4 Core Values To Transform Life and Learning

Core Values For My Life and Learning

A few weeks ago, I was asked to identify the core values of iExploreScience (and really, it kind of feels like my life) and I honestly had no idea what that even meant. I responded by Googling “core values” to look for examples (because frankly, examples are – for me – one of the best ways I can truly understand something). In this instance, Google didn’t really help.
I saw things like honesty and “being true to your word” and stuff like that. And yah, ok, I totally agree with those. I’m not living my life trying to be dishonest. But it also didn’t really feel like something I would say governed my life or what not.
 
Today, I was listening to a podcast and the individual mentioned a core value of theirs — celebration, “because what are you doing all this work for if you aren’t going to stop and smell the roses?” And it hit me. I had one of those “aha moments” I’m always talking about!
 
And that aha opened the floodgates of my brain, and I just got what the whole “core values” concept was about. In about two minutes, I jotted down four of my core values that reflect both what guides decisions and interactions and understandings in my personal life — and what I always aim to bring to the classroom and my students.
 
I wanted to share these with you, because perhaps…
>> they will inspire you.
>> they will challenge your own ideas.
>> they will help you identify your own core values.
 
They also may help you understand me and my mission here and how I can help you.
 
Let’s dive in! 🤩

#1 Core Value: Slow Down (And Be Present)

This one came to me first and immediately upon that aha moment.
 
Slow down.
 
Even before COVID-19 literally shut down so much of my world, I was exploring this idea of slowing down and being present. Last November (2019), I participated in a 4 week meditation class at YogaErie here in Erie, PA. (I was trying to do more things for me as we neared the holidays — which have tended to be a time of peaking anxiety in my life and a rough period for my family [see Merry Christmas, Angel Ali] — and that was one of my things!) Anyway, it was a wonderful experience overall, but my biggest takeaway was a single mantra: I have all the time I need.
 
I am always rushing. Whether it’s a personality thing or a mindset thing or whatever, I’m always doing and thinking ahead. I struggle to be in the moment. Whether it was working through a lesson or walking my kids into preschool, I was frequently thinking of what I needed to do after and really, how to pick up the pace.
 
During that 4-week meditation course, I realized it was not healthy for me to always be in such a rush.
 
Instead of thinking of the little time I did have, I needed to reframe my thinking.
>> I had all the time I needed to accomplish what needed to be done.
 
And sure, maybe it wasn’t always everything on the list. In reality, it’s not going to be everything on the list. But the important stuff? I have all the time I need.
 
 
And keeping that in mind and cultivating that mindset, I can be better at:
>> walking my kids into preschool, helping them with their bookbags on the hooks, watching their smiles as they greet their teachers, saying hi to the other parents dropping off. (Again, pre-COVID.)
>> listening to my son put together his thoughts, the stutters and repeats, without filling in the blanks to rush the conversation along or multi-tasking because (sometimes) it feels like it’s taking forever.
>> allowing the questions and interruptions, the diversions in learning, the extra time it takes to allow a learner to “figure it out” and puzzle through it.
 
Slowing down and being present – recognizing you have all the time you need so simply be in the moment – has the potential to make me a better mom, wife, person in general, teacher, and leader.
 
Because it makes me more aware of and responsive to those around me — whether it’s my children, my family, or my students.
 
It also makes me happier. Because life is literally made up of all of these tiny moments that pass by so quickly when we aren’t paying attention.
 
So that’s my #1 Slow Down (And Be Present). And I absolutely have not mastered this one, but it’s a core value I will always be keeping in mind and working towards. 

#2 Core Value: Respect The Individual

This one encapsulates a lot for me, and on one hand, I feel like it’s kind of generic — like that honesty, we can all tag “respect” as something we should value, right? On the other hand, I couldn’t find a different word to truly “wrap up” all of my ideas here.
 
Respect The Individual, for me, is about accepting and honoring each person’s experience, abilities, and even viewpoints (although that one, I’ll admit, is hard for me to write).
 
The thing is, I can’t say what it’s like to be someone else, and so my thoughts are, I will do my best to always try to accept their experience and recognize how that has influenced their viewpoints.
 
(There’s certainly a lot of viewpoints I disagree with, get frustrated by and annoyed with, and have no respect for — and I don’t want to come across as “all views — including racist/misogynistic/outside-of-reality are equally valid” because I don’t believe that’s true — but I try to remember there is a person behind those views, who has been influenced by their environment, their fears and anxieties, their wins and losses, their experiences, and so on.)
 
And my goal is to accept their lived experience and refrain from assumptions about how they feel and act or should feel and act. While I will work to confront views and ideas I disagree with or believe are harmful, I will also do so in a way that continues to see the individual as a person — and when I can’t do that, it means maybe I shouldn’t be speaking then and there at all.
 
In the classroom, it means holding judgment on a student’s behaviors, work ethic, language, or attitude. It means being aware of how I respond to issues — is that how I would want my admin or boss speaking to me? It means giving space for feelings (there are no “bad” feelings) and respecting those feelings. (It may seem silly to me to be that upset about XYZ, but for my student, it is a big deal.)
 
All of this is true for my parenting, too. I might find it so frustrating and annoying that my son is literally in tears because I cut his waffle, but for whatever reason, it’s a big deal for him, and I can respect the feelings.
 
In the classroom, it also means respecting my students’ abilities. We often make assumptions of what our students can and can’t do, and we act in accordance with those assumptions. We believe “my students can’t design a real experiment” and so we give them a cookie-cutter lab. Or “my students can’t figure this out” and so we explain it. In reality, maybe your students can’t do it alone (or yet) but if we give them space to work at it, if we support them through the struggle, maybe they can. (I will argue: they can.)
 
And finally in the classroom, it means respecting their interests and identities. Can I incorporate a phenomenon of relevance to them? Can I deviate from my plan to focus on their questions?
 
Like with the first, I’m certainly no master here. It’s a work in progress. But these are the things I keep in mind as I navigate situations, make decisions, and interact with others in my life.

#3 Core Value: Critical Optimism

I can’t for sure say this is the phrase that was used when I initially heard this idea, but it’s my representation of the idea, at least.
 
I am an optimist, and I believe there is value in seeking out the positives in the situation. For me, few situations and experiences are so bleak that there is nothing left, no good to be found anywhere. (Sometimes, referring back to #2, it feels that way, and I can accept and respect that. I cannot tell anyone how to feel.) But personally, I will work to find the “silver lining.”
 
The critical element is a way of staying rooted — it’s not a blind optimism that everything will always be wonderful. I am fully aware that bad things happen. That you can “be the statistic.” That nothing in life is guaranteed.
 
I see the problems.
 
But I will always work to find the solutions.
 
I won’t get bogged down in negativity. I won’t wallow endlessly in troubles. I won’t allow myself to stay “down” forever.
 
(Again, Core Value #2, feel your feelings and accept your experiences. Respect them. Don’t bottle it up and throw away any keys.)
 
But eventually, I will search for a new way of thinking about it, a new way of approaching it, the things that are going well, and ways to move forward.
 
Sometimes, I worry this makes me seem “out of touch” with those who are struggling and are lost in their hard emotions. I don’t want to ever tell anyone how to feel or dismiss their experiences.
 
But I am also a fixer, a forward-thinker, and I want to be a world-changer. And I can’t do that if I am stuck in the bad things that happened in the past or the present.
 
So: critical optimism.

#4 Core Value: Cultivate Curiosity

And the final one!
 
Curiosity.
 
Curiosity actually evolved from my thoughts on education and teaching, but it actually has a huge impact on my personal life as well!
 
So first, for education. You’ve heard me say it before and you will hear me say it again >> curiosity is everything. If we want our students to truly be engaged in learning, the motivation has to come from them. And this motivation must go beyond winning a piece of candy or earning points on a board. If we really want learning to stick, we need the kind of motivation that drives them to persist, to figure it out, to wonder, to make connections, to do all the learning things. Curiosity cultivates that kind of intrinsic motivation.
 
It’s literally been described as the “itch” that you just have to scratch — a gap in “what you know” and “what you want to know” that allows learning to unfold.
 
So curiosity is paramount to my pedagogy. (It also helps me identify and choose really great phenomena!)
 
But it also can have great implications in my personal life.
 
>> My husband leaves the kids’ syrupy breakfast plates all over the table (and the dog knocks them all off in his efforts to eat up the remains). I could get super annoyed and flip out… or I could approach the situation with curiosity. What happened? Why did they get left there? Was he in a rush? Was there a diaper explosion? Did he get an important call? Was he just distracted because of XYZ? (And maybe there isn’t an explanation, and he just didn’t think about picking them up before getting the kids out of the house. But taking the time to be curious at the very least opens dialogue and allows us to talk about it instead of me just going on the attack.)

 
I totally made up that scenario, but you get the gist. Being curious has allowed for better communication between me and my husband, as I respond to my kids and their actions (sometimes I don’t like their actions but I can respect their reasoning), and anyone else I encounter in my life.
 
Being curious helps me see and hear other experiences, viewpoints, and ideas without shutting them off and out with immediate assumptions or judgments.
 
And while I’m certainly not perfect with this one either, it’s something I aspire to represent in my life >> approaching the world with curiosity.
 
So that’s that!
 
I’m excited to share these ideas with you, and I feel like I could probably go on about how I have incorporated these core values into my teaching practice and resources… but I’d say this post is long enough for today. Perhaps another time… In the meantime, I’d love to hear:
 
What are your core values?