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The Issue of the 3rd Dimension of Values in Schools

I have decided to make this weeks post on the topic raised by Hazel Owen. Hazel put her question this way.

I did note, however, the point you make that "specific values to be highlighted in your schools programme should be fully discussed and negotiated in the school’s community and once adopted should be clear evident in the “school’s philosophy, structures, curriculum, classrooms and relationships” and “everyday actions and interactions”.

What advice might you give to schools to help ensure that the values become the touchstone for decisions, and are interwoven through all everyday actions and interactions?

This is a very important and perceptive question. It has been noted many times in research about, and evaluations of, the way schools address values that they often start with a lot of enthusiasm and then run out of steam. Schools and their communities often begin their work on implementing a values dimension to their school by consulting to find out what values the parent community think should be at the heart of the schools values. From this they often decide on an acronym that sums these up and then organize a means of ensuring that these values are talked about, explained, explored and encouraged through, assemblies, posters, and classroom teaching. In some schools incentives and reward schemes are used to reinforce students positive action of the values. In some schools an outside programme such as the Virtues Project, Cornerstone Values etc are used.

As I mentioned in my last post this is all well and good but this is to focus almost exclusively on the first of the 3 key dimensions of values in education as set out in NZC. Last week I focused on the Empathy - Skepticism and the Socialisation – Counter-socialisation aspects of values education. As I pointed out I believe (and research shows) that the skepticism and counter-socialisation aspect is not address well in many schools. Now Hazel has raised the topic of the third dimension - that a schools programme should be fully discussed and negotiated in the school’s community and once adopted should be clearly evident in the all actions and interactions in the life of the school.

In early 2000s I was contracted to evaluate the 8-step living values programme. The 8 stages were:

  • Form a values project team and conduct a school values survey
  • Discuss and evaluate the results of the survey
  • Generate and publish an agreed school values statement or vision
  • Develop a school wide values education action plan
  • Develop and implement a values education training programme for all staff
  • Establish a bank of resources to support values education programmes in classrooms
  • Develop values education programmes and activities in all curriculum areas
  • Monitor student outcomes from the programmes and activities implemented.

The evaluation found that the early stages of the programme went well. The development and adoption of a school value statement went well, as in the first 3 bullet points, and were achieved in most schools. However, many schools did not move far beyond this point. Thus evidence for well thought out action plans, all staff training and the development the schools’ own resources and activities were often partial or non-existent. Only one school successfully monitored student outcomes.

The study also showed that values education is unfamiliar and controversial and getting all staff and all stages of the 8-point model working effectively was difficult. Building trust and commitment in what is seen as a risky area requires a good deal of tact, patience and time. As a result it is often difficult to sustain the effort for long enough to get to the point where the values statement and vision are clearly evident in the “school’s philosophy, structures, curriculum, classrooms and relationships” and “everyday actions and interactions”.

Steve Mouldey an Auckland secondary teacher puts it this way.

Each school sets out their vision – implemented to different levels by different schools, some completely through all staff members, some just believed by Senior Leadership. The Value Proposition, as I understand it, is about what you actually do compared to what you say you will do (much like Espoused Theory vs Theory in Use).

A parent in one school when asked about how well the values education programme in their school was going said of the school’s values of Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, Co-operation, Honesty (REACH) ….

Values espoused in REACH are not always apparent in the school grounds or the personal interactions between teachers and between teachers and students.

A number of those consulted in the development of the values statement in NZC said similar things. Professor Ivan Snook said:

Schools are often doing the reverse of what a values-oriented school would do.He recalls teaching a class of low-stream pupils at secondary school. "They said, 'You've got to admit, sir, we're the scum of the school.' "Teachers have, by and large, been well-meaning but they've also been sarcastic and spoken about kids in a derogatory way, so I think there's been a good deal of miseducation in values."

A leading international researcher (Clements 2010) noted: (Scroll down to Page 2)

Consideration of the interrelation of values education and student well-being at school leads to the conclusion that student well-being is a positive observable outcome of the implementation of values as they are embedded in educational policy, leadership administration, and the explicit and hidden curriculum, and also as given tangible expression in pedagogical practices and the web of relationships among the various stakeholders of a school. Recent findings of the neurosciences have underscored the fact that in order to be effective, education must engage students across affective, cognitive and social domains.

So the message is clear. Achieving this last of the three dimensions of values education is difficult and demanding. Not many are able to achieve it at the moment although you can see there is plenty of talk about it. So what practical advice can I offer in answer to Hazel’s question?

  • Firstly, I would say given the difficulty of this aspect don’t expect to achieve it all at once! What I would do is sit down and discuss this issue with parents, staff and students. Yes, I think along with the Commissioner for Children that students of all ages should be able to have a say, be listened to and taken seriously - ‘Giving Children a Say in Their Own Education’  Give them some of the kind of information in this post and ask what would they like the school to do about these issues now? You may be surprised by the responses. If I were to answer this question personally I would say lets look at our values statement and look at say our value of “respect” – which we have described as “treating other children, adults, the environment and property in a thoughtful manner.” Are we doing this in all aspects of our school life? Were are we falling down here? Look back the parent’s comment above that the REACH values are not always seen in action, or Snooks statement about ‘miseducation’ in values. What can we do to show true respect in these different aspects of school life? And then lets get on and do it!
  • Secondly I would suggest that some good practical advice is available on TKI. The resources on Inclusive Practices Action Planning (click on bullet point 7) and the Wellbeing @ School Action Planning (6th bullet point down) are excellent. While to some extent they sound a bit like the 8-step model discussed above they are both simpler and yet also very clear and specific. If shools used these resources as a way of producing a robust School Values Action Plan and then took long term time and energy needed to implement the plan they could go a long way toward achieving the goals of the 3rd dimension of values in education.

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