Core Value statements need to change.
Every time I visit a school, I make a point to look up what their ‘Core Values’ are. For those of you that might not know what core values are they are usually three to five words, or phrases, that encompass the ideals, aspirations and culture that a school focuses on. I love them. I love reading them, thinking about them and exploring what their meanings are with my students.… I also hate them with a passion and think the whole concept needs a makeover.
Here is a small selection of core value statements I pulled directly off a few school websites.
- Respect, Responsibility, and Love of Learning
- Accountability, Integrity, and Respect
- The life of mind, Mature Behavior, Mutual Respect, a Secure and Healthy Environment, and a Balance between Individual and a Caring Community
- Respect for Learning, Respect for Others, Respect for Property
- The Pursuit of Excellence, Lifelong Learning and Success, Community Participation, Fairness, Honesty, Respect, Continuous Improvement, and Reflecting the priorities, beliefs, and morals of our local community.
These are all wonderful statements and aspirations for a school and/or a community of learners to strive towards. They all have common themes that are important to the development of young adults who will eventually (or immediately) contribute in a positive way to our community. Yet they all have problems that my students were quick to point out when we would talk about the meaning of Core Values in our school. I asked them if they thought our school values represented how they felt about being in the building. The answer was a resounding NO. Their responses varied but the sentiments were largely the same.
“They were made by adults.”
“No one asked me what I think is important about school.”
“I don’t even know what it means or how I’m suppose to model it.”
When former students would come and visit my class, I would ask them as well. They echoed similar sentiments…
“They are too abstract. I had no idea what it really meant when I was here.”
“There is nothing really actionable for kids to grasp on to.”
“They don’t reflect the realities of the world we live in.”
“These are old people ideas about how kids should ‘behave’, not how they should learn.”
“They sound like the angry old man down the street wagging their finger at ‘those darn kids’.” (my personal fav)
They were right. Most of the core values I researched and found were all created in the 1990s and have not been revised since. If they weren’t invented back then, they were likely based on some that were. School committees, administrators, parents, and teachers ALL had a hand in creating these core value statements. The students who were directly affected by their implementation within the hallways, though did not have a seat at the table when these values were constructed. It seems unfair and hypocritical of me to be talking about respect and responsibility when I’m not respecting my students to have a voice in the process.
And that’s a shame.
So I chose to ask my students to create values for educating themselves. What would they would like to see in a school that respected them? I revised a list every year for a number of years and eventually came up with a Top 6. They are in no particular order but they are statements invented by students who I collaborated with to tease out the most essential, important aspects of learning for kids.
- Come ready to Ask Questions.
- Give respect to get respect.
- Reflect on the choices we make. That’s learning.
- Look for opportunities to help others make learning fun.
- Try to be better today than you were yesterday.
- When you’re here… Be here.
This is not an all encompassing list. It is the brainchild of many 6th graders over years of teaching and my own philosophy of treating my students not as children, but as someone worthy of my respect and admiration, first. They are all actions students can take each day to help make the school a better place to be… for everyone.
Students, for the most part, want desperately to be taken seriously by adults and it is our responsibility as educators to help that happen. We need to give students more control of their learning and a voice in setting the boundaries of decorum within the halls of their school.