An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Meredith Bledsoe, Upper School counseling center coordinator, and Julie Keller '03, Upper School counselor

Every year, in our role as the Upper School counselors, we meet with all 9th-graders during a class meeting. It's a great opportunity to see all the students together and for them to get to know us in a casual, fun environment. For the last several years, we have led the students in an exercise that helps them explore their values. Our belief, which we share with many at the school, is that you are are happiest and most content when you are living life in alignment with your values. But in order to do this, you first have to reflect on your values.

Here's how the exercise works: Students start off in their advisory groups of eight to 10 students. They pair up and each pair receives a stack of cards with a value written on each one. For example, courage, connection, and responsibility. One student holds up two values and the other student picks which is more important to them or tied to how they want to live their life.

Students move through the deck of cards until they arrive at six to eight values that are meaningful to them. Then students switch roles with their partners. It is striking to see these 14- and 15-year-olds move between laughter and thoughtful, serious conversation about what they value and why.

After each person has a collection of cards that speak to their values, advisories regroup. We ask students to discuss what values they considered negotiable or non-negotiable and why. This year, as in past years, advisors reported engaged conversations among students. It gives students an opportunity to question where their values come from and whether or not they want to hold on to them.

While this is a short activity, it is part of the larger work done throughout the school to help students discover who they are and what they believe. Advisors build on the activity in subsequent advisory meetings. It also plays out in the new 9th-grade wellness class. And students' understanding of their values plays an important role in "To Be Honest," the schoolwide facilitated conversations about identity, including race, class, and gender.