As a principal I tried, with stakeholders, to develop a list of values to reflect what we were about as a school. However, over the years, we added and refined the list in line with the policies, programmes and projects we developed. At last count, our values – beautifully represented on all stairwell steps up to the first floor – included: integrity, excellence, expectation, can-do-attitude, opportunity, innovation, individuality, joy, questioning, service, style, camaraderie, respect and diversity. I can do a whole workshop about these fourteen values, explaining each one and giving many examples.

However, this list is more about a proud principal looking back than a 2024 school community looking ahead. School values should be specific enough to guide staff and students to model and shape school behaviour and professionalism. They should be easily memorable for maximum impact.

The WCED has adopted six core values to bolster its vision. You see them everywhere. Even on my morning coffee cup! What values have you, as a school, literally made your own to the extent that your learners bring them to life in the way they behave within and beyond the classroom and into their dreams and ambitions?

What got me thinking about values was my colleague, Sue Redelinghuys, sharing her old school’s values at a planning workshop and she dubbed them RICA values. Now, that, even I can remember and bring to mind every day.

RICA stands for RESPECT, INTEGRITY, COMPASSION and ACCOUNTABILITY. It may not encompass my fourteen, but it provides the basis for decent living and that includes leading, teaching and learning.

Values matter. Even just spending some time thinking about what matters to you personally or what matters to you as a school is an important and valuable exercise. The schools I visit often have values painted in bright colours in prominent places. In some school foyers, the value of the month is clearly displayed, but, too often, it’s the February value and it’s November.

The thing about values is that they have to be lived and that means striving, trying and re-trying every day. For values to matter in school they have to be modelled by committed leaders and professional teachers. They don’t become school values unless they’re seen and felt and entrenched in every classroom and learning setting. You’ll find them in schools that work despite their disadvantage because they are made to matter by driven teams who teach with energy, enthusiasm and hope.

RICA helps to keep it simple.

By now you might know that RESPECT is one of my favourite words in education. Respect for self is your personal morality and work-ethic, your self-discipline, your decision-making; respect for others is the dignity, the courtesy and the sincerity which define your personal and professional relationships.

INTEGRITY means principal, teachers and learners acting in a way that is honest, that is ethical, that is true to oneself, under any circumstances, even when no one is watching.

COMPASSION, in a school sense means creating a culture in which kindness is valued and practised. As teachers we know that a smile, a kind word or a compliment can be very motivational. But, in our socio-economic South African reality, compassion requires us to be genuinely concerned about others and their needs.

ACCOUNTABILITY is the crucial one in our schools – willingly accepting the responsibility to teach, teach and teach with substance and skill in a way which, in turn, gives learners the best chance of rising above their circumstances.

The point is that a school has the chance to define its culture. Good principals actually set the tone for how teachers feel in a staffroom. They don’t just read the notices for the day, they create a climate by greeting with sincerity, by taking an interest in their teachers’ lives, their teaching and their activities, by giving their teachers a voice in the school and by doing so with insight and personality.

If I think of the leaders in my last school management team, I can put particular values to each of the faces around the table. They all knew my core values, too. Together we committed to and worked towards a shared vision and, importantly, to protecting and ensuring its consistency, week after week.

When you reflect on something as positive and as powerful as your school’s values, you are taking real ownership of what you have and what you want. And, together, you are shaping the future.

Til next time.

Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust


No: 18/23
22 November 2023