tina pic.jpgThe teaching of values sounds like something that should be done at home under the parents’ discretion, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, not all parents are doing this. This may be due to a number of reasons, so who is to take on this essential job?

As teachers, if we focus solely on teaching academic content without a moral compass, what kind of citizens are we producing? Educated people that lack a strong moral foundation run the risk of applying their skills in ways that do not enhance the quality of our world. Even worse, they run the risk of using those skills  to lead people in the wrong direction, and if one day they find themselves in a position of power, they may use it to make decisions that are destructive to our communities or world. If world leaders of the past held values that were deeply rooted from a young age, mankind would be in a better place for it. This is our chance to make a difference for the future of our world, to create a society of smart and good citizens, and it is imperative that we approach it the right way.

Build their vocabulary

Values are a truth accepted universally across cultures, religions, genders and age groups. They are rooted in ethical principles, such as honesty, respect, fairness and tolerance, as opposed to ambiguous religious beliefs. But what does it mean to be fair, or to tolerate differences? In order to clarify this for children, teachers should introduce terms  and offer a clear definition along with example of what it looks like in several different situations. Use the words often, and praise students when they make applications to problem solving.

Use literature

There is a myriad of picture books that provide opportunity for accountable talk regarding characters’ choices, interactions with others and lessons learned. Allowing students the opportunity to connect with and live vicariously through a character deepens their understanding of the value and offers a platform for conversations regarding that particular value. This strategy is easily embedded into their ELA or social studies curriculum as well.

Give them time

Just like any new concept, students need to be exposed to the concept several times in several ways. Give them opportunities to practice, either using scenarios or taking a moment to address a teachable moment. It is important to offer them grace as they progress in this journey of self-discovery. If we EXPECT them to make mistakes, it will be easier for us to respond with kindness when they do. Students should know that the goal is to constantly progress, not to attain perfection.

Teach them how to reflect

In order to develop a deep understanding, children should learn how to apply the value to their own life. In order to do this, they need to reflect on how much personal importance it holds and whether or not it is a personal struggle. When I was a kid I appreciated honesty in others, but at times it was a struggle for me to apply it in my own life. I needed to learn skills to be honest in difficult situations so that I could live a life aligned with my values. When I learned how to honestly self-reflect on my behaviors and values, I realized that they did not align, and at that moment I was able to make a change. I progressed in my path to honesty through self-reflection of personal experiences.

Lead by example

This practice begins with the teacher taking time to refine their own ways of thinking so they can fully understand the process students will experience. Let’s face it– we are human and we all make mistakes. We are constantly growing and evolving our beliefs of what is important to us, so the art of self-reflection is a skill that we must undertake consistently. During classroom conversations if we can make ourselves more vulnerable by sharing our own mistakes and how we moved forward, it creates a sense of safety for the students to do the same.

The values our children develop will be passed down from generation to generation. When we create a need for our students to rely on their morals and values in their decision making, they will model it for their own children. Slowly, one ripple at a time, one generation at a time, we have the ability to change the communities that we live and work into a safe and peaceful place to live. A place where values such as respect, responsibility, perseverance and honesty are valued and practiced by all.

Tina Haas is a Detroit elementary teacher leader that is passionate about improving the quality of life for families in struggling communities. She spends after work hours writing curriculum and tutoring students in reading and math. Outside of work you can find her crafting, reading, participating in triathlons, and spending time with her family.  

Want to learn more about core values and how to implement them? Join us at the 2017 National Forum on Character Education this October in Arlington, Virginia!