My dad taught me to shake hands firmly and look someone in the eye. It was a way to demonstrate respect. And, rather than teaching me simple human behaviours, my dad gave me the opportunity to demonstrate respect – he gave me the opportunity to develop an intrinsic value of respect. It was an opportunity for me to be self-aware of respect. It taught me to value a value. Elvis Presley (direct tangent to my father’s vinyl-record collection) once said “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.”

We know that rote learning of information for a standardised assessment is not good education. We know that educating for life-skill development and values-based learning both need to be central. In an accelerating world, the purpose of education is shifting focus to life-skills and mindsets.

At Green School we have our community IRESPECT values – integrity, responsibility, equity, sustainability, peace, empathy, community, trust. I also like to think about them as ‘I respect’ statements – I respect you, I respect my community, I respect the natural environment, I respect myself. We have embedded these values in our learning programs and our community interactions. We, individually and collectively, demonstrate that we value our Values. Try it: take any random lesson and create opportunities for students to experience those ‘I Respect’ statements. 

Values-based learning is not the easy path to travel when designing learning programs. You really need to go way out on the ledge, right to the edge, and then jump! I can’t teach values with a worksheet, I can’t assess for values using a multiple choice exam. Nobody ever receives a perfect score for Equity, gets the certification, and graduates to other things. We are all, from an early age and for our whole life, learning values through a process of experience, self-awareness, analysis, reflection and experience. It’s no different at school (why should anything be different at school?). Teachers who structure values-based learning into the classroom (and schools that embed it into how a learning community lives together) provide opportunities for everyone to value values.

Everything has a value and we choose, as individuals and communities, what is of more value. If a school chooses to value sustainability, then it creates learning experiences that demonstrate a commitment to a better future – build a recycling centre, get off the grid, conserve water, travel less, plant more, use less, advocate, be the change. Add these projects to the student experience. Allowing students to value a sustainable future is the learning journey – it’s the pre-read, lesson, review, homework and test. Being present in the moment, paying attention to intention, being self-aware of a human experience that demonstrates value in something you believe in … that is values-based learning. 

What is that you stand for? What Values do you value the most? What values-fingerprints do you want to leave, individually and as a community? Are you willing and able to live by those values? These questions follow us through our lives – even when answered, the questions remain. Schools of the future should be networks that support every member of the community into developing mind and skill-sets to answer these questions, and live the answers.