Teaching in Mind

Helping Teachers Mindfully Transform Education

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The Teaching in Mind website has been refocused on how the unconscious beliefs and values of teachers influence the education of our children. Since the 2nd edition of Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education was published in 2010, the lives of teachers and students have undergone major changes. To this end, our goal is to publish an updated edition of Teaching in Mind by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the key ideas about the effects of teacher beliefs can still be found here. New articles on the topic will be added as they are completed.

Other Articles

Articles about learning and assessment, historic foundations of education, current issues in education, and transforming education that previously appeared on this site can now be found at our sister site, Learning in Mind.

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Values

"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."
~ Roy Disney

What are Values?

V

alues are principles, qualities, or objects that a person perceives as having intrinsic worth. Every individual has a personal hierarchy of values that may include success, wealth or monetary comfort, love/companionship, a sense of accomplishment or achievement, and of course, survival. The choices we make reflect what we value the most at a particular point in time.

For example, when a teacher spends time after school to help a student, he may feel he has sacrificed his own needs to the needs of the student. At the same time, he is likely to have gained something for himself—perhaps a heightened sense of self-worth, or the good feelings that come with the student's gratitude. Because values are so instrumental in influencing a person's behaviors and choices, they are worthy of exploration.

When people possess what they value, they are contented. If they are deprived of what they value, they feel frustration or dissatisfaction. Humans, therefore, unconsciously behave in ways that move them toward what they value, or away from anything counter to that value.

Beliefs support and reflect our values. For example, if Jake believes studying harder produces better grades, he is motivated to study harder. Why? Because he also believes getting better grades is a way to achieve success. Success is something Jake values. Through his beliefs, he has equated getting good grades with becoming successful. Is there actually a cause-effect relationship between high grades in school and success? That depends on how one defines success, but the lives of such people as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Grandma Moses, and Thomas Edison attest to the fact that it is not always true. However, what matters is what Jake believes and how those beliefs support his values.

It's often easier to identify the hierarchy of a person's values by observing her behavior than by what she says she values. For example, Sheila says she values higher-level thinking skills. Yet her tests rarely require students to do anything more than simple recall or recognition—skills that machine-graded multiple-choice questions can easily test.

This doesn't mean Sheila is lying. She simply has another value of which she is unaware—perhaps time to spend with her family. Taking the time to write higher-level questions and grade essay tests that assess higher-level thinking would cut into her family time. She fails to notice that she's not "walking her talk" because she believes a good teacher values higher-level thinking skills and Sheila perceives herself as a good teacher. Complicated, isn't it?

Conflicted Values

T

eachers become frustrated when outside pressures force them to choose one value at the expense of another. Raymond believes students learn most effectively in a stimulating and varied classroom environment. In his ideal classroom, individual students are actively engaged in activities appropriate to their interests, abilities, and preferred cognitive processes. They are motivated and excited about learning. Creating that learning environment gives Raymond a tremendous sense of accomplishment (value 1). Because of his regard for individual students, his students like and respect him (value 2). Raymond's beliefs and values march hand-in-hand and he feels good about himself and his job.

Along comes an in-service day. A well-known educational speaker gives a "motivational" talk embracing all of the behaviors in which Raymond already engages. Wow! An expert has validated his beliefs and values. Raymond is elated!

At the end of the workshop, the principal makes a brief announcement. The State has mandated a battery of tests that will assess student knowledge of the standards they have adopted. Student scores on the tests will influence teacher evaluations. Oh, oh! Conflict of values!

In addition to valuing a sense of accomplishment and the good will of the students, Raymond values eating and keeping a roof over his head—survival! Raymond's focus is more on in-depth understanding than on the acquisition of testable facts. If he continues to teach in his typical way, the students may not "learn" all of the specific bits of information covered by the standards and included in the tests. Their test scores will suffer. Raymond's evaluation will go down, negatively influencing his professional future.

On the other hand, if Raymond changes the way he's teaching, he will lose the respect of the students. Worse, according to his belief system, he will fail to provide the most effective learning environment, so his self-concept suffers. Raymond's sense of accomplishment disappears.

At this point, whatever decision Raymond makes must deprive him of one or more of the things he values. Is it any wonder he feels conflicted—less than satisfied with whatever decision he makes?

Teachers are more and more often confronted with situations that threaten their sense of self-respect—an important value for most people. Many teachers have experienced similar situations that result in frustration, stress, and dissatisfaction, particularly today when so much decision-making power has been taken from teachers. Understanding where these conflicts in values and beliefs lie is the first step in resolving them.

Education as Inculturation

P

eople often speak of "cultural" or "societal" values. Society and culture are constructs—not actual entities. Society is a group of individual people. The culture of a school is the set of complex relationships between and among the people in the school—the students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, members of the school board, and the community. Each teacher within that culture has personal values, but it's difficult to avoid being pressured into values many others in the immediate environment possess.

One need only read a few of the arguments for tougher standards to recognize the values that are reinforced in the minds of school personnel and ultimately, the students. Here, for example, is the first part of the mission statement of the United States Department of Education:

"ED's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access."[Emphasis added]"1

No mention is made of students developing their unique potential or being excited about learning. No mention is made of students developing personal responsibility, or becoming concerned, thoughtful, and involved citizens. No mention is made of the psychological and moral development of the student. The terms student achievement, educational excellence, and equal access are too vague to be effectively implemented. Preparation for global competitiveness (job training and the improvement of the economy) are the values named and thus, the values taught. (Note also that the U.S. Department of Education is still focused on "competetiveness" in an era where collaboration and cooperation have become highly valued business practices.)

Cultural values must be inferred based on behaviors. Even if a list of cultural values existed, each teacher would possess his or her own take on those values. In every action, every decision, every interaction with students, teachers are teaching values. Values are part of the learned and the implicit curriculum. Isn't it time for educators to at least identify the fundamental values they hold, and therefore, teach?

[Note: Portions of this article were excerpted from Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education where a much more extensive discussion of the role of institutional and individual values and beliefs can be found in chapter 3.


References

  1. http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/mission/mission.html

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New!

The Teaching in Mind website has been refocused on how the unconscious beliefs and values of teachers influence the education of our children. Since the 2nd edition of Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education was published in 2010, the lives of teachers and students have undergone major changes. To this end, our goal is to publish an updated edition of Teaching in Mind by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the key ideas about the effects of teacher beliefs can still be found here. New articles on the topic will be added as they are completed.


Other Articles

Articles about learning and assessment, historic foundations of education, current issues in education, and transforming education that previously appeared on this site can now be found at our sister site, Learning in Mind.

Email Updates

Want to be notified when the latest articles and/or information is added?

Sign up for Email Updates