A few years ago, my son’s fifth grade class had challenges that concerned me. Actually, we guardians are supposed to stay out of school leadership. But I had this idea that it might get better with some value creation pedagogy that could strengthen the classroom community and student motivation in this highly unfocused classroom. After good dialogue with that fall’s substitute teacher, I got the chance to help out a bit. I was given forty minutes with the class and happily thought that with my ten years of action research on pedagogy I was well equipped to meet the 28 children. But the day before, I had severe anxiety. I realised that not one of all the research-oriented slides I had shown to thousands of teachers could be used with students. Theory and practice were two completely different things here. A real sandwich moment once again.

The next day I met the 28 students anyway. By reducing the complexity to a minimum and asking a few simple questions, we had great conversations in whole class and small groups. It turned out that the students had many good ideas as they brainstormed answers to the following two simple questions:

For whom in our neighbourhood can the skills, abilities, resources, experience, contacts and interests we have create value today?

How do we want to make a difference in our area now?

This can certainly be a way to get started. But I really learned not to underestimate the importance of giving teachers many different possible first steps to choose from. So here are sixteen different practical first steps teachers can take to get started with value creation pedagogy. They are a condensation of various examples I have seen among teachers over the years.

Plan your pedagogy

Many teachers like to start the practical work with a pedagogical planning form. In Chapter 6 on practical tools, we take a closer look at a form I’ve developed in my research. Here I will just mention planning as a possible start. A form helps us to put our thoughts on paper. It gives us a basis for discussion with colleagues about how students could try to create value for others, who these others might be, what knowledge and skills they will then be able to apply in practice, and how we think about assessment and student participation.

Discussing value creation pedagogy with colleagues is also something many teachers like to do at the beginning, with or without a form. Such discussions are often combined with watching some short videos on value creation pedagogy. A simple search for value creation pedagogy on Youtube and Vimeo will usually provide some ideas.

Asking for whom knowledge can be valuable

The first step many teachers take with their students is to ask a simple question in the classroom, “For whom might this knowledge be valuable today?” This question helps connect theoretical knowledge with practical applications. Students may have some difficulty answering the question at first. They may need time to think about different answers. Gradually, the meaning of the question becomes clearer and more and more ideas come from the students. In the beginning, suggestions for recipients of value are often close to the students – in their own class, school, family or local area. With some support and repeated work on the issue, they tend to be able to think of more and more recipients of value further and further away and in more and more sectors of society.

The question can also be a simple entry point for deeper dialogue with students about who might benefit from their knowledge and skills here and now, what knowledge might be valuable, and what different types of value there are. The question becomes a way for students to mentally shift from seeing themselves primarily as recipients of value to becoming givers and creators of value for others. For some students, this means thinking in new ways, a first step in feeling that their actions and competences can be important to others. For some teachers, too, the issue may feel like a new and unfamiliar step. Teachers have described how they need to let go of some control, leave their habitual patterns and go outside their own comfort zone.

Ask students more questions

In chapter 6 I review the entrepreneurial toolkit. Already here we can pick up from that toolkit many good and simple questions for students to work with when thinking about who they can create value for. Value-creating work can usefully start from the students’ own strengths, interests and thoughts. Then these questions can work well:[1]

  • Who am I really? (identity and goals in life on a deeper level)
  • What can I do? (skills and abilities)
  • What am I good at? (aptitude and talent)
  • What am I passionate about? (passion, dreams and interests)
  • What bothers me? (challenges and problems)
  • What do I usually succeed at? (opportunities and strengths)
  • Who do I know? (networks and friends who can help)

Pick one or a few suitable questions for students to work on, or make your own version of the opportunity map tool described in Chapter 6.

Once the students have a better understanding of themselves, planning for value creation can begin, and be linked to the outside world. Some of the following questions can then be used, preferably in groups:

  • Who can we help?
  • How do we help?
  • How do we reach those we want to help?
  • Who helps us to help?
  • What can we ask our intended recipients of value already today?
  • How can we easily test whether what we intend to do/create is really valuable to someone else?
  • How can we observe others in their natural everyday lives to see what they might need help with?
  • How can we solve other people’s problems in new ways?

Several of these issues are echoed in Chapter 6 in the form of the canvas tool, which is a tool for triggering value creation by students. But it is also possible to make your own canvas. In choosing questions, it may be worth remembering that an opportunity-oriented focus is often more motivating than a problem-oriented focus.[2] Sure, problem solving can be fun, but it’s even more fun to look for opportunities to create value for others based on students’ dreams, interests and strengths. A problem focus can seem inhibiting to many, while an opportunity focus often unleashes positive energy and action.[3] At the same time, our problems should not be swept under the rug. They can, however, be relatively easily reframed as an opportunity to create value for others.

