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In this activity…

Students use the definition of values and the analogy of values as lanterns to identify personal core values and the role of these values in their everyday life. They then have the opportunity to agree on two classroom values that will shape how they show up to school this year.

And the point is…

Although many students will have heard about values, some students may have never taken the time to identify their values and reflect on what people, actions, events, or everyday activities support their values or what barriers might get in the way of them living into their values. This activity allows students to practice self-reflection and build self-awareness. By concretely identifying their core personal values, students will begin to develop the insight needed to more critically and thoughtfully engage with the world.

Furthermore, by identifying classroom values, you are creating a safe and brave space where students are held accountable for their actions, and where they are given the necessary support needed to practice living into their values. Classroom values create a more cohesive, respectful, and accepting learning environment and, when done properly, classroom values can enhance student engagement and strengthen relationships. Throughout the school year, these values will be used to guide decision making, shape conflict resolution, and increase student’s commitment to learning.
Beecuz 1 Hour

Materials: A4 Paper, 2 Poster Pages, writing supplies, colouring supplies, projector


Introduce the analogy of values as lanterns that light the way in times of uncertainty or fear. Explain that, If you are clear about what your values are, then the flame of the lantern burns brightly and you are more willing to choose courage over comfort; you know that, even in the darkest of times, you will always be able to find the light. However, if you are unsure about what our values are or if you have too many values, then it is easy to get lost or overwhelmed in the darkness. In these situations, you may try to avoid the darkness, which means that you will likely miss out on opportunities for personal growth or engage in behaviours that do not align with who you want to be.

At this time, project the list of common values onto a screen, whiteboard or wall, so that everyone can see it and ask the students to identify their two core values.

The Values list is available in the downloads section of this page.

This activity can be quite challenging because many students will be unable to decide on just two values. To help guide students, break this task into smaller steps: First, ask students to write down 5 values that are important to them; from these 5 values, ask students to circle two values that are the most important. To identify the most important values, students should ask themselves:

  • Which two values best define who I am and how I want to show up every day?
  • Which two values do I need to be able to act on my other values?

Before moving on with the activity, help students understand that, for values to be meaningful, you have to identify actions and behaviours that are and are not consistent with your core values (i.e. operationalizing values). Identifying these behaviours will help you evaluate whether or not you are living into your values at a later time.

For this activity, students will use the picture of a lantern to visually depict their core values as well as the behaviours that are and are not consistent with their values. Download the example, completed exercise, and share it with the class (ex. using a projector) as you explain the different parts of the lantern:

  1. The flame represents the two core values that light the way for you.  
  2. Every lantern has a way of protecting the flame: what behaviours or actions support your values? Who are the people that support and encourage you to live into your values?
  3. If you feel like you are carrying too much already and you’re feeling overwhelmed or tired, you might be tempted to put down the lantern and walk away from it. But, without the light of the lantern (i.e. clarity of values), it’s very easy to get lost in the dark. Use the handle to identify behaviours that are not consistent with your values and which may indicate that you have started walking away from your values. What events or activities present a barrier for you to live into your values? What actions, thoughts or feelings are warning signs that you might have strayed from your values?
  4. It’s one thing to declare your values and another thing to live into your values. Think about a time when your behaviours aligned with your values. When you “walked the talk”. How did you feel? What were you able to accomplish? How were you able to follow through? Write about your experiences as the radiating light of the lantern.

Give students 20 minutes to complete this activity. If students are done early, encourage them to write more detailed explanations for factors that protect the flame and those which cause them to put down the lantern. Alternatively, you can urge students to add to the radiating light by thinking of more examples of when they lived into their values.

The Values Lantern  is available in the downloads section of this page.

After students have completed this activity, ask them if anyone would like to share with the class. Students can choose to share as many or as few features of their lantern as they would like or they can talk about experiences related to the activity.

To encourage discussion, consider the following prompts:

  • Did any aspect of this activity present a challenge to you? If so, what was the challenge? How did you approach the challenge?
  • Did you learn anything about yourself or your needs that might not have been as clear to you before this activity?
  • Does any part of your lantern surprise you?
  • Did you find it helpful to identify, operationalize, and write down your values? Why or why not? Is this something that you can look back on to help guide you in the future?

This activity can be quite personal, so make sure that students are given the option to pass.

Next, let students know that you will be deciding on two classroom values that will define how everyone agrees to “show up” for the rest of the school year. Start by making a list of values based on students’ suggestions. Once you have a list of values, ask students to share their opinions regarding which values are most important.

It might help to ask yourself and your students the following questions:

  • Which values are most conducive to creating a safe and brave space?
  • Which values will enhance student engagement and connection?
  • Which values most align with the larger vision and values of our school?

