School Visions, Values and Principles: How much do they really impact students?

A fundamental element of every school’s culture is the vision, values and principles they communicate and promote to students, staff, parents, stakeholders, and through partnerships with their local community and various service providers.

But what is the value of a clear and positive school ethos?

How does a school benchmark how successfully their vision is embedded into their school community, and how much do the values and principles of a school really impact students?

Quite a lot, it would seem. If we look back at the findings of the Values Education Good Practice Schools Project funded by the Australian Government in the last decade, their findings included that values education can:

  1. Lead to changes in teacher professional practice in classrooms, particularly the way teachers relate to and communicate with their students;
  2. Produce calmer and more focused classroom activity;
  3. Enable students to become better self‐managers;
  4. Help students develop greater capacities for reflection;
  5. Increase teachers’ levels of confidence in their approaches to their work and their sense of professional fulfilment;
  6. Produce strong positive relationships between students and between students and teachers.

A simple search of Australian schools’ mottos, values and principles today reveals a common theme. Irrespective of whether a school is independent, co-educational, government, primary or secondary: all purport to promote an inclusive, supportive environment where respect, resilience, honesty, cooperation, unity, striving for excellence (be it academically or personally), and perseverance rank as desirable qualities.

That’s all well and good, but is it just lip service?

How important is it for a school to take positive action to embed these values within the whole-school community?

From findings in her research, Hannah Suggitt, a UK Lead Practitioner of Pedagogies, argues the importance of ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to embedding school values: “…a school can attempt to ‘brand’ itself explicitly as much as it wants with mottos and school visions, but unless an idea is accepted and becomes a part of the living existence of the school it will not become a developed characteristic of a whole school ethos. For students to be so clearly influenced and affected by the ‘feeling’ of their school climate (or culture, or atmosphere), … considerable attention should be paid to the development of a positive ethos for the betterment of our students’ richness of experiences within our education system.”

In the Final Report of the Department of Education’s Good Practice School’s Project (Stage 2) ‘At the Heart of What We Do: Values Education at the Centre of Schooling’, Ten principles of good practice in values education were recommended.

  1. Establish and consistently use a common and shared values language across the school.
  2. Use pedagogies that are values-focused and student-centred within all curriculum.
  3. Develop values education as an integrated curriculum concept, rather than as an external program, an event or an addition to the curriculum.
  4. Explicitly teach values so that students know what the values mean and how the values are lived.
  5. Implicitly model values and explicitly foster the modelling of values.
  6. Develop relevant and engaging values approaches connected to local and global contexts and which offer real opportunity for student agency.
  7. Use values education to consciously foster intercultural understanding, social cohesion and social inclusion.
  8. Provide teachers with informed, sustained and targeted professional learning and foster their professional collaborations.
  9. Encourage teachers to take risks in their approaches to values education.
  10. Gather and monitor data for continuous improvement in values education.

What strategies do you use to embed the vision, values and principles that are important to your school?

Embedding, promoting and maintaining your school’s vision is an ongoing and ever-evolving task. It needs to articulate to the whole school community its values and desired future achievements while gaining support for the school’s core educational values, goals and improvement plan. Most importantly, it needs to be an ethos your students and staff believe in … and can rally behind.

Suggitt suggests your school ethos – whatever it may represent “…has to be born within the collective consciousness of the school community, and must be brought to life through social interactions and personal beliefs. Unless the shared vision is accepted and invested within the members of the school, it cannot grow into any sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.”

There are many ways you can evaluate and reflect on how your school’s vision impacts on your students:

  • Are values being modelled in classroom interactions, and to be absorbed and recycled by students in other aspects of their lives?
  • Do you celebrate achievements across curriculum and extra-curriculum activities, achievements and milestones (eg recognition through newsletters, awards, photographs, sharing of information across the complete school community)?
  • Are teachers receiving specific training on how and where they can embed the school values in the classroom?
  • Do your school values foster student responsibility beyond the classroom in a local, national and global context?
  • Do you build student resilience and social skills through personal development and better understanding of self and others?
  • Do you continually look at additional ways you can communicate and promote your school’s values to students, staff, and the community (eg school song or oath at assembly, community partnerships and initiatives)?
  • Does your school’s current education and learning management system empower your students to realise their full potential, both academically and emotionally?
  • Does your school use software that develops a robust curriculum adaptive to the unique learning needs of every student while cross-referencing your school’s unique principles and values?

Developing an ethos for and adopting a whole-school approach to values education benefits students for the lifespan of their school years, and can last well into adulthood. If you’re seeking additional ways to raise the standard for lifelong learning and positive student outcomes, give the team at Edumate a call to discuss how our innovative technology can enhance your school’s strategy.

Sources researched / sited: