The importance of explicitly talking about your school’s values

Alongside their mission and vision statements, schools often have a set of core values. Personally, I prefer schools to have 2 or 3 values that they can really focus in on when they work with students to help them understand the importance of those values not only in their school community but to also apply them in their life beyond school. I am very fortunate that my own school has adopted the value of being principled as part of its core vales, as I think this is a value that I would try to instill at the core of any school.

It is no use, however, if our core school values sit on the glossy strategic planning document or on the finely tuned marketing pages of a school’s website. School values must be explicitly taught and talked about with all members of the school community (students, parents, teachers and support staff). If something is really of value to you, then you make sure that it plays a prominent role in the life of the school. Core values must define the culture of our schools.

When recruiting new teachers, I spend considerable time reflecting on a school’s values and how well we live by them.. Thinking about the core value of being principled, it empowered me to honestly say what my school is and what it is not in order to support prospective teachers really identify with the school and be better informed as to whether it is a place to pursue their teaching career. The feedback that we received from using this approach was refreshing indeed and positive in that people valued our honesty and transparency. As say goes, ‘it pays to be honest.’ Plus, it is far better than having hidden surprises.

Teachers may require support in understanding how a school’s core values should play out not only in the classroom but also in how teachers work with one another and interact with the parent body. Furthermore, leaders may require both formal and informal training on how a value, such as being principled, needs to be applied when modelling good leadership in the school community, in particular with decision making.

It is absolutely vital that a school’s core values are explicit rather than implicit. Oftentimes, implicit learning is not particularly strong, not everyone picks it up and learning is commonly incidental rather than purposeful. Subsequently, it is important that school leaders set the tone by offering some examples where a school’s values can be explicitly woven into the fabric of everyday school life.

Below are some examples that illustrate how the value of being principled can be explicitly referred to and learned when working with students in a school:

  • With school work and important assignments, being principled underpins our school’s academic honesty policy and this supports us in guiding students in producing work that is genuinely their own and work that, more importantly, they want to be their own. There is a difference in attitude between the former and the latter.
  • When competing on the sports field. If we are losing in a game, we do not give up. If we are winning a game, we do not seek to humiliated the opposition. If we do not like a decision, we respect the referee or umpire.
  • When committing to an extra-curricular activity such as a school production, ensemble music group or the Yearbook team, we honour our commitments.
  • As we work with others less fortunate or different to ourselves in service activities, we act through clear ethical principles to do the best work that we can to support other individuals and communities.
  • Finally, when we have students working in collaborative groups in their subject classes, we embrace difference and seek to include others and not push them away.

 

This is what is means to be a mission and values driven school, as opposed to one that sets rules for students to obey. With respect to the value of being principled, we must teach for understanding in that the associated behaviours we wish to see become obvious in our students, teachers and parents.

How well does your school instill its core values; by design or by chance?

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