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An Action-Based Model to Help Students Embody Core Values

By Andrew Ranson
An Action-Based Model to Help Students Embody Core Values

International schools everywhere are seeking ways to help their students live the core values of the mission statements that define school communities. One of the inherent challenges we face is that mission statements are by nature lofty, aspirational, and abstract. The very qualities that make a great mission statement can be difficult for a student to grasp and bring into her daily life. Five years ago, in our work as coaches of the high school girls’ volleyball team at the American International School Chennai (AISC), my colleague Ryan McFarland and I began an experiment. In order to operationalize our school’s values, we created a recognition system based on the AISC mission statement. With a clear goal in mind, we jumped into something new, thinking that it would be exciting to try to create a conversation to support bigger concepts than are traditionally afforded in high school team sports. The goal was clear: we wanted an end-of-season experience that honored the intentional demonstration of our school’s “4Cs”: Courage, Compassion, Creativity, and Confidence. Instead of the Most Improved Award and the Most Valuable Player, there would be an award for each of the 4Cs at the final team banquet. In order to get to that point, the players on the team would have to understand what those concepts meant within the framework of playing volleyball together. The young women on the team needed to see the concepts in action, have time to process what they saw, and have the opportunity to practice recognizing the values in one another. The plan was to schedule time on the same day each week for the players to recognize the demonstration of these values in one another. At the end of the first week, we recognized the first four players who demonstrated those values. We described the examples we saw and explained how they corresponded to the concepts we were highlighting. To bring an element of tangibility to the process, Ryan made one bracelet for each of the 4Cs out of recycled volleyballs, which we distributed. One week later, those four players passed the bracelets on to four new players, acknowledging them for their demonstration of the 4Cs. Week after week, the players drove this ceremony and bridged the big concepts by identifying specific actions they witnessed in each other during practice and matches. In this ongoing dialogue, all players were equal; neither athleticism nor experience in the sport dictated the development or recognition of Courage, Compassion, Creativity, and Confidence. At the conclusion of the season, each of the players filled out two surveys. Using Google Form, players nominated one teammate for each of the season-long 4C recognitions. A nomination included a name and a rationale. In the second survey, players provided data about how the recognition system impacted their thinking about the 4Cs. In the surveys—a practice we have continued in successive years—the players consistently reported that having the space to talk about the 4Cs in volleyball helped them puzzle through what the concepts meant so that they were able to transfer that understanding to their work in other parts of their school experience. In 2016, I co-wrote an article for internal publication about our 4Cs process with the team’s co-captains. One of those co-captains, Kavya, described her experience with the 4Cs process this way: “One of the challenges of our mission outside of volleyball is that the conversations about the 4Cs come up randomly. Without context, they don’t have any meaning. In volleyball, they were always around us, and we knew that there was a time each week to talk about them specifically. Talking about my teammates and listening to my teammates talk about me made the 4Cs significant. The long-term conversations we had as a team gave me a better understanding of our mission statement and how it could be applied to volleyball and beyond.” The other co-captain, Nithya, explained: “Before volleyball, for example, creativity [at school] was only talked about in the arts, and courage was always associated with Discover India trips. Now I recognize that these concepts can be in all parts of our lives. Seeing the 4Cs in volleyball helped me define the 4Cs in my own perspective and gave them more meaning to me.” In the years since we started, each individual on each team has shared through the surveys, and often in person, that they experience more confidence in other parts of their school and non-school lives as a result of these ongoing conversations. These consistent responses confirmed that our experiment resulted in a powerful model with applications beyond interscholastic sports. There’s a growing movement in international schools to recognize student achievement in relation to core values. A process similar to this one can be adapted to any area of activity within a school where educators wish to guide students toward understanding these values. Educators should be clear from the outset about the desired goals, defining the values they wish to emphasize. Once terms have been defined and models are in place, the key to students owning the dialogue is giving them the space and structure to have the conversation. When the initial parameters are set, the conversations that emerge will be powerful, authentic, and life-changing.

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