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.

Three Vital Dimensions of Values in the Curriculum

When we as educators are asked by our curriculum to ‘deal with’ values – as NZC 2007 does – what are we meant to do? Are we meant to focus on the eight values at the top of the values page (p10)? Are we supposed to focus on the values learning processes explained in the second column of the values page? Are we supposed to do both?  Are the values mentioned on p10 the only ones we should address? Can we use a programme like the Virtues Project? What methods of teaching and learning should we use in order to fulfill the requirements set out on p10? Are there other places in the curriculum and associated support materials that we should look at when we ask ourselves ‘what should we should do?’ Within this blog many of these questions will be addressed over time.

This list of questions makes it look as if addressing the values dimension of the curriculum is a fraught and complex thing. One expert I heard tried to simplify it by saying there are two things schools are supposed to do – teach them knowledge and teach them to be good. I think he over simplifies it. Addressing values in education should do more than just ‘teach them to be good’.

In the 1990s the respected US educator Deborah Meier suggested that there were just two main overarching values that were vital to a good education – empathy and skepticism. Many would feel this is rather simplistic too. But I think it is a lot closer to the mark.  Empathy is a vitally important overarching value that can ‘stand for’ many of the ‘softer’ values such as caring, toleration, respect and so on. Skepticism is a much misunderstood term but can be translated for our purposes here into ‘critical thinking’ about values.

Another way to look at this is considering Engle and Ocha’s comment that socialisation and counter-socialisation are both important in education. This is a good point to return to issues of some of my opening questions. A focus on only the 8 ‘big tented’ values of NZC or on the ‘Virtues’ will really mean that our programme will tend to be mostly a ‘inculcation’ and ‘socialisation’ approach to values. This means our programme will lack a ‘critical thinking’ and ‘counter-socialisation’ dimension.

On the other hand if we include the aspects of values learning in the second column of the values page of NZC we will be able to develop a ‘balanced’ approach to values in the curriculum. That is one that hands on the ‘wisdom’ of our ancestors (inculcation/socialisation) but will also be questioning and think critically about current and changing social, economic, environmental issues and ethics that are an influence on values today.

This involves notions of investigative inquiry with an attitude of open mindedness and by initially suspending judgment. In other words – with a degree of skepticism. This involves checking out carefully the many ideas swirling about us and trying to work out what is best to value now. It also involves considering the diversity of values and perspectives represented in current society.

Following the investigative inquiry phase our students should think about the options for continuing with the values of the past, or adapting and changing to new attitudes and values. The approach described in last three paragraphs is more of a skepticism/critical thinking/counter-socialisation approach.

You will have no doubt worked out by now that I see social studies and social sciences as the  ‘natural’ curriculum ‘slot’ for such teaching and learning. The recently published book “Teaching social studies for critical, active citizenship in Aotearoa New Zealand” edited by Harcourt, Milligan and Wood is excellent reading for anyone who wants more background in a ‘balanced’ approach to values in the social studies dimension of the curriculum. However, values issues arise in every curriculum area and are particularly important in subjects such as Science, Health, English and the Arts and should be approached there in similar ways.

I finish this first blog entry with and appeal to teachers, educators, parents and students to look again at page 30 of NZC. Read the whole page carefully and think about what is says at some depth. I suggest you number the paragraphs in this statement 1 – 8 and read them in sections as below. There are in essence 3 sections to page 10.

So read as follows:

  • First read paragraphs 3 & 4 – the 8 values list section – as this the aspect of the statement most schools and teachers often focus on. But, this is only one aspect of the statement! This is the part of the statement that is most strongly inculcation/socialization and has a strong empathy component to it as well.
  • Secondly read paragraphs 6 & 7. This section has 9 key bullet points, just as the values list section focuses on 8 key ‘big’ values. These are in two parts. The first 4 bullet points relate to what students should learn about values and thus identifies necessary values content knowledge needed to think about values. The second group of bullet points spells out key skills and abilities students should develop to work effectively in the values domain. Interestingly the second bullet point in this group focuses on empathy and third on critical thinking (skepticism).
  • Thirdly, read paragraphs 2, 5 and 8. These paragraphs make two very important points. One point is that the values on p10 are “neither exhaustive nor exclusive” and that they can be expanded into clusters of associated values. The second is that the 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”.

I would argue that it is only when parents, teachers, schools and students are fully aware of, and attempting to work with, all three of the dimensions outlined in the values statement of NZC and discussed in the 3 bullet points above, that we can claim to have a balanced programme for values in the curriculum.

Note: For key references and definitions check out the Reference and Definitions pages of this blog.