Home' Independence : Independence Vol 40 No 1 May 2015 Contents VOL 40 NO 1 MAY 2015 INDEPENDENCE 55
AMERICAN academics Petersen and
Deal1 argue that stories drawn from a
school’s history can ‘carry the genetic
code of values ... reinforcing certain
forms of behaviour and crystalising
beliefs’. According to Petersen and
Deal, ‘successful schools nourish
and adjust their heritage’. Too often,
however, schools fail to mine their
histories for culturally relevant material,
and photographs and artefacts that
might convey powerful messages to
contemporary students remain in storage.
If the stories, symbols and spaces within
a school are to be effective in supporting
the school’s ethos and values – and
even assist in the building of character
they must be strategically leveraged.
For example, many schools showcase
trophies and other spoils of victory that
convey messages about triumph, but
neglect stories, artefacts and symbols
that reinforce values that may be more
desirable in a given context, such as
service or contribution to society.
At The King’s School in New South
Wales, both explicit and subtle elements
are used to communicate specific
values. In our Centre for Learning and
Leadership, the academic heart of the
School, quotations, images and symbols
are used to affirm leadership as central
to our approach toward the development
THE STRATEGIC USE OF SCHOOL STORIES, SPACES AND SYMBOLS TO COMMUNICATE VALUES
DR STEVEN MIDDLETON
DIRECTOR OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES, THE KING’S SCHOOL, PARRAMATTA, NSW
of character. For instance, a quotation
from a speech by President John F.
Kennedy (which was never delivered)
adorns the entrance awning: ‘Learning
and leadership are indispensable to
each other’. On the surface of a granite
bench at the entrance to the Centre,
where students sit to enjoy their
lunch or conversation, is a verse from
Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem If, a
contemplation from father to son about
what it is to be a good man. Prominently
displayed in the Centre’s foyer are
stories of former students who have
demonstrated leadership in diverse fields,
with artefacts from their lives. Student
art work, depicting historical leaders and
their achievements, adorn the walls. Over
time, a student’s immersion in the Centre
will provide him with the opportunity to
consider – through curiosity and his own
exploration – these cultural elements.
School leaders are tasked with
communicating to their school
community a clear vision of the values
and character strengths to be promoted
to students. An important, but perhaps
understated function of this role is the
process of auditing and adjusting the
manner in which aspects of culture and
ethos are used to educate about values
and character in a contemporary setting.
Such an audit might begin with the
· What subtle and overt reminders about
desired values and character strengths
are being conveyed in the ceremonies,
traditions and rituals of the school?
· What visual elements and
representations of the same messages
are evident in the display of artefacts,
symbols and archival material?
· What messages are conveyed in the
spaces where students congregate or
which they traverse?
· What messages are being conveyed
in the stories that are told on formal
occasions such as assemblies
and chapel services, or in school
· How strongly do these aspects of
culture and ethos align with the stated
vision, mission and values?
A strategic approach to shaping culture
will not only help schools communicate
their ethos and values, but define what is
unique about them.
Dr Steven Middleton’s doctoral studies
included an investigation of manifestations
of school culture and ethos in relation to
student perceptions of character and leadership
Petersen KD & Deal TE (2009) The shaping
school culture fieldbook. San Francisco, USA:
spoke to the community about their time
in the School. We were all very aware as
we listened to these oral histories that
we also were part of the School’s story
and involved in creating the next chapter.
It was a consolidation of the past and a
step forward at the same time, and a very
powerful and special occasion.
The assembly brought together nearly a
thousand people, including state Cabinet
ministers, the Minister for Multicultural
Affairs and local government officials as
well as students, parents and the alumni
body. The assembly was followed by a
Gala Ball that evening.
It is only when we put our history on
display that people feel connected to it,
and from connection grows a sense of
belonging and pride. Knowing that one
of the staff has created the portraits adds
to the community’s pride in themselves.
The young students take pleasure in
looking at them, and I use them to help
tell the history of the School when I take
prospective families and visitors on tours.
We are creating other rituals in the School,
events such as a valedictory dinner,
formalised speech night and achievement
awards ceremonies – rituals other schools
might take for granted. Making our history
visible to all through the portraits has,
however, been a very important foundation
for culture and community building at
Alphington Grammar School.
Alphington Grammar School is a co-educational
day school with 535 students from pre-Prep to
Year 12. Dr Nikou commenced as Principal in
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