Stephanie Farrall ‘Values: Challenges for Educators’

Stephanie was co-principal of The Friends School Hobart when she gave this paper to the World Education Federation. We are on a life journey searching for the meaning of God in our own lives and encouraging those around us in their journey

 Challenges for educators in helping students to work out values to which they can commit themselves

Challenge 1. To make explicit the values of the school

…Although Quakers are well known for their commitment to working for peace and social justice and against discrimination of any form, these values have not been prescribed, but are seen as a response to the belief that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone. In Quakerism the particular form of each person’s reponse is not dictated: each person needs to work this out in accordance with the ‘inner light’, with their ‘conscience’, seeking to understand what their role is in relation to the experience of the community of Friends. This balance between the individual and the community is very important. Quakerism does not mean rampant individuality or an indulgent tolerance, as some people have interpreted it. The individual’s response is carefully tested against the experience of the community.

The Quaker approach to values is expressed by the choice of words Advices and Queries in the title of the work which is the closest Quakers have to setting down ethical doctrines. The tone of Advices and Queries is very well caught in the following words to introduce an early version, in 1656: Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.

 PURPOSE AND CONCERNS

Friends’ is a co-educational Quaker School based on fundamental values such as the intrinsic worth of each person, the recognition of ‘that of God’ in everyone, the desirability of simplicity, and the need to establish peace and justice. We are concerned for the academic, cultural, physical, social and spiritual development of each person in our care. We seek to help our students grow into men and women able to think clearly and make decisions for themselves but sensitive to the needs of others, strong in service to the community and with an international perspective. We believe that these aims can best be achieved with the active support of all members of our School community….

Quakers obviously do not have a monopoly on values, but the Purpose and Concerns statement focuses on the values which Quakers have held to be central, in their testimony of simplicity, their testimony against war and their work for reconciliation and for human rights for everyone, regardless of race, gender, age or creed. The statement also draws attention to the source of Quakers’ concern for the establishment of peace and justice, in their belief that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone, a reminder of the spiritual basis for values and actions……

Challenge 2. To make it clear that the values statement is not set in concrete.

Challenge 3. To continue to clarify the values of the school

…i The intrinsic worth of each person; ‘that of God’ in every person

ii Simplicity

iii Peace and justice

iv Being sensitive to the needs of others

v Service to others; ‘No one is born to self alone’

vi International perspective

(in addition) To ensure that the human and spiritual values that are part of the School’s heritage are practiced in a meaningful way….

We are reminded too of the need to ensure that activities are directly relevant to student and ‘derive from things that are important in their lives’

…The (staff seminar) groups looking at simplicity, for example, picked up some of the deeper meanings simplicity has traditionally held for Quakers, going beyond the surface matter of dress and speech.

Simplicity was understood as more inward, an attitude of mind; linked with integrity and honesty, with directness in dealing with others, so that relationships are open, friendly, respectful. It also involves having a clear focus and removing unnecessary complications – ‘removal of cumber’ – so that we can concentrate on what is most important. This aspect spoke particularly strongly to teachers.

Challenge 4. To put these values into practice

This is one of the biggest challenges. Students are quick to pick up on gaps (or perceived gaps) between stated values and practice and to cry ‘hypocracy!’..

Don’t talk about it, do things which illuminate it

The best way to develop the value of service is to undertake some service, not to rely on discussion alone

We need to show that value in what we do rather than to claim it

…Everything we do and write and say conveys the values of our schools; through the ‘hidden curriculum’, the way we treat each other and speak to each other; and through all the formal aspects of school, its policies and practices, the formal curriculum, the co-curriculum, the pastoral care structure, the way the school is administered, through the teaching methods which are emphasised, and through the activities of the school.

…Are the connections between these policies and practices on the one hand, and the school’s values statement on the other hand made sufficiently clear and explicit to students, as well as the other members of the school community?

Do the school’s curriculum statements reflect the values of the school?

Are subjects we consider important in values education given a place in the curriculum which reflects their significance? …

What choices are available for students? Do they feel they have a voice in choosing subjects?

Do teaching methods reflect the values of the school?

What emphasis, for example, is given to cooperative learning?

What opportunities are there for students to work on negotiated studies?

What kinds of interactions do teachers have with students in each class?

Are there opportunities for staff to reflect on how they teach and reflect on how teaching methods are related to values? Is appropriate professional development available in this area?

What does the administrative style of the school say about the values of the school?

Do staff, and also student, and parents feel that they can make suggestions and that these will be taken seriously?

5. To make explicit the links between the School’s vales and practice

Communication obviously plays a crucial role in making students and members of the community more aware of the links between the school’s values statement and the practices of the School. The challenge is to find fresh and appropriate ways of making the connections clear and explicit.

Challenge 6. To make these values meaningful to students; of value to them in working out their own values.

To build on what is within each student: to confirm, nurture what is already there

To hope students grapple with values, connect, engage actively with values, examine, question and redefine values in order to arrive at a working set of values to which they can commit themselves.

Britain Yearly Meeting Advices & Queries: How do you share your deepest beliefs with children and young people, while leaving them free to develop as the Spirit of God may lead them? Do you invite them to share their insights with you? Are you ready both to learn from them an d to accept your responsibilities towards them?

Martin Buber said that ‘the greatest thing’ that anyone can do for another ‘was to confirm the deepest thing he has within him.’ Douglas Steere sees this as the special gift a teacher can give a student:

How many men and women can point back to a teacher who saw and believed in them when they neither saw nor believed in this deepest thing in themselves, and can witness to its decisiveness in their own self-discovery and subsequent life quest? The teacher didn’t put the deepest thing there. It was there already. But he confirmed it. (1985, pp 34-5)

It involves helping the student develop discernment; to find a balance between ‘hold(ing) fast to that which is good’ and being open to fresh insights.

It involves giving students the tools with which to examine and critically evaluate different sets of values in order to work out their own values, and to be able to give reasons for their choice.

…Negotiating and formulating rules and codes of behaviour also play a role: students learn to think clearly and critically and to become aware of wider issues through negotiating class rules, discussing ‘Rights and Responsibilities’ and working on committees together with staff and parents to formulate school guidelines and practices like the Drug Policy.

Challenge 7. To encourage students to act on their beliefs.

Challenge 8.   To communicate the message that engaging with values is part of a life-long process for all of us, of continual learning, examining, testing out, redefining and commitment.

This is perhaps the most important challenge in the complex series of challenges we face as educators in helping students to identify values and assume responsibility for values which will enable them to lead purposeful and meaningful lives.

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(précis by Katherine Purnell)