Learning to learn values

For quite a few months, I have been dwelling on this thought on how to teach values to children (through ILP's MDLS program we work a lot with High school children and hence that was the focus area). No, I am not an epitome of good values which gives me the right to teach someone values (by the way, no one is an epitome of values and nobody should teach values and I will come to that in a bit), but I couldn't think of an alternate word for it back when I was thinking about it. I knew values were not about good or bad or right or wrong and I had my own perspective on it, but somehow, it was neither topic enough to engage children nor was it a universal thought... it was just my take on life. I struggled with the thought of how to explain honesty, respect, care, jealously etc. to children when I wasn't sure myself of what those values absolutely meant. Even in those rare occasions, when I did try, my attempts at these topics ended up being more of a discourse than any kind of learning.

This was until I attended the workshop from VSET (Vishwa Seva Educational Trust), a not-for-profit organization promoting "LivingValues" the awareness of one's connect with society and nature. It was an enlightening session, not just because of what was learnt through the facilitator of the session, but also because of the learning from the other participants. That nailed the concept into my head. You cannot teach values, you can only help people become aware of what is latent within them. It was a wonderful display of what facilitation can do for a topic like this. It helped me understand that there is no one way of looking at values and ones views are neither right nor wrong. A given topic can be looked at in 10 different ways and all those ways are right.

The workshop covered 4 ways of teaching, i.e. one way talking from the presenter, Group discussion conducted by the presenter, Questioning as a tool by the presenter and finally using tools such as a story to set the context and then using questions to facilitate discussion on values. As we went through each method, it became evident that the 4th method, where we use story or a real life incident as a tool to set the context and then start the facilitation was a better method. The most important word to remember is here is facilitation. English dictionary defines facilitation as "The state of being made easy or easier", so facilitation is not about expressing/enforcing your opinion, but it is all about making it easy for people to express themselves and become aware. It was a beautiful feeling when this thought sunk in. My prejudice, which made me feel that I need to have a deeper view of values, deeper view of life akin to Buddha before I "preach" values, vanished. I did not have to know anything, I did not have to have an opinion too on these topics as all that was required was the intent to explore, intent to be non-judgemental, intent to not preach, intent to question and an intent to learn. While not as easy as it sounds, it removed a big barrier for me as I did not have to know what was absolutely right or wrong to facilitate learning of values.

The group that attended the session was amazing and so were the facilitators from VSET. The participants ranged from 16 years to 40+ year olds. Wisdom and experiences flowed all over. I noted down multiple points (listed below) expressed by particpants , which are like gems of facilitations. These are thoughts which talk about what facilitation should be when exploring values. 

At ILP we are constantly looking at learning from all the good work being done around us and implementing it into our projects where relevant, so that we don't have to reinvent the wheel. Social responsibility is not a competition, it is a journey best pursued together. The ecosystem of sharing is always more valuable than any individual system.

We are eagerly waiting for the schools to reopen after summer vacation :), so that we can start our journey of, learning to learn values. 

Pearls of wisdom from the participants on facilitation of Values

  • You can't teach values. You can only enable awareness of values.
  • Learning is uncertain, it can happen anytime. Allow for learning to happen, don't expect learning to happen
  • Goodness/Values are latent. It is not about preaching what is right, it is about enabling awareness
  • Remember that you are there to teach them to think and not to teach them what 'you' think.
  • Action drives words and not vice versa. Honesty as an action always existed; the word got formed much much later. So, don't get stuck on words, focus on the action
  • You have one rupee and I have one rupee. If I give you my one rupee and I take yours, I will still be left with 1 rupee. I have a perspective and you yours. I will give you my perspective and I will take yours. Now I have 2 perspectives
  • Don't use adjectives while describing anything. Adjectives are your prejudice/your opinion about the topic. Ex, poor farmer, rich couple, young couple etc. Though they are facts, the story you plan to say, might not change if the adjective is removed.
  • Don't go with an agenda and a plan in mind. A pre-planned agenda is directional and will drive the discussion in one way and you will lose all the insights that might come from others
  • When someone is difficult in the session or asking difficult questions, don't take it personally. Don't react, but find a way to question back, why the person thinks so
  • Always talk about positive examples and not negative. For ex: Instead of saying, give me examples where you did something wrong, we can ask, give me examples where you did something good.
  • Share non-opinionated stories -> share facts and not your feelings
  • Facilitate children to think
  • Be sensitive - No reference to fat/thin/colour/religion/parent examples (there might be orphans)
  • Come to learn and not to teach
  • Use real life incidents as much as possible. Children connect to real life incidents
  • Observe what is happening around you. You will get a lot of topics to talk about. There are a lot of great things happening around you
  • Be interested to spend time with children
  • Facilitation is not one side talk. It is involving everyone in a healthy discussion and enabling people to think. So, remember the 10:90 rule. You should talk only 10% of your time and 90% time should be making others talk
  • Once in a while, don't end the story that you use as your tool. Ask children to come up with possible endings. It will be interesting to see how each child ends it
  • Never tell stories where you (the facilitator) is the hero
  • Keep the conversation simple and creative.
  • Children (and grownups), remember things when there are emotions attached to it. Bring emotions naturally into the facilitation
  • Never pass on your biases/opinion to the discussion. Never take side to any view. Don't be over appreciative of one view as compared to another
  • Don't judge or provide feedback on responses
  • Don't conclude any topic. Only summarize the thoughts that were expressed by children
  • You can also participate in the discussion, but best to refrain from it. Children look at you as a teacher and your opinion can overwrite their thinking process. Worst case if you have to participate, talk about situations from your experience, where you have learnt something
  • Humour is an awesome thing to add now and then to keep the class interested and focussed
  • When you want to discuss a topic, try not to name the topic. Telling children that you are talking about honesty will take away the other values that they might see in a story
  • Involve everyone. Don't focus on one child or few children.