Bringing school values alive

Within a school setting, it is important that there is a consistent set of values which permeate everything that we do. To be truly successful, these values need to be in the ether of the very building. We must all live and breathe them and ensure that all that we do is measured against these values.

But how do we bring this to life? The concept of ‘values’ can be quite difficult to grasp, particularly among younger children. We’ve taken a rather novel approach to demonstrating and explaining our values at Headington Prep – in the form of bears.

Edwina Bear entered Headington Prep School in the 1950s. She was donated as a prize and came with a range of items of school uniform as well as a satchel containing everything she needed for learning, such as books. When I arrived at the School and was introduced to this delightful bear, I saw an opportunity. Edwina has come to embody our values. Through the acronym BEAR, this is what we stand for:

B – Be kind

E – Enjoy learning

A – Aim high

R – take a Risk

While in the Senior School, the 6Cs ( Compassion, Courage, Collaboration, Creativity, Confidence and Curiosity) determine the qualities the pupils develop to help them to be future ready, the Prep School demands a slightly different approach to ensure engagement and understanding from our young cohort and their families. Edwina works perfectly for this purpose and, over time, she has been joined by a whole slew of bears, each aimed at helping the girls develop different learning characteristics. Meet:

Persevering Pearl

Collaborative Clara

Curious Chloe

Imaginative Indira

Compassionate Coco

Reflective Ruby

The Bears are integrated into all that we do to help us to become better learners, to enable us to face difficulty and uncertainty calmly, confidently and creatively. The characteristics demonstrated by each bear help our girls to engage consciously with the ideas and processes of their own learning, in the knowledge that learning itself is learnable.

Pupils who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and better. They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable. They are future ready.

How does this work in practice? While our youngest girls, from age three upwards, are often enthusiastic bear owners and delight in the magic of learning through imaginary play, some of our eleven year olds at the other end of the School are terribly grown up and, dare I say it, perhaps a little old for teddies. For these older girls, the bears become more symbolic representations of the values we would like our children to embrace. You may be familiar with Austin’s butterfly, a wonderful demonstration of growth mindset. Here’s an example of how our bears stepped in to give their own version of the butterfly story to girls of all ages:

Reflective Ruby has been busy in the art room creating some superb observational drawings of butterflies. The other five bears have all been giving her support so she could be as creative as possible. At the start she wasn’t sure she could even draw a butterfly: ‘You might not be able to do it yet,’ said Persevering Pearl, ‘but if you persevere and keep practising you’ll get better.’ 

She picked up her pencil and gave her first drawing her best shot. ‘Remember, it doesn’t matter if you go wrong – when things go wrong, we learn loads!’ Pearl reassured her. Compassionate Coco was very supportive and kind about Ruby’s early attempts and made some helpful suggestions for her next steps: ‘Maybe you could make the top wings longer and more pointy or triangular shaped?’ 

And on her next attempt, Coco said: ‘Have you thought about making the wings point down more, rather than inwards?’ 

Ruby’s strongest quality was her ability to listen to advice and put into practice her next steps. So she made a third drawing of the butterfly – reflecting on what she’d done well and Coco’s comments about how she could improve. 

Collaborative Clara had taken on the role of artist’s assistant and was busy sharpening Ruby’s pencils and finding her more paper for all her attempts. She looked at her next attempt and said: ‘You could try making the wings more rounded, not so straight?’  

Both Clara and Coco were kind, specific and helpful with their feedback to their friend. 

Ruby mused: ‘I’ve come this far at getting the shape right,  maybe if I do another version, I can improve on the pattern?’

Curious Chloe was especially fascinated by the specific butterfly she was painting and kept asking questions and scurrying off to find the answers: ‘What type of butterfly is that? It has a very distinctive shape and markings. Where does it come from? Do they exist in the UK?’   

On the other side of the art room – Imaginative Indira was being inspired by the painting. She was designing a new dress for herself – and was thinking about how she could incorporate the pattern of the butterfly’s wings into her dress.

‘Did you know the name “tiger swallowtail” refers to the black, tiger-like stripes on the wