I was listening to local radio show yesterday debating young people and education. One caller said that “the problem with many students today is that they have no moral compass.” I would take issue with this on a number of levels, but it did set me thinking about the role that teachers and tutors have in helping students form their own values, and thereby setting their own moral compass.

Steve Johnson from Santa Clara University in the article ‘Teaching Values at School‘ says that “Schools have always been interested in three kinds of outcomes:

1. Skills—what our students are able to do
2. Knowledge—what they know
3. Character—the kind of people they become”

He is right, of course. When I think back to my school days, the best teachers we have had shared one crucial quality: the ability to not teach, but to motivate and inspire us to achieve success, both in academic and personal capacity. They helped to pass on not only their knowledge but helped us to start to form our own values.

I recall a great history teacher who got us to challenge historian’s interpretation of events – history is written by the victors remember. A degree of scepticism is healthy in all walks of life. My personal values also recognise the importance of family, friends and how a business should be run. I am sure that you have strong values too.

Sometimes values are talked about in terms of citizenship. But whatever we call it, as educators, we’re all interested in building positive, productive citizens.

What happens in school also happens outside of school with a tutor. A great tutor is not just a purveyor of academic know-how; they are someone who is often part-teacher, part-psychologist and part-mentor. Teaching students to be responsible, committed individuals, is as important as helping them achieve their academic goals.

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Why is the formation of values so important?

These are a few reasons why the formation of values are such an important part of the student-tutor relationship:

Personal success is more dependent on your values than exam results

The most successful people aren’t necessarily those who achieve the best marks or exam results; rather, countless jobs require a host of interpersonal skills, including making confident decisions, being a team player and having the ability to influence others (the latter is a particularly important talent in sales positions).

A tutor who knows the importance of values will always have the student’s ultimate goal in mind: achieving success in their chosen career and leading a happy, fulfilling life. They will therefore encourage their students to improve in specific areas (e.g. confidence, determination, discipline, commitment), sharing life skills, which will be of value long after a course or degree is over.

Positive values are contagious

Much of a what students learn is by example. If they notice that you apply your knowledge not just for personal gain if not to further a cause or help those in need, they may be inspired to do the same.

Why not open new horizons to your students by pointing out ways they can use their skill and expertise in an altruistic fashion; better yet, tell them all about your own experiences in helping out the local or international community and share interesting facts about pressing social issues.

Teaching students values fosters greater self-awareness

The Socratic teaching method is particularly good at this. It’s not just a way to point out illogical or unethical arguments, it’s also a great way to discover what makes your student tick and to teach them how to think out of the box.

Asking them lots of questions about how they would react in given situations, pointing out any illogical statements using deductive reasoning to enlighten them on their role in a democratic society. You could also introduce them to concepts such as the notion of universal truths, the Rule of Law or Platonic ideals of truth, beauty or goodness. These theories provide a fertile minefield for lively debate and discussion.

Values have a Butterfly effect

You may tutor a student for weeks, months or years but the day you walk out of their home for the last time, you will definitely feel a sense of satisfaction if you feel like you have helped your student be a woman or man who feels committed to benefitting the world as well as themselves.

More importantly, the values you teach them will be passed on to all those they encounter, both on a professional and a personal basis.

I hope that you have found this blog post interesting. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us too.

We have been blogging advice for tutors for a while now – our ‘Tips for Tutors’ series. Just in case you missed any, you can find them at:

How to ensure that the first lesson goes really well

Structuring your lessons

8 ways to become a better tutor

12 teaching strategies for more effective tutoring

Developing critical thinking in your students

The importance of teaching values

How to market yourself

Your tax as a self employed tutor

How to set up your website

The best way to tutor University students

Helping a reluctant student

Using learning maps





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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.