Are We Helping our Students Discover Their Core Values? | Stephen Carter | 5 Min Read

February 19, 2024

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that my journey of discovering my core values came toward the end of my third decade of life, and then it was only accidental. Sure, if you stopped to ask me, “what do you stand for?” I would have rattled off an impressive list of words like “justice” and “freedom” to fulfill what I would have perceived to be the “right answer.” It was only after a deep dive into my personal mission and personal vision that I took the time to truly identify the values that drive me.

That’s an important designation to make: the values that I wanted to be my core values are not necessarily the values that are core to me. This required vulnerability and freeing myself from the fear of judgment that would come from people discovering the actual values that gave me fuel and purpose and meaning. It also required finding the right tool. As someone dedicated to entrepreneurship education and helping all learners develop the entrepreneurial mindset, I am constantly seeking inspiration outside of traditional education. This carried me into the world of EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System for Businesses) and the works of Gino Wickman. 

EOS provides insightful and practical tools for operationalizing a business (and a school, if applied) and the process is firmly rooted in defining mission, vision, and values. These cannot merely be words on a website or phrases plastered on a wall—they must be internalized and ultimately guide every decision of the organization. To determine core values, EOS recommended the values card deck from think2perform. I took the bait and went online to purchase a set. When the cards arrived a few days later in the mail, I received not just a standard packing list but a hand-written note from Kay May, the executive coordinator of the company. She included her phone number and her offer to help with anything else I needed.

The result of this personal touch, which went to the heart of “create unforgettable moments”—a core value in our Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Program here at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy—was that I was immediately moved to purchase fifty additional decks of cards. That act of going above and beyond made me a raving fan of the company and inspired me to begin using these cards with the students in our entrepreneurship program as well as recommending them to the schools I work with around the nation.

The process is straightforward: individually or with a partner, the student (or adult) goes through the deck of fifty-two cards in a series of four stages to ultimately narrow down to five cards. And these are not ordinary playing cards—each card depicts one primary core value (community, wealth, service to others, family, etc.). In addition to the core value, a brief description is given to spark intriguing conversation.

In the first round of the exercise, the student asks the question, “does this value matter to me, yes or no?” They work to narrow the cards in half, leaving about twenty-five cards that they answered “yes” to. In the next stage they move from “does this matter, yes or no” to “is this really something I deeply value?” In this stage, the list of cards is narrowed to about ten.

It is important to emphasize, especially when working with students, that this is done in a judgment-free zone. Some of these values, like “ethics” or “integrity” are things that we have been conditioned as a society to believe that we truly value, but we must free ourselves to answer from our hearts. Saying that “integrity” is not a core value of ours is not saying that we don’t value integrity, but rather that it is not a core motivator of our actions and desires.

In the third round of the exercise, students take the ten cards and see if any of them belong to the same category. For instance, did they identify both “family” and “relationships”? Are those two concepts representing the same value and if so, can they be combined? Then the students take the remaining cards and order them from most important to least important. This part of the exercise must be given the appropriate amount of time—it is no easy task to prioritize the concepts one values.

By the end, the student is left with about five cards that best represent their primary core values. 

I’ve done this exercise with groups both large and small, and I’ve also conducted it in my own family. My wife and I worked on it together and then we attempted to guess the core values of our own children before having them conduct the exercise themselves. The results, while often surprising, always lead to meaningful conversation and improved collaboration. 

The exercise does not end here, however. Once this is established, the students are encouraged to write out, hour by hour, a schedule representing their typical week. In other words, clearly break down how they spend their time, day in and day out. This is a labor-intensive assignment and may require significant time to truly break down an average week into hourly blocks. Once they have completed this, they must go through and color code each activity that directly corresponds with one of their core values. For instance, if they value “family,” then how many blocks of time were spent directly connecting with their family? In the end, they may discover that there is a disconnect between what they value and how they spend their time.

Through this additional step of the schedule, students will come to understand how much time, if any, they spend living in that core value each week. From there, they will be able to develop a personal growth plan which addresses not only what they stand for—their values—but also why they exist—their mission—and where they are going—their vision.  Imagine the power of establishing this while still in school, and the way in which this could directly impact the engagement they will find while pursuing meaningful work in their life. 

This is truly the stuff of inspiring education.

Want to bring meaningful entrepreneurial education to your school? Reach out to connect.


You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Stephen Carter for Intrepid Ed News.

Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is the Director of Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy where he has taught for 18 years. His most recent book, Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset, chronicles the ten-year journey of developing the entrepreneurship and sustainability program and his own experience in learning to think like an entrepreneur. He is the founder of Seed Tree Group where he is available for speaking and consulting and can be reached at [email protected]. You may subscribe to his newsletter at https://seedtreegroup.beehiiv.com/subscribe. He is available for speaking and consulting and can be reached at [email protected].

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