Teachers and students can work together to find shared values for the learning environment and build common behavior expectations. This strategy guides teachers through a process for collaborating with students to communicate what is important in the learning community and creating a set of classroom norms that will amplify the students' and teacher's shared values. By giving students a voice in the development of norm, teachers can build shared ownership of the learning environment.
Start with a class discussion about core values. You may use a format similar to the one below:
Define "core values" for your students. Core values are the 3-5 characteristics that define who we are. They are like our sacred truths. No matter what situation we are in, core values do not change, and they always guide our decision-making.
Ask students: What might happen if we do not think about and define our core values? Some possible responses could include:
We might lose our direction in life because we have not thought about what drives us.
We might make decisions that do not reflect who we really are or who we want to be because we are not acting from our personal values
Tell students that, as a class, we are taking time to define our shared values so that we can all learn and grow in a way that reflects who we want to be. This will allow us to show up for each other in a way that builds community and allows everyone to feel respected and loved.
Share a list of values words with students and take them through a process to prioritize the top 3-5 values for the class. You might consider this process:
Individually, have students:
Write down all the values that resonate with them from the list.
Group all the words together in 4-5 categories
Choose the ONE word from each category that best represents the entire grouping of words.
The 4-5 words left are individual students' core values.
After identifying individual core values, place students in groups of 3-4. In the groups, have students complete steps 2-4 to identify their groups' core values.
After identifying the core values of the groups, engage the class in a whole group discussion to complete steps 2-4. The 4-5 words left are the class' core values.
Write 1-2 commitments for each class core value. The commitments should be aligned to the core value and serve to amplify this value in the learning environment.
For example, if the class decides that "consistency and accountability" are core values, a corresponding teacher commitment might be, "I will consistently hold each student accountable to the same academic and behavioral standards. These standards should prepare students for success in college and life beyond. I commit to holding each student accountable in a way that maintains dignity and respects privacy for each student."
In a whole class discussion, have students craft 1-2 commitments for each class core value. As with the teacher commitments, student commitments should be aligned to the core value.
For example, if the class decides that "consistency and accountability" are shared values, a corresponding student commitment might be, "We will consistently do our best to meet the expectations of our community. If we are struggling to meet those expectations, we will ask for help and work to make sure that our challenges do not interrupt instruction."
When the document is complete, students and teachers will sign the commitments, creating a contract of commitments that can be revisited and used like classroom norms.
At least once weekly, students and teachers give each other affirming and adjusting feedback to one another. Feedback should be grounded in core values and commitments from the contract. Some ways to get feedback include:
A class meeting that focuses on one value that the class is working to improve upon.
Giving students an online survey to collect their feedback from the week.
Providing students with a time to give each other shout-outs for exemplifying the classroom commitments.
Classrooms in a blended or distance learning environment may lack the community feel that teachers and students build naturally in traditional classroom settings. However, creating shared classroom values in blended and distance learning classrooms is vital in building shared norms that help students find ownership and belonging in virtual classroom settings.
Because creating classroom values should be done in a collaborative way, consider having a synchronous (live) classroom discussion about values using Zoom, Google Meet, or the platform your school regularly.
As you would in any class discussion, explain “core values” to your students. Use the questions listed in the strategy to guide your discussion.
Start a document on which you list a few examples of “core values” to activate your students’ thinking.
Allow students to add to your document by verbally sharing or adding ideas to the chat box.
Type answers that your students share, or copy and paste from the chat box.
Help students narrow the list to discover classroom values.
Each student should write their top values on their own paper.
Have students complete their final narrow list individually and then in small groups.
In the whole group setting, allow students time to group their values under one word from their list. They should have 4 or 5 individual values.
Allow students time in small groups using the breakout room feature in Zoom or Google Meet. They will repeat the narrowing process by sharing their individual values and grouping those values again as a small group.
Reconvene students in the large group and allow each group to share the top value from their small group. Streamline the list if there are duplicates. These will become the classroom values.
In the whole group, guide students in writing 1-2 commitments for the classroom values.
Create a classroom norms document and share it with students. Refer to it often as you work with students and as they collaborate with each other on future assignments.
Consider spending an entire class exploring the definition of core values and why it's important to reflect on them. If students have never engaged in this process of inward reflection, it may be difficult for them to dive right into the activity. Share a short video or story about someone who took time to define their core values or sacred truths, then made a change because of them. Students can journal, create a piece of art, or even make a video reflecting on how knowing your core values helps you impact the world in positive ways.
The Nike Commercial with Justin Gallegos in the resource section below is an accessible example of someone who has defined his core values and has found a way to show up in the world that reflects those values.
The Nike Commercial with Maynor de Leon in the resource section below is another accessible example of someone who has defined his core values and shows up according to them.
The article in the resource section below shares the core values of five very successful companies. Students might read the core values and reflect on how defining these pulled teams together to make these companies so successful.
In developing this strategy, the resources linked below were consulted.