Can schools make students value … anything!

Knowing is not doing” –Dr. Shimi Kang

Question 1: Would you like a Big Mac or Bean & avocado salad?
I teach teenagers and you’d probably guess successfully which is the more common answer my students give to this simple choice.

Question 2: Which is better for your body and brain?
I can confirm from experience (I recently asked an assembly of 350) that a majority of teenagers agree on the answer to question 2. I’ll give you a hint … it’s not how they answered question 1.

Information is powerless without values

Experiences at school and home normally ensure that by the time you’re a teenager, you have been given clear information on which foods are healthier, but information alone is not enough … it’s still often a trip to McDonald’s over a salad bar. To receive a lesson or even carry out a project at school on healthy living, rarely succeeds in changing behaviour for the majority. Habits are driven by incentives and they in-turn are shaped by what we value at any moment. For example, I value my body more at the age of 40 than I did at 16, or even 30, because as it slowly falls apart, I am incentivised to use the information I already knew at 16, to prevent further decay in my limbs and organs. Only now I value something do the incentives work to change my daily behaviour.

Children know about but do they value the environment?

In the New Zealand national curriculum it clearly states core values to encourage in young people as: Excellence; Innovation, inquiry, and curiosity; Diversity; Equity; Community and participation; Ecological sustainability; Integrity; Respect. I was discussing these with an experienced  geography teacher and she made what I would call a common mistake: “oh yes, Ecological sustainability, we do that in geography.” In fact, the environment is mentioned nine times in the NZ national curriculum but when teachers discuss how a topic is taught, it always highlights to me a serious lacking in schools’ ability to develop genuine values in young people. Knowing is not doing and so we need to take a look at why the majority of students fail to act day-to-day on the sort of values listed above. [image credit]

We need new school structures to develop values

Most schools need to drastically alter their approach to designing the school day, if they are ever to achieve a consensus amongst students that there is genuine value in such things as Ecological sustainability. Enough value & incentive that it changes daily decisions and habits, but also gives incentive to make real change in the world. This can’t be done unless the timetable for the school day shows direct recognition of this value, and ensures teachers have ecological sustainability within the foundation of nearly all activity and learning. If a school wants to develop genuine values in anything, it will have to challenge all the traditional school structures that were designed to only recognise the importance of information and not values.

Lessons, classes, and subjects all help divide the world into manageable chunks but in doing so, make everything harder to genuinely value. If the world needs the next generations to all have habits and develop projects to help solve our serious environmental issues, then the role of education is to create schools truely designed to recognise these values and not simply around assumptions and old routines related to the issuing of information.

Tweet: “”If schools want students to develop values, the school day needs to start valuing each student” – @EduWells – Click to Tweet


Author: Richard Wells
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of  The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers.