Articulating Your Values

Justin Lorts

For any career or “intro to college” class that I teach, I love beginning with a values activity. I find that having students articulate their values early on in the process not only puts them in the right frame of mind, but also gives them a reference point that they can use throughout the class. “How does [X idea] align with your values?” is a question I am always asking in class, so having those values at the ready is invaluable for in-class reflection and discussion.

Prior to COVID, these activities were almost always analog. I either had students check off values from a worksheet or – if I was really on the ball – borrow our Knowdell Cart Sort Decks. Since COVID, I’ve relied more on digital options (my favorite is the one at Think2Perform). These online options are great, as they can be done outside of class, are self-paced, and are more interactive than worksheets. The downside to these activities is that you have very little control over them. Not only is it next to impossible to customize them for your own uses, but there is always the risk that a product that is free today requires a fee tomorrow. Which sucks if tomorrow is when all of your students will be accessing the activity for class.

With this in-mind, I created a simple self-paced values activity on Google Slides (accessible HERE), that I can use for the two classes that I regularly teach (Intro to Hopkins: Arrive and Thrive, and Designing Your Georgetown) and also share with my colleagues in the Life Design Lab so that they can download and customize for their own purposes. It’s a very simple activity that eschews the complicated ranking formulas found in some values sort activities in favor of a more streamlined two step process that helps students arrive at their five core values. It can be done independently outside of class, and I usually have students bring their values with them to the first or second class session.

In class, I then ask them too reflect on the following questions:

  1. Which values seem central to who you are now?
  2. Which values seem aspirational to who you want to become?
  3. How do these values inform your purpose?

I added question #2 because I found that students were often feeling an immediate disconnect between what they had on paper and what they were experiencing in their life at that moment. They might put “Friendship” and then immediately feel guilty for leaving their close high school friends behind or ignoring their new friends because of exams or other pressing obligations. Or select “Justice” out of an abstract commitment to justice but then realize they are currently doing very little in pursuit of that value. After reading Agnes Callard’s Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming (a book that has profoundly impacted my thinking around education, career and Life Design), i realized that for many of my students, these values were aspirational. That is, they aspire to become the sort of person who values family or justice. Helping them think in terms of current versus aspirational values allows them to contemplate the sorts of habits, mindsets, and practices they need to cultivate during college in order to become that person.

Question #3 then serves as the basis for their first written assignment, a short (3-5 sentence) paragraph that articulates how the values (current and aspirational) that they identified in the card sort inform their purpose. I’ve used this paragraph in place of the Lifeview activity, which always struck me as overly broad and incredibly challenging for a middle-aged adult, much less a first year college student.

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