experiential. I enjoyed watching Simon, a foundation stage teacher at Long Crendon School in Buckinghamshire, giving his pupils a lesson on trust. The children were taking turns to be blindfolded and led over an obstacle course. I heard him saying things like, “Good trusting Matthew.” At the other end of the age spectrum I watched Gemma, a skilled teacher at Ratton School in Eastbourne, working with a Year 10 ethics class who were engaged in thinking about the ethical dilemmas involved in various methods of fertility treatments. In this lesson I witnessed the power of values, such as justice and responsibility, to expand and deepen the students’ thinking.

7. I am on record as saying that the most important skill to teach is reflection. Start by developing the practice of ‘pausing to be’ daily with your class. Neuroscience research shows that by sitting quietly, and focusing on our experience of breathing changes the structure of our brains allowing us to be more in control of ourselves.

Further Reading
In my book, From My Heart, transforming lives through values, I give examples from schools to help you introduce the values dimension in your teaching. Also, there are great ideas at our interactive website Here you will find the names of values hub schools that you can visit.

I invite you to join our quiet revolution, comprised of the thousands of teachers worldwide who embrace the transformational power of values-based education (VbE).

Dr. Neil Hawkes
Founder of the International Values Education Trust (IVET)