How/Do you teach Values?

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same but you leave ‘em over everything you do”

Elvis Presley

Values are at the heart of the Values and Visions approach. Whether consciously or unconsciously, nearly everything we do, nearly everything we think and feel, is coloured and influenced by what we believe matters, what we give value to.

Values come in many forms. Different cultures may prioritise different values, as will different sectors and roles within society but, in V&V, we are talking about the innate, universal values that every human being has within them, regardless of culture or conditioning. We all have these values whether we are aware of them or not.

How do we teach children about values? The U.K. has decreed that British Values shall be taught in schools. Many organisations nowadays have a classic set of three: Mission, Vision and Values, often prominently displayed in the entrance to the building. The problem with the ubiquitous mission, vision and values statements, so prevalent in schools today, is that it is hard to work from them if you are given them and are not part of creating them; if they are not part of your personal belief system.

We at V&V argue that values cannot be instilled; cannot be taught. For a start, values may vary from culture to culture, from community to community. A group of trainee teachers from ITEps[i] expressed the problem with this very eloquently when they used a place value example to highlight how, like a digit, a value changes its meaning depending on where it is placed, in other words, its context. A ‘7’ in the units column is 7 while the same digit in the hundreds position is 700; a word like ‘respect’ could be different in different places – China as opposed to The Netherlands.

So how do we at V&V propose you work with values?

Our purpose is seven-fold:

  • to bring values up into awareness
  • to begin to clarify values and have a language for them
  • to be able to share the diversity and commonality of our values
  • to appreciate the richness of any one value
  • to understand the way in which they can guide us and help us make decisions
  • to experience the power of them to effect change
  • to learn how to put them into action effectively (values without action have little real value!).

Identify your values. One way to do this[ii] is to ask yourself the question: If you could give your child one gift or quality when s/he leaves school, what would it be? You may not come up with just one. Touch base regularly with your values. Come back to your values. Pass everything you do through the prism of your values.

Values compass

The benefits of clarifying and using our values are many. They provide us with a compass to guide us through life. They are the source from which we can draw in order to discern and make wise decisions in a timely way. They ensure we can live a life filled with self-respect. They protect us from external negative influences. They help us achieve inner stability, balance and peace of mind. Values give us a sense of purpose and meaning. They enable us to live a life worth living, to create a life of happiness not only for ourselves, but for those around us.

The cost of not understanding and living our values is high. We are tossed about by the waves and storms of life, pulled in the direction of passing pleasures, pushed by external influences, fears and demands. We are likely to find ourselves avoiding things that are unpleasant or that require ‘too much’ effort. In the process we may become oblivious to much of what is present in our lives. Rudderless, we can easily be caught up in fear, anxiety and confusion. This in turn leads to feeling not enough. We can easily develop low self-esteem, and experience stress and discouragement that can lead to depression. The journey of short-lived pleasures and distraction runs out and we are left stranded, our sense of meaning and purpose having been thrown overboard. The stakes are high.

We recommend that you do one of our Values activities before starting a project or tackling any of the issues you want to address. The activities are designed  to help us explore the deeper values and qualities that are essential to us, that allow us to grow and develop as people. You may want to get back in touch with your values periodically, in particular if a challenge crops up, and before establishing your purpose and the actions you want to take. Let your actions grow out of the values.

This blog draws on our chapter on Values in Values and Visions (2019) and an article by Sally Burns:

Burns, S. (2020). Preparing for futures unknown. In International School, Spring 2020, 22/2,  pp15-16,

 [i] International Teacher Education for primary schools

[ii] In Values and Visions we start with a whole chapter of activities to help you and your students clarify your own and your shared values.

By Comments off October 15, 2020