Hold an ideas workshop with the students

An ideas workshop is an opportunity for students to brainstorm ideas on how they can create value for others. It can be done in forty minutes, but it can also take a little longer. Some of the questions above can form the basis of students’ brainstorming. There are also concrete tools that can be used – the opportunity map, the canvas and the pitch. These are described in Chapter 6.

A short introduction of around ten minutes can be followed by twenty to thirty minutes of brainstorming in small groups. The last ten minutes can be spent collecting ideas or writing them on the board so that everyone can hear about the different ideas that came up. Finally, a selection can be made, with students voting on which ideas they want to work on in the next stage. Such a selection could also be done at a later stage, to give students some time to think through all the ideas that came up. Bear in mind that an idea voted for by rather few students may still have as much potential, or even more, than the ideas that many initially like. It is not possible to know at the beginning of an idea development process which ideas are good. Divergent ideas can often turn out to be both more unique and more viable once they have been developed further.

The introduction can include an explanation of what value can be, what it means to create value for others and why such experiences are an important part of school work, working life and life in general. Include some examples from other schools where students have worked on value creation. But not too many, as these examples can guide students’ unconscious thoughts when they come up with ideas themselves. Keep the introduction short and concise – don’t let it become too theoretical.

Now you might be wondering how my idea workshop went with my son and his class. Well it went very well. One idea that came up was to organise a football tournament for socially vulnerable people in the local area. But there was never a tournament. The lesson for me was the importance of securing a continuation of the value creation work before inviting students to brainstorm ideas. I certainly should have planned the work better. My mistake was not having the school leaders on board for a long-term plan. Teachers can easily initiate value creation activities without the support or even knowledge of their managers, but as a parent I was totally dependent on the support of school management. Which is perfectly reasonable.

Let the students do the work

Teachers can indeed do some pedagogical planning and preparation of workshops. But it’s the students who should do most of the work in value creation pedagogy. Teachers who find value creation pedagogy a chore may be taking on far too much responsibility and work themselves. The teacher’s most important tasks are to ensure the structure, clarity and focus of the process over time, to ensure that all students participate, to link the work to curricula and knowledge requirements, and to assess students’ creations and actions in terms of how they illustrate what they have learned and are capable of. The rest can often be left to the students. Therefore, one way to get started is to allow students to take a great deal of responsibility in planning how to go about it in practical terms. What value will be created, what skills and abilities will form the basis of the value creation and who they will target. Creativity is and always has been a strong area for young people, if they are given the chance.

The implementation can also be left to the students. In each class there are many students who can take the initiative to contact people in the outside world that teachers sometimes feel they have to contact for them. Letting the students do the talking usually works better than we adults think. Schools also have many more students than teachers, and they need to learn to take initiative, be persistent and communicate in writing and speaking.

Use the power of the pitch

A pitch is a very short presentation of an idea to create something of value for someone. We humans are impatient, so ideally the pitch should take no more than a minute to deliver. First, capture interest in a pithy and preferably fun way (15 seconds), then describe a relevant problem (15 seconds), present a useful solution (15 seconds) and end the pitch with a call to action (15 seconds). Perhaps by the listener saying yes to a proposal for a continuation presented in the pitch, or perhaps by going to a website.

Give your students a lesson in pitching their value-creating ideas to an outsider. To anyone basically. A sister, brother, parent, friend or a complete stranger. It’s best if the person they are pitching to is also part of a natural audience for the value they intend to create. If the idea is to help newly arrived refugee, let them pitch to a newly arrived refugee. But by all means don’t let the best become the enemy of the good. A neighbour born in Sweden can also work. The main thing is that students expose themselves to outside feedback on their ideas. This is bound to make them try harder and feel more passionate about their work. Afterwards, have them reflect in writing to you about who they talked to, what feedback they got, what they learned and how they plan to move forward. A pitch is such a useful tool that the concept will be discussed again in Chapter 6.

Let students explore their feelings

We humans like to be perceived as rational and logical. But deep down we are all very much governed by our rich inner emotional life.[4] This fact can be used by teachers to get more motivated students. Emotional approaches to value creation pedagogy can start from questions such as “Who am I, really, deep down?”, “What bothers me deep in my soul?” or “What do I feel so strongly about that I can walk on hot coals?”. If value creation is linked to students’ own deeply personal feelings through similar questions, it can drive powerful and in-depth learning that lasts for a long time.

The feelings can be both positive and negative. Positive emotions contribute to a sense of total engagement and flow that can make it feel like time stands still.[5] Negative emotions such as anger, worry and anxiety also play an important role. They help to focus students’ attention and help them to take powerful action rather than getting stuck in distraction. [6]

The teacher Maria Wiman suggests that the class makes a list of emotions based on the question “What makes you really angry? “and then plan different value creation activities based on this.[7] Another emotional exercise is proposed by two Danish researchers.[8] Have students stand with their feet in a small cardboard box each, which may represent a life situation when they felt frustrated and limited. The teacher has his or her own box and tells about such a situation to show the way and get the discussion going. Gradually, more and more of the students share their inner emotional thoughts with the class. The exercise ends with everyone stomping on their cardboard boxes, a symbol of breaking free from their limitations. The Danish researchers also suggest that teachers let students draw a diagram of different emotional learning events in life, a kind of inventory of the existential backpack we all carry of major challenges, insightful highlights and hard-won life experiences.

Some caution should be exercised when teaching becomes this emotionally charged. The first person to get a high voltage shock in case of a short circuit is usually the teacher. I myself work a lot with giving emotionally tough challenges to my students at Chalmers. It’s exciting and educational for both me and my students. They learn for life in an emotional rollercoaster. But when it gets too challenging, or if something tough happens at the same time in their private life, the primal force can backfire on me as a teacher. There can be accusations of the most varied kind that I might not have done my job properly. After many years, I’m getting used to it and now take it with a grain of salt. I no longer say sorry, it was not meant to be so difficult for you. Because that’s exactly what it was. But I do understand those teachers who choose not to fully engage their own or others’ emotions in their teaching.

[Here I am currently]

Direct what you are going to do outwards anyway

Students create things in school all day long. Texts, drawings, reports, posters, assignments of all kinds. However, the end result of these creations is in most cases an analogue or digital wastepaper basket, certainly through the teacher’s stressed eyes. After the teacher has read and given feedback, the creation is thrown away or left to languish forever.

One way to think about alternative fates for students’ creations is to ask the following simple question: “For whom can we do this?” or “Who should get to see this? ” The question can be asked every time a creative task begins, in just about any subject. If we increasingly have good answers to this simple question, it will lead to the teaching and creation that does take place being directed outwards to real recipients. Pupils themselves can take responsibility for making contact with their particular recipient. When students’ creations and performances matter to someone else, teaching becomes important in real terms and school becomes more meaningful for both students and teachers. Teacher Caroline Lorentzon has called this ‘grumbling to teaching:[9]

Value-added work in the classroom is simply doing what needs to be done anyway, but adding a twist – you look for facts outside the classroom as you work and find yourself a recipient beyond the teacher and classmates when it’s time to deliver.

Grunt to a nearby accelerator

I am often asked how value-based learning differs from other student-centred pedagogical approaches. There is much to be said on this issue, and it will therefore return in Chapter 7. Here, I thought I would simply suggest that you teachers explore the similarities and connections for yourselves. While you’re at it with cooperative learning, grumble it so that students have an outside recipient they can try to create value for. When you are going to work problem- or challenge-based anyway, find a real recipient who can appreciate and benefit from the solutions students are working out. However, when working on projects with authentic content, direct the projects outwards to real recipients in the outside world. When working thematically anyway, link the theme to outside recipients of value. When working across subjects or language development, think about how you can also bring about value-creating learning processes. Most of the other accelerator pedals you use in your work to make the educational car go faster can probably be nudged with a drop of value-based learning in one way or another.

Let students submit their opinion piece

A classic example of directing what is still done outwards is the argumentative text. Most students will write many such texts during their schooling. Why not submit some of them to the local newspaper or even to the national media? Whether or not the text is published, the writing process will have a very different and more emotional character. When there is an ever-so-small chance, or risk, that the text will be read by many, pupils’ commitment and diligence increase.

Let students create something for others

Another common approach we have seen is teachers letting students create things for students in other classes or for children in nearby preschools. We have seen pupils creating board games, computer games, maths problems, number lines, rhymes, stories, jewellery, musical instruments, toys, robots, films and much more for other pupils.

Creating for other students can also involve plays, sketches, readings, theatre, concerts, exhibitions and much more. The recipients are usually younger pupils or pre-school children, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a lot in what Maria Wiman students so often say: “Age is just a number. “If students can create value for adults, they can probably also create value for older students at school.

Sometimes the creation is based on placed orders and specific requests. Bracelets and necklaces can be made with words or phrases requested by the recipient, pieces of music can be requested by someone, lyrics can be written by a group of students and then set to music by other students, a favourite dish can be requested by someone and then served, students can act as godparents to others in the school based on specific challenges. It’s an extra nice feeling to be able to deliver a tailor-made creation or service to someone. Being able to provide a personal service enhances the perceived sense of care and meaning.

Let students help at school or at home

Many value-adding tasks are aimed at the school or home. Pupils have made budgets for family finances, fire safety reports and energy audits for the home, interior design projects for the school premises, values work exhibitions in the corridors and much more. A particularly successful project on values in Sigtuna became a whole book.[10] In it, pupils were asked to carry out everyday value-creating actions such as looking the school restaurant staff in the eye and saying thank you with a smile, saying hello to someone they don’t normally say hello to, being kind enough for someone to say thank you, getting someone who rarely talks at lunch to talk a bit more, supporting a friend who seems to be on the outside, or getting as many people as possible to take part in a joint activity.

Let students perform outside the classroom

Pupils are usually allowed to present and perform in front of their own class. This can be book reviews, news, sketches or presentations of a topic or phenomenon they have studied. One way to add to the learning experience is to have them tell a story to a class other than their own, perhaps even to a different year group or school than their own. Then it will feel more “real”, and they will try harder.

Copy an example or an example school

An easy way to get started with value-based learning is to be inspired by something another teacher has done. In Sweden, teachers have been sharing their experiences on social media for many years and have even written books about their best tips. As value-based learning spreads internationally, teachers will probably want to share their experiences in other languages too. I run a blog in English where I collect different texts and examples of value-based learning, see vcplist.com. We also collect examples in our digital library for action-based learning, see library.loopme. io.

At the same time, I would encourage teachers to share more examples with each other, preferably in a structured way. Information about what teachers do and what effects they see when they work in a value-added way is today a bit of a thicket. It is not easy to navigate around websites and social media to find good examples. The digital channels mentioned above also have room for many more examples. Please send me texts on how you work with value-based learning in your school, and I can publish them as guest posts on my blog.

It is also possible to draw inspiration from schools that have value-based learning as a holistic idea or pedagogical model. Such schools exist in Växjö, Stockholm, Huddinge, Södertälje, Ånge and Uddevalla. I believe this is a development we will see more of in the future, both in Sweden and internationally.

Use social media to reach out

In the introduction I wrote that interaction with the outside world and integration into everyday life were two key factors in value-creating learning. If there is one thing that has made people interact with the world around them every day, it is social media. Many schools have their own accounts on Instagram where they let students post regularly about different things and from different perspectives. Teachers can post their students’ texts in various relevant groups on Facebook. Students can make their own podcasts on different topics. Blogs are also common.

But you have to be careful that students don’t write for deaf ears. On social media, it’s easy to notice if no one is reading or liking what’s being written. On blogs, it’s not as visible. If no one reads or cares, students soon lose engagement and the impact on their learning is lost. So think about how students reach their readers. These tend to be exactly the same principles that marketers always need to follow on social media. Engage readers, create value for them, entertain them, use photos and videos, update often, ask questions, give advice, share interesting facts, organise competitions. [11]

Write to an author, writer or debater

Having students write down their thoughts about something they have read is a common exercise in school. Such student writing can be usefully directed at the person who wrote the original text they were asked to read. It could be the author of a book who is happy to receive feedback from their readers. It could also be writing a response to a newspaper article. It might even get published in the newspaper. Responding to digital contributions to the public debate is also both easy and engaging for students.

[1] The issues are also described in more depth in Lackéus (2015, s. 29–32).

[2] See Rae (2003, 2007) and Blenker et al. (2011).

[3] See Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2008, s. 16–17) for a review of problems versus opportunities.

[4] See Lakomski and Evers (2010).

[5] See Csíkszentmihályi (2008).

[6] See Derryberry and Tucker (1994).

[7] See Wiman (2022).

[8] See Neergaard and Robinson (2021).

[9] This quote is taken from an email conversation between the author and Caroline.

[10] See Steinberg and Sourander (2019).

[11] See Kerpen (2011), Vaynerchuk (2013) and Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick (2014).


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