As we return to schools in Scotland, and colleagues in other areas of the UK will be doing so in a few weeks, I think this is an ideal time to consider and reflect on what we stand for. What are our values, vision and principles, and do these underpin our aims for the year ahead?
It seems obvious that headteachers and leaders need to have a clear understanding of their values vision and principles. This equally applies to all in schools. However, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of these as we become embroiled in the day to day events in school, and the conflicting pulls and pressures we all face on a daily basis.
It is important that the people we work with and alongside have an understanding of what it is that drives, motivates and underpins our actions as a leader. We will have articulated these in various ways and to various audiences, and our actions should demonstrate them on a day to day basis. A vital aspect of leadership is our ability to lead by example. By our actions we are giving life to our vision, values and principles. Problems occur when there is a mismatch between what we say and what we do. Its no good talking the talk if we are not going to walk the walk. Then you face a credibility gap and lack of trust.
All headteachers and leaders start in post with their vision, values and principles fresh in their minds. They will have no doubt been required to articulate these to various audiences before taking up their post. but, how often do these then become submerged or forgotten under the deluge of activities we have to deal with on a daily basis? It is my contention that we cannot, and should not, allow this to happen. We need to create time in very busy working lives to keep revisiting these and measuring everything we do against them.
They should not be set in stone but should be revisited, considered and reviewed in the light of experience, new knowledge and improved understanding.
Ask yourself, what are the values that underpin you as a headteacher and leader? When was the last time you considered them? Are you still being true to them? Does your role and performance reflect your values? Are these reflected in the school or organisation in which you work? Is there a mismatch? If there is, what are you going to do about it? These are big questions but ones which I would expect us all to be asking of ourselves and others constantly.
If we espouse values of equality, fairness, honesty and non-discrimination, is that what it feels like to others in our schoosl or establishment? Equality of opportunity for all? Fairness for all? Equality in how all are treated and valued? Is this what it feels like for staff, pupils, parents? How do you know? Where’s the evidence? Your perceptions and the reality might be something rather different.
You need to find this out and take action when necessary. To do this you need strong relationships that have engendered mutual trust within your school or organisation. Be aware that staff can be reluctant to give honest views and opinions, especially to a headteacher or leader who they think might be upset by what they have to say.
You need to take time to tell staff what they are doing well and praise them accordingly. Take a sincere interest in each of them and help them to develop as individuals and leaders. Don’t get sucked into the deficit model of school and personal development, where we constantly focus on things we are not doing or not doing well, instead of recognising all the things that we do really well, and building on these.
Our values are reflected in how we are with our pupils and what we are trying to achieve for all of them. We would never start work with children by telling them all the things they can’t do and don’t know. Instead we focus on their abilities,aptitudes and successes in previous learning and personal development. We need to use the same approach with all staff. School and organisational improvement and development can only start from where we are. Seems obvious, but often overlooked or ignored in the rush and push for change.
Values define you as a person and as an institution.
What of vision? You need a vision for the organisation you wish to lead and be associated with. You will have a personal vision for you as a leader and your professional development. The two are closely connected.
You will have a vision for your school and obviously you will play a major role in the development of this. You do not develop this in isolation, but involve all partners in its development. Some schools and organisations spend a lot of time in developing a vision statement and then move on to the next job to be done.
For this shared vision to to remain useful and meaningful we need to revisit it on a regular basis. At my own schools we engage with our vision and values at the start of every school year. This reminds us all of what we are trying to do and helps inform new staff about the ethos and culture of the schools and how important we feel this is.
Out of values and vision emerges our aims for the school. These should map out the steps everyone has agreed to take to enable delivery of the values and vision. They can be short or long term but they should reflect the journey of personal and establishment development.
After identifying you values, vision and aims these should then become the first audit tool you use in the school or organisation’s self evaluation. They can be used to evaluate practice and the culture. Is what you are doing matching up to what has been agreed? How do we know? What has improved for all our pupils as a result of these? This becomes part of the school’s on-going self-evaluation process and will be reflected throughout the school development plans and activities.
If you have developed values, vision and aims meaningfully, they help you to identify which changes and developments are appropriate, and which are not, for you and your school or organisation.
I would suggest that this then puts you in a stronger position to resist those things that need to be resisted in education. It is my belief that we have not been strong enough professionally and morally to stand up for what we believe in and know to be right. Basing what you do in your schools on sound values, vision, priciples and aims gives us a stronger position to fight the fights we need to fight, and make the cases we need to make.
‘When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.’ Roy E Disney