Some teachers may, understandably, hold fears about which specific value and character traits are appropriate for them to teach, but one answer, one powerful answer in my experience, is to intersperse age-appropriately challenging issues into Shared Thinking CircleTime discussions that mainly focus on familiar, day-to-day encounters and experiences… not, in any way, imposing values, but, instead, exploring values and perspectives in an environment of mutual respect – which takes the form of wide-ranging questions accompanied by genuinely interested and respectful listening.
When we enable, empower – actually, groups of young students to think out loud about their shared world, to examine and express their core personal values so that they gain collaborative practice with making more thoughtful, caring, and productive life choices … we, as teachers, are guaranteed more fulfillment as the kind of educators that make deeply important differences in our students’ lives that will reverberate long past their time in our classroom.
Encouraging students to develop their innate capacity to name the world for themselves, to identify the obstacles to their (and other’s) well being, can be beautiful and enriching work …. opening young minds to discovering their own pathways into a wider, shared world in which everyone matters … actually, truly matters.
When young students gain early and consistent experiences of speaking with the possibility of being heard … and also listening with an unforced openness to learning from and growing with others, what kind of humanely enriching foundation can you imagine those kinds of collaborative group experiences would provide for all the students involved? What kind of impact would those experiences make for the future of this very troubled, angry, dangerous and confused world?
HERES’ A REAL LIFE EXERCISE YOU COULD TRY IN YOUR CLASSROOM: To keep things safe and neutral, you could show a picture of a cat’s tail being pulled… and then ask questions that evoke children’s natural inclination and ability to analyze, explain, interpret, empathize, predict, and problem solve.
- Where do you think this cat and this child are? What do you see that makes you think that’s where they are?
- What do you see happening in this picture?
- What is the cat doing?
- What is the kid doing?
- If the cat is making some sounds what kinds of sounds do you think you’d be hearing? Does anyone want to take a chance and try to imitate the sounds you think you’d be hearing from that cat?
- Raise your hand if you’d LIKE to be the cat in this picture.
- Raise your hand if you would NOT like to be the cat in this picture. Why is that your answer?
- How do you think that cat’s tail feels? How does that cat feel?
- Does it look like that kid cares about how that cat feels? Why is that your answer?
- What are some things that might happen next if that kid doesn’t stop pulling on the tail?
NEXT… SHOW A CONTRASTING PICTURE~ without labeling it right or wrong.
You could even ask your students if they’d like to see a picture with a different cat and a different kid…. just leave it at that…. then ask a new set of questions, like:
- What do you see happening in this picture?
- Is the cat trying to get away from that kid? Why do you think that is?
- What kinds of sounds do you think this cat is making? Would anyone like to volunteer imitating the sounds this cat might be making?
- Raise your hand if you’ve ever played with a cat. What ways have you played together?
- Do dogs like to play the same kinds of games as cats? What kinds of games do dogs like to play?
- Why do you think dogs and cats like to play differently? What about people… do some people like to play different ways? Who has an example of different people liking to play different ways? You can even tell a story about you and a friend of yours… or about someone in your family and you liking different ways to play… or liking different clothes … or different food … or different anything you want to tell us about.
- What do you think the world would be like if everyone liked the same things?
- How many of you have a pet at home?
- How do you help to make your pet happy and comfortable in your home?
- How does your pet make you happy?
Unfortunately, most teachers haven’t been trained to design instruction that helps students to explore and discover their own values, which, most often, are universal values… which, when that fact is discovered by students, early enough, results in a kind of belonging and community building that is truly and genuinely beneficial for all… both short and long term.
By not creating those kinds of learning opportunities for our youngest students, our education system is falling woefully short on its potential to positively nurture future generations.