How can we teach key values in schools?

October 21 marks World Values Day, an event dedicated to raising awareness of, and celebrating, the practice of values around the world. Values are in many ways the building blocks that underpin our society and motivate our actions as individuals, providing a guide or moral compass which shapes our behaviour, what we believe is right and wrong and what is most important to us.

This year, the theme of World Values Day is Reconnecting. Amidst the ongoing trials and tribulations of Covid-19, understanding our key values and how they can connect us with others and ourselves, has never been more important.

The teaching of values and beliefs, such as compassion, inclusion, respect and integrity, is a critical part of a young person’s education. These values help students develop their social and moral character and prepare them to be responsible, global citizens who are kind and considerate towards others. Supporting the next generation to develop positive values and a genuine passion for their beliefs, will be key to overcoming the social, economic and environmental challenges we face and paving the way for a brighter future.

In the national curriculum, values are taught as part of the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) and religious and sex education subjects. Of course, it can be tricky to communicate what a ‘value’ means in the classroom. How do you convey something intangible, such as kindness or commitment, to students and show them how they can put values into action? As a first step, your own school can be a great starting point for sparking discussion amongst students around values.

Almost every school will have an identified list of values which guide teaching and learning approaches, in order to create a positive culture and happy working environment. It might be an interesting classroom exercise to ask children what they understand by the school values, which they identify with, and how they think they can demonstrate these attitudes in their day-to-day life. There is a bank of handy resources available at World Values Day for schools to use with teachers and students, including workshop ideas, best practice and top tips for driving engagement with key beliefs, so that everyone can put these principles into action for benefit across the whole school community.

It’s essential that teachers are empowered with the knowledge and resources to confidently teach children about different values and encourage them to think critically and reflect on what beliefs resonate for them. For example, Sex Ed Matters offers free resources and workshops to support teachers with delivering the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum, covering a range of topics including menstruation, relationships, gender and sexuality. These resources are aimed at conveying values such as kindness, acceptance, respect and courtesy, to children and young people in a way which is relatable and accessible.

Story-based learning can also be a powerful teaching tool to help bring values to life for students. For example, immersive learning platform, Lyfta, uses interactive videos and content to share stories of real-life people and communities from around the world, introducing students to different perspectives and cultures. The global stories range from sharing the experiences of a Muslim student learning about faith and identity in Denmark, to a young female footballer in Palestine who is discovering the value of resilience and teamwork. Through stories such as this, students can explore how different people are demonstrating ideals such as commitment, responsibility and courage, encouraging them to reflect on what this means and how they can express such attributes.

The values we believe in and hold close to our hearts play a key role in shaping who we are and our place in the wider world. Encouraging students to identify their key values and what motivates them from an early age in schools is incredibly important for their progress and development, helping them to grow into happy, conscientious and confident individuals.

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