On Friday 20th October I was thrilled to attend the first Values-based Education Conference in London alongside other VbE practitioners from all over the country. The event was hosted by the wonderful Sue Webb (and I speak as a privileged coachee) and provided a jam – packed day of thought provoking presentations, reflective discussion and opportunities to network and philosophise with like- minded folk.
The presentations from the key speakers were beautifully inspiring! Passionate teachers and leaders shared their experiences of how a VB culture had impacted on their staff and pupils. We discussed the effectiveness of coaching, (in particular, emotion coaching) mindfulness, and ways which schools were incorporating the principles of values education into their policies, practices and philosophy. The crowded room teemed with people who all believed that educating children in values was the bed-rock to success in their schools, and discussion in-between the presentations centered around well-being, mental health and fostering life –skills in our pupils.
Whilst there was much to take away, the following ideas really struck chords with me.
Holistic Personal Well-Being Curriculum
Cori Bateman from Chantry Primary School shared her version of a PWB Curriculum, which encompassed explicit values teaching, reflection and mindfulness, understanding mental health, PSHCE and sex and relationships education, e-safety and health and fitness. This curriculum enabled values to permeate all areas of school life, and daily routines, such as mindfulness and reflection ensured that the children were ready for learning at every opportunity. In every aspect of learning, the children were connecting their work to their values, developing what Dr Neil Hawkes refers to as their ‘inner curriculum’ – the stuff that you want to nourish your children with to enable them to grow and flourish. This reinforced for me, the need to develop a curriculum and pedagogy that promotes the development of resilience, reflectiveness and empathy.
The inspirational Dr Neil Hawkes shared with us the history behind VbE and how the movement developed following his research project in 1993, when he examined the impact of explicitly teaching values on the quality of primary education. His research found that:
when a school seriously develops the moral/spiritual aspects of the curriculum – that is those that positively contribute to the inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions of the pupil, the school community becomes more reflective and harmonious. Reflection, based on deepening understanding of a set of positive values, encourages pupils to take greater personal responsibility for their learning and behaviour.
And there we go – if it impacts on behaviour, academic attainment and develops pupils’ moral purpose, then we can wholeheartedly board the VbE train.
Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the research that evidences the impact of mindfulness on the brain. Nearly every presenter at the conference made reference to this reflective and calming practice. Richard Jenkins articulated the effect that mindful exercise had on his pupils, better preparing them for lessons and creating a focused environment for learning. A couple of times during the day we had opportunities to practice mindfulness, and as a novice, I felt the impact within my first few breaths. Imagine how two minutes of mindfulness could ground a class of children after a windy playtime! I’ll be swapping the 2 minutes it takes to write the learning objective to 2 minutes of evidence based practice – I know staff would benefit from this too!
Living Your Values
The Hopeful Headteacher, the amazing Hannah Wilson, spoke passionately about how she recruited her leadership and staff team based on shared values and vision. She had confidence that her whole team were aligned and shared some of the excellent practice happening in her new school. She reiterated the importance of living, not just laminating the values (she threatened to have this tattooed on her body!) and of developing a shared ethical vocabulary. Hannah Holegate also spoke with great enthusiasm about how her pupils had designed fun characters linked to the school’s values and how they not only promoted their core value terminology, but sought out the behaviour that evidenced the value: I am empathetic, therefore I show I care. VbE schools clearly infuse the philosophy of VbE into every aspect of school life, from their curriculum and CPD programmes to attitudes to education and how they interact with the wider community. This is what, in my opinion, makes them far superior to other schools.
From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values – Dr Neil Hawkes
World Happiness Report – Dr. Richard Davidson and Brianna Schulyer
Take away menu:
Class Dojo Mindful apps and videos
Resilience Surveys and Integrity reports
Values journals for staff and pupils
Pupil led mini-values conference
Headteachers asking transparently, ‘what can I do better?’