For this part of the activity your responsibility is that of a moderator: Try to summarize opinions, guide discussion, ask questions, or make suggestions that will help the entire class agree on two core values.

Once you have identified the core values of your classroom it’s time to operationalize them. In each of the four corners of your classroom hang a large poster paper. Divide the class into four groups and ask each group to gather around one of the posters. The titles of the four posters will be as follows:

  1. Behaviours that are consistent with our value of (value #1)
  2. Behaviours that are inconsistent with our value of (value #1)
  3. Behaviours that are consistent with our value of (value #2)
  4. Behaviours that are inconsistent with our value of (value #2)

Assign a title to each group and give them 10 minutes to brainstorm and write down corresponding behaviours. After the students have had the opportunity to write down their ideas, each group will share their list of behaviours with the rest of the class. Before moving on to another list, ask the other students in the class if they would like to add anything to the list and do so as necessary.

Once every group has shared, let students know that you will be hanging the posters in a place where they will be visible and that these are “living documents”: During the school year, you will be referring back to these lists and adding to them if necessary.

Be sure to emphasize the importance of this shared commitment to the class values.


Can I choose more than two core values? Why not?

No, you must identify two core values that are most important to you. Let’s think back to the idea that your values are like lanterns that light the way in times of uncertainty or fear. What happens when there are too many lanterns scattered throughout the darkness? When there are too many lanterns you won’t know which direction to go and you might feel just as confused or overwhelmed as when there are no lanterns. Not only this, but you will naturally turn to the lantern that is the easiest or safest to get to. Although this might seem like the right thing to do, living into your values is not supposed to be safe or easy. Often, choosing to behave in a way that is consistent with your values is quite challenging and scary – that’s why your lanterns are there to light the way.  

Can my values change?

Yes, values tend to change as we pass through different stages of life. For example, think about what your values might have been when you were a little kid – they were probably very different than what they are now. Or, think about your parents: Have they ever told you stories of the “good old days” when they were rebellious teenagers? Their values are probably very different now than they were 30 years ago. However, values don’t have to change. In many ways, your values may remain the same. It’s also important to realize that when values change, they tend to do so over a longer period. You aren’t going to wake up tomorrow morning with opposing values from the ones you have today.

What happens if I do not choose to act according to my values (i.e. if I stray away from the light)?

Sometimes people act in ways that do not align with their values because it is an easier option or because it seems like it will help them achieve something they want. For example, if Alex values kindness but he really wants to feel like he fits in with the “popular kids”, then he might follow their lead and tease or gossip about Naomi, a shy quiet girl that often gets bullied for her lisp. In this scenario, Alex is choosing comfort over courage: He is acting in a way that is inconsistent with his value of kindness to gain approval from the group. A behaviour that would have been consistent with his values, but which would have also required a lot of courage, would have involved Alex sticking up for Naomi and maybe even deciding to spend the afternoon with her instead of the “popular kids”. When you act in a way that is inconsistent with your values you may feel guilty about your behaviours, and you tend to engage in actions that you will later regret. If you continue to stray from the path that your lanterns illuminate, then it will become harder and harder for you to experience satisfaction with your life, your accomplishments, and yourself. You will probably find yourself experiencing shame and, as time passes, it will be harder to find your way back to the light.

What if I don’t have any values? What if none of these values feel right?

Everyone values something. If you feel like you don’t have any values or if any of the values that you have identified aren’t that important to you, then maybe you haven’t found the right values yet. You might also be struggling to identify values because you are fixated on needing to find the ‘right’ or the ‘best’ values. It’s important to remember that values cannot be classified as better or worse and that you should not compare your values to those of your friends. For example, it is not possible to say that it is more important to value empathy than it is to value courage, or that kindness is better than curiosity. Also, keep in mind that just because a value is not one of your core values, doesn’t mean that it is not important to you or that you will choose to behave inconsistently with it. For example, my core values are courage and curiosity, but that doesn’t mean that I go around teasing people, isolating myself from others, or littering. I continue to engage actions of kindness, empathy, and respect. However, my core values of courage and curiosity might be what help me engage in those behaviours. If I am not courageous, then I might not be able to express kindness, or if I choose not to be curious then I might fail to express empathy and connect with someone who I don’t know very well. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself if you are having trouble identifying your values:

  • How do you spend your time and energy?
  • What do you look forward to when you get up in the morning?
  • What brings you hope?
  • What are you doing during the times when you are the happiest or when you feel most fulfilled?
  • If someone you loved (ex. mom or dad) were to describe you, what kind of things might they talk about?