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The Value of Values

In my assemblies this week, I have been talking to the pupils in more detail about our Values Wheel and why I believe it is so important.  The framed posters of the wheel now adorn pretty much every spare surface in the school, but I wanted to emphasise to the children the reasons why we did this, rather than simply letting the wheel too quickly become part of the furniture.

The challenge has been how to take four abstract nouns – courage, excellence, perseverance and respect, as I think we are all aware by now – and to turn them into actions.  For example, in the quadrant that focuses on courage, I highlighted the yellow sections that emphasise the need to work independently, display resilience and find solutions. 

I reminded the children of what I heard Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and now President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), say at a conference about ten years ago.  He recounted the story of how his father had told him when he was sixteen about the power of discretionary effort – doing what you are asked to do and then doing a bit more.  If our pupils can develop such positive habits in school and take them to the workplace in due course, they will surely not go far wrong.

I always make the point that when we talk about excellence at Radnor House we mean it as relative not absolute.  The pinnacle of success is reserved for only a tiny minority in life, but all of us can strive to be the best version of ourselves, to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know that we could not have tried any harder.  Most of us will never win the glittering prizes, but the satisfaction of knowing you have done your best is worthy of the highest recognition, as is the self-awareness to accept that there are almost always gaps that still need to be filled.

The wheel in the excellence quadrant highlights the need to take responsibility, do the right thing – which is rarely the easy option – and be a role model.  I made the point to the older pupils in the Sixth Form that they should never underestimate their power to set the right tone and ethos in the school.  If they can model the behaviours that they need to stand them in good stead, both at school and beyond, this will permeate through the younger years and help raise expectations across the board.

The Latin motto at Caterham School, my alma mater, used to be ‘Omnia Vinces Perseverando’, roughly translated as perseverance conquers all.  I made the point to the children that this is not always true because you also need a modicum of talent and a huge slice of luck to make the very best of everything, but the fact that I can still remember it nearly forty years later must tell us that it was of some value.

The exhortations on the wheel in this quadrant encourage pupils to seek ways to improve, extend their learning and re-draft and craft.  I asked them not to be satisfied with a piece of work that was completed late in the day, done in a hurry and without due care.  Being slapdash is easy; much less so to be careful and precise.

Visiting an exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures at the Tate Modern earlier this year, I was struck by the way he worked and reworked his plaster casts and bronze moulds until he was satisfied that he had got it right, even to the point of using the same shape fingers and toes on different pieces because he knew they were near-perfect.  There was a good quotation from the sculptor on the wall of the gallery: ‘What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist, and gripping toes.’

I try hard to put an equal sense of merit on the four values, but it is usually obvious that respect is the most important and the one on which to build everything else.  The yellow section of the quadrant urges the pupils to live the values, be part of a team and believe in themselves and others, which are indeed worthy sentiments, but it may be more useful in this case to looks at the inner section.

The verbs listed here are: tolerate, include, listen, thank, help and encourage, which strikes me as being exactly what is needed across our society.  While some might argue that Donald Trump managed to become a billionaire, a reality television star and, of course, the President of the United States of America, without ever showing any of these qualities, history will surely judge him poorly in years to come and will highlight his shortcomings.

By contrast, the epitaphs for Sir David Amess will be overwhelmingly positive, emphasising above all his kindness, decency and willingness to support those who relied on him for help.  He was clearly a man of values and should be a role model for many, whether or not you agree with his politics.  The dignity of the words from his family brought a tear to my eye: ‘We ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all.  Please let some good come of this tragedy.  We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.’ 

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