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Primary school children and teacher in their classroom 1

Author: Dr. Neil Hawkes, Founder: Values-based Education International


The school is a microcosm of the world. Values-based Education is an approach that nourishes, and enables learners to flourish, making a difference to the world through who and how they are.


When we actively engage with values we start to understand their implications for making choices about our attitudes and responses. A Values-based approach encourages reflective and aspirational attributes and attitudes. These can be nurtured to help people discover the very best of themselves, which enables them to be good citizens and prepare them for the life of work.


VbE creates a better learning environment, in which students are able to attain better academic results. It creates a better teaching environment, in which staff are more fulfilled and significantly less stressed. It equips students with social capacities that help them work with, and relate to others effectively. It provides them with the self-esteem and confidence to explore and develop their full potential. It leaves no student behind, irrespective of their background.


So if you're thinking about becoming a Values-Based School, here's how to develop VbE in your school...


1. Create Role Models


Adults in the school must be willing to commit themselves to work towards being role models for Values Education. Its success, in terms of improved standards and school ethos, will only come about if the school Principal/Headteacher and all staff (teaching and support staff) understand that it is primarily through their behaviour, in modelling the values that sustainable improvements will develop in the school.


The adults therefore identify and agree positive behaviours that will model the values e.g. to remain calm when dealing with challenging student behaviour; to invest time in really getting to know their students; to helping students to sense and shape their future by finding meaning and purpose for what they do; all times being respectful. Such an agreement may be recorded in job descriptions and form part of performance management.


2. Ensure the Values are "lived, not laminated"


It is also important to consider how your school will live the values that it will commit to, i.e. how the school will show up to the community through aspects such as how parents are welcomed, school signage, state of the buildings and grounds, cleanliness, sports days, concerts, parents’ meetings are reviewed to ensure consistency with the values education policy.


3. Develop Reflective Skills in Your School


The school considers how it will encourage the key skill of reflection (sitting silently and focusing mental energy) that nurtures greater self-control, emotional balance, better relationships, responding appropriately to others and their own conscience, which will lead to values-based behaviour.


Time needs to be devoted to understanding and training in this important skill, as in many schools it will be seen as something outside of the normal work of the school and only linked to faith communities. Neil cannot over emphasise the importance of this skill that has the backing of scientific research (see Dr. Dan Siegel’s the Mindful Brain) as well as thousands of years of human wisdom.


4. Create an Experiential Values Programme


An experiential programme is established for learning about values, which may include:


• Introducing and deepening the understanding of values in a programme of well constructed assemblies; one value being highlighted each month or other agreed period of time e.g. January= Respect; each class teacher (primary schools) preparing one values lesson each month; the value of the month being the subject of a prominent display in the school hall, reception area, Principal’s/Headteacher’s office and in each classroom; values being a integral part of tutor time, all subject lessons, and a specific area of the curriculum (secondary schools) lessons having a values focus as well as a learning intention.


• Using language of values implicitly in all lessons e.g. well done, you showed great respect to each other. Thank you for cooperating/caring/being tolerant etc.


• Making reflection should be a key component of lessons e.g. let’s have a minute of silence so that we can be fully present in our lesson; let’s pause and check out in a few moment’s of silence what we are thinking and feeling in this lesson and what will make our learning more productive, etc.


• Encouraging pupils to be involved in action teams, using a values perspective to consider school and community issues e.g. how can we improve our break time experience? What can we do to make our learning experience both pleasurable and effective so that we get the most out of school life? In what ways can we encourage our parents and community to be more involved in the life of the school? What can we advise the council to do about litter in the shopping centre?


• Sending regular newsletters to parents, explaining what the value of the month is and how it can be developed at home.


5. Integrate the curriculum


Aspects of the curriculum (everything that the school does) are identified that could make a specific contribution to VbE e.g. Philosophy for Children (P4C), Learning Power, Mind Sets, Roots of Empathy, Enquiry-based projects, Outdoor learning, Forest School, Technology supported Learning, Service Learning, Sports Program, School Concerts/Shows and other events.


The range of skills, knowledge, attitudes and understanding to develop from VbE is identified. Of crucial importance is to ensure that the process of developing VbE is well planned (construct an action plan/road map) and that there is continuity and progression in the student’s school experience, which is monitored, evaluated and celebrated in order to keep the process alive and constantly under review. Ensure that VbE is visible in all subjects and aspects of the curriculum. The school’s values leader or a group of staff, which may include representatives of the student body and community, may lead this process.


6. Create a Values Statement


The school agrees a Values Statement that may be prominently displayed in school and included in the school’s prospectus/website. It considers working towards achieving the International Values Education Trust’s (IVET) Quality Mark for being a values-based school. Finally, it celebrates being a values school and continues on a process of continuous school improvement.


7. Organise a VBE Training Day


 It is highly recommended that if you want to embed VbE in your school that you set aside a training day when all teaching and non-teaching staff can attend and be an active part of this process of transformational cultural change. VbE will fall at the first hurdle if you make up a list of values and tell the school community that these are our values! Involvement and ownership is key to the success of VbE.


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