Determining Your Core Values

Maura O'Reilly

Core values are deeply held personal codes that reflect our ethics and what is most important to us. They come from our families, religious teachings, schools, people we admire, and from our culture.” - Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation

Elena Aguilar is a renowned instructional coach. In her book “The Art of Coaching”, she discusses the need for a coach to know his/her own core values in order to be an effective influence. True for everyone though, isn’t it? You need to know what makes you tick, what you are motivated by, to ensure you make the best decisions you can.

Aguilar is so candid, telling the reader very honestly how she came to recognize the need to re-adjust preconceived notions. She had to analyze her approach to working with teachers, realizing she sometimes saw them as uncoachable. You cannot help anyone if you believe they cannot be helped. This is true for coaches and teachers, and for teachers and students.

To interact with others in a positive and beneficial way, it helps to study our own core beliefs. I found Aguilar’s exercise very interesting and wanted to share it.

The basic activity is to take a long list of values and use a process of elimination to get the list down to three that most resonate with you. Aguilar's list can be found here but you can use a different list or add to hers. Go through the list and record those words or values that resonate with you. Then go through that recorded list and do it again - remove those that don’t motivate you as much as others. Continue until you have a short list that you feel does sum up the values that act as the foundation of what you say and do.

I plan to do this activity more than once, as I think frame-of-mind, time-of-day, consumption-of-caffeine, etc… can play with the results. This is a good thing though - a reminder that humans are constantly changing, that we are allowed to experience ups and downs. I think after a few runs of this exercise, though, I will be left with several values that consistently surface.

As an educator that is outside the classroom, coaching but also looking for other ways to help teachers, I wanted to be very honest with myself. I wanted to know some of what makes me tick, maybe things I don’t realize. The process of considering each value is, in itself, an excellent opportunity to reflect.

I did this as I sat in the sun having a garage sale on a Saturday morning. I often feel I need a quiet, clean, calm space to truly reflect, but maybe not. Sitting in my old dirty clothes, interacting with strangers - (making only $15, like why did I bother?) - is a little more ‘real life’ than tucking myself away somewhere. Of course, both are good chances to reflect and write, and, as I said, frame-of-mind can be a big factor in the outcome of a reflective practice.

Ok, in the spirit of being honest, my top 3 (after 1 attempt) are acceptance, helping others, and peace.

I’ll update the blog when I go through them again. Feel free to share yours below in the comments or with me via email. I hope the exercise helps you to know yourself better and helps you to better interact with those around you.

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