Using Values in the Classroom
What’s the difference between A and B in the following statements?
A: Raise your hand if you want to talk in class.
B: Every student needs a chance to contribute and be heard because every voice matters.
A: No talking in the hallways.
B: We respect others’ learning time by being quiet in the hallways.
You probably have a few observations already.
The A versions are simple prescriptions, or rules for keeping in a teacher’s good graces.
If Danny shouts out an answer in math or belts out a chorus of “Let it Go” on the way to Miss Moffat’s science class, we can expect that Danny will bear some consequences for flouting the rules. Maybe he stays in from recess that day. In Danny’s mind, he might not make the link between his impulsive actions and how they affect others, though that’s the underlying reason those rules were created.
The B versions, on the other hand, are statements of values that guide expected behaviors. They provide the reason for behaving a specific way that is tied to an overarching value.
Danny’s same behavior in a classroom that observes this method may be met with a reminder of the classroom’s values: “Is everybody getting a chance to answer questions? I see quite a few hands from students who want to share their ideas.” Or “Mr. Brown’s class is trying to take a test. How do we show respect for his students?”
Many teachers adopt the B method because they know it gives students a deeper sense of their responsibility to the school community. They know that when students understand why there are guidelines for everyone’s behavior, instead of just arbitrary rules, they are more likely to internalize those values.
Using Values at Home
Now, let’s look at similar comparisons in home life. I’ll bet by now you can readily see the differences in these parental statements:
A: Clean up that mess in the kitchen, or you can’t watch TV.
B: We respect each other by cleaning up after ourselves.
A: Walk the dog now, or you can’t go to your friend’s house later.
B: We all contribute to taking care of our pets because we are all responsible for our pets’ well being.
OK, don’t pack your bags; this is not a guilt trip. Every harried parent has uttered statements like the A versions above, right? The point here is to help us all be mindful of the differences between a directive/consequence (A versions) and a statement of the deeper value that a behavior exemplifies (B versions). Values based parenting emphasizes the latter approach.
Think of the typical directives you may give your child:
- Don’t hit your sister!
- Don’t leave your clothes on the floor!
- Put that phone down!
- Don’t interrupt me!
- Don’t lose your jacket again!
- Watch your language!
What are the values that underlie those statements? We could probably sum it up by saying:
We show care and respect to others by using civil words when we have conflicts, by taking responsibility for our possessions, and by taking turns speaking and listening to each other.
Teaching children by reminding them of the reasons for behaving in specific ways and the connection to the values we want them to embrace gives kids a way to understand their personal responsibility to their family, friends, and neighbors.
It’s easy to get hyper-focused on whose turn it is to feed the cats or empty the litter box. By bringing the discussion back to the guiding values those tasks represent (empathy, responsibility, kindness), we can help our kids build a strong foundation for making good decisions.
A Parting Thought
A teen faced with an opportunity to cheat on a test may think: “I don’t want to get caught. My folks would probably take away my phone.” Or “Honesty is more important than a grade to me. It just wouldn’t feel good to cheat.” Which framework would you prefer your child to use?
When parents emphasize values such as respect, responsibility, integrity, and empathy it creates a guidepost for every decision: “Is this consistent with what I value?”
This article originally appeared on the BeyondBooks website. Click here for additional information.
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