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We might think that with so much division and discord in today’s world there are no universally shared values. Certainly, the impression left by much of the news leads us to think it’s impossible that everyone could agree on a set of core values. We might even wonder if everything is morally relative.


We may also think that it is too risky to deal with values in a public education setting because not everyone will ascribe to what we may teach, nurture, and reinforce. There are differing views on many aspects and elements of our society, especially what we value and teach.


Yet, extensive research by Rushworth Kidder and others has established that there exist at least five core values we consistently support regardless of political perspective, community size, voting history, gender, education, region, and other factors. In fact, we share these values worldwide. Tested hundreds of times in dozens of countries, some form of these five values surfaced consistently regardless of culture, race, socio-economic status, education level, or other demographic element.


The five core values we share:


  • Honesty
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Compassion


The exact terms people choose to describe these values may vary. As examples, integrity might be used in place of honesty, love in place of compassion, and promise-keeping in place of responsibility. Importantly, the five core values, whatever form, remain consistent across groups, communities, and countries.


These values also may enjoy differing levels of priority among diverse groups. It is possible for these values to be held tightly within a family, close circle of friends, and a community, but not extend to include interaction with the wider world.


Nevertheless, we can teach, nurture, and reinforce in students these core values. We can teach the value of honesty, even when something less would be easier and more convenient. We can teach what it means to be respectful of others and to have respect for oneself. We can teach that promise-keeping and follow-through are important behaviors. We can help students to understand what fairness is and why being fair is important in relationships, communities, and society. We can teach students that caring for others, reaching out to help those less fortunate, and seeing others as worthy people are important attitudes to adopt and important behaviors to practice even if they come from another culture, socio-economic background, or other life circumstance.


Our important values reflect fundamental differences in what we view as right/wrong and good/evil. Also, our values are as much aspirational as normative. They provide a standard for behavior to which we all aspire even though we may not practice them as consistently as we desire. We can remind students that sometimes we fall short, but that does not necessarily make us bad people. We need to sincerely apologize if our actions have hurt someone and then commit to do better in the future.


We also can teach and coach the value and importance of extending these core values beyond those with whom we commonly associate and see as like us. When we practice these values widely and consistently, trust and understanding grow. Our class, school, community, and nation become stronger.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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