Teaching Values to Children and Young People

At a Teachers’ Seminar in January 2013, Foundation Principal, Richard Waters, shared his experience on teaching values to children.

Values are not absolute in themselves but are really guidelines for living. The author Eric Fromm, in his book “Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics”, contrasts values as not being there just because someone in authority has named them. Values are not just rules and regulations. Values are actually a means to fulfil our potential for personal growth. Every culture has values which they believe are important as guidelines for a fulfilling life, and it is amazing how much these are similar to the “golden rules” of other cultures.

We never completely nail it in terms of understanding and, more importantly, putting values into practice. We are always learning about what they mean and how they can be applied consistently in our lives for the benefit of ourselves and others. For example, in the last few months, as a result of personal experience of ill health, I have come to understand much more about the value of patience and acceptance.

All values can be made extreme and exaggerated into a negative. This is why we need wisdom to maintain a balance in understanding. For example, honesty is very important in our relationships, but sometimes it needs to be balanced with tact and diplomacy.

We each have our own patent strengths and weaknesses, both in our character and in our health. For instance, one may have a tendency to worry, which in itself is pretty useless because it can bring about the experience of tension and anxiety. So worry is something we cannot afford to indulge. We need to replace it, or at least limit it, or take action on the thing that we are worried about and that will diffuse the worry. Each of you will have your own tendencies and challenges and it is important to identify these so that they don’t become obstacles to your growth.

Most of us have had someone in our lives who has had a positive influence on us as a person and it is quite likely that this someone influenced our values in a positive way — what we think is important in life and what it is we value in others. Such a mentor has provided us with guidelines for living. It is worth reflecting for a moment: How was it that this person had an influence on you? Why was it you let them into your heart? What were the values that you learned from them? Was it loyalty, honesty, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, courage, consistency, responsibility?

As we reflect on this, we can see how we might become an influence on the children in our circle of care. These may be children who we teach in our classes, or they may be children we encounter in the playground or taking on an excursion. It is impossible to predict just who will be influenced by our example. It may be that there is someone who we think we have a particularly close relationship with, but who somehow doesn’t take on board our values. On the other hand, someone with whom we only feel a casual connection, might say that what we say and do is influential. So it’s always important to be vigilant in providing a positive role model for students. It is our understanding and practice of positive values that enables us to do this.

About the Author

Richard Waters served in the role of Principal at the School of Total Education for over 30 years. He taught at both primary and secondary levels. He has a particular interest in parent education and the training of teachers, and after retiring from the School at the end of 2011, took up the role of Director of the Institute of Total Education.

This article is based on a talk given at a Teachers’ Seminar at The School of Total Education in early 2013. (Published on web site: June 2013)