Values - on the wall or in the heart?
Shirley, as a leader of a school, speaks about the importance of pausing and reflecting on the values that her school has built a legacy of 133 years upon. She warns that we should not simply dive into policy changes and codes of conduct without first reviewing whether our school’s values are still relevant today.
It is easy for school leaders to view the historical values of their institutions through the lens of what they value personally, as if that is an accurate barometer for values that reflect the diversity of our nation. Our past must warn us that trusting in how we personally ‘feel’ about something is to be treated with a great degree of caution if we want to build a school that reflects the values of inclusivity, justice and equality. To assume that somehow as a leader you were immune from the ‘blinkering’ of your view of the world by South African society and government policy, is to be truly naïve and fails to understand the long-reaching consequences of your choices as a leader in a South African school today.
Shirley suggests a place to start for all leaders who want to take their school on a truly transformative journey – reflect on the values the school holds dear and seeks to perpetuate through every successive generation of learners that moves through the classrooms of the institution. Test them. See if they uphold the democratic fabric of our nation. See if they create equal opportunity for all our children. See if they are truly as noble as we thought they were. This testing cannot be done by one or two people. It has to include representative voices that can give differing and sometimes conflicting views on these values. We should not steer away from conflict but rather find the tools to engage with it. Because we know that it is in the crucible that precious metal is refined.
Once those values have been evaluated and a core set have been agreed upon by the various stakeholders in that school community (the school community would be wise to remember that they are also part of a national context, and as such has the entire South African community as a stakeholder), it has to infuse every aspects of the school’s life. Values are meant to be embedded in the heart so that it directs the person to make decisions in accordance with these values on a daily basis. The living out of these values, through the code of conduct and various policies, will be the ‘spirit’ that imbues the dry ‘letter of the law’ with life that can make a real difference in the school, the community and even our nation.
Almost all schools I have encountered have values that in the most part are noble and impressive. I have encountered very few schools (I can literally count them on my hand), who take the trouble to ensure that those values are lived out in every aspect of the school’s life – from how teachers behave in the classroom to what the rugby coach is telling the boys about how to play the game on Saturday, from the disciplinary hearing to how girls are taught to prepare for their matric exams. What kind of school are you leading?
Values that really matter are the ones that penetrate the heart, not the ones hanging on the wall of the school foyer.