A quick review of the daily news does not usually elevate a person’s thinking or lift the spirits of the average person. They are often filled with negativity and innuendo, vexatious commentary or – worst of all – pleasure in seeing another human being brought low. It is one of the reasons why watching a typical media debate can be so exhausting. People are constantly interrupting one another, speaking out-of-turn, or engaging in triumphal one-upmanship. It is certainly rarely uplifting.
In schools, we have an opportunity to influence the way students think about what they hear, how it is said, and what it means. We can do this because, next to the early language skills built at home, schools are places where words matter. They matter because words shape thought and thought shapes action – or, sometimes, inaction.
Human beings have long known that words have power. By choosing how we frame and talk about something, we are signalling to others about how we think. This is significant in schools because we can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something. This is both a huge privilege and a huge responsibility.
In an independent school, words are not trivial. They hold the enterprise together. They strengthen strategy, promote understanding, and elevate discourse, so that aspirations can become a reality. Although we may know it intuitively, science confirms the tremendous power our words have on ourselves, communities, and the world.
What are the most important words in a school like ours? They are three things we cannot do without: mission, vision, and values. When used properly, they are powerful tools. They clearly and concisely convey the purpose, direction and driving force behind our existence. They communicate our intentions and motivate and inspire us to make consistent everyday decisions in the best interests of the students we serve.
Words communicate what we do, why we are here, and who we are. They are not fluff. Words hold stakeholders and schools accountable for why they exist. Words also steer priorities and decisions when demands or interests go beyond a school’s focus.
Well-written statements guide decision-making, resource allocation, policy decisions, and how the school operates. By making its purpose clear in words, a school is better able to put its goals and objectives into action.
In the end, a commitment to such statements of “purpose” helps all stakeholders prioritise their time and energy in ways that align with the important values of the school.
And this leads to strength, momentum, permanence, and posterity.
Head of School