Heads Up

I work with schools to develop their vision and get it out to the team so that it does the job a vision should do:  inspire action and make it happen.

If you want to create a really great vision you need to know your values.  Every school I’ve worked in has a vision and most have values but sadly most of them are not working effectively which I’m know because heads and school leaders tell me:

‘No-one remembers the vision’

‘It’s just words’

‘We’ve got our values but I don’t see everyone living by them’ (followed by lots of examples and frustration).

The problem is values are often just words such as respect, trust, integrity, because they don’t tell your team, or you, enough about what we mean by that value.  Whilst we might agree broadly on the definition, what each of these looks like in practice will be different to each of us.

If you don’t explain clearly what these values look like in practise then it’s hard for people to really show them, because their interpretation is exactly that:  theirs.  It’s not a shared understanding.


Enter Mrs Bertorelli.

I was working with a school, who had been judged as requires improvement, to create their vision. We started this journey by understanding the values the leadership team wanted in the fabric of their school.

‘Respect’ came up and as you’ve probably guessed there was no way we were going to stop there!  Through some pretty tough, but also enjoyable, thinking and discussion, they came up with the definition ‘To respect our environment, others and ourselves’.  That’s a lot better than just saying ‘respect’, however it still doesn’t go far enough for me; we owe it to our teams to be really clear about what we mean by these values, not to box them in but to give them clarity.

Mrs Bertorelli, a teaching assistant, was mentioned; how she would do things like walk through the corridor in the morning and put coats which had fallen on floor back on the pegs and tidy shoes as she went, all with a smile on her face as well as many other examples.

At lunch time the head was showing me the school’s gorgeous new library, a great space for the children to enjoy reading and one which was being enjoyed and well looked after.  Who was looking after it?  Mrs Bertorelli. 

As I spoke to Mrs Bertorelli I found a wonderfully warm woman, who loved the school, children and adults she worked with and showed this through her actions which showed respect but also kindness, another of the school’s values.  Mrs Bertorelli was a great example, an ambassador, of the school’s values because she demonstrated them through her actions daily and as we all know (say it with me): actions speak louder than words.

As leaders, once we are clear on our values, the first step in creating a school which lives by those values is to live them ourselves, day in, day out.  We’re all human and so we will ‘slip up’ from time to time and we don’t live those values 100%, that’s ok, as long as we acknowledge this or have others around us who will help us see when this has happened.

strength_circTop tip:  Find your Mrs Bertorelli.  Is there anyone in your school who ‘just does’ what you would want from someone in your team, like Mrs B?  What are the values they are demonstrating that you want in your school?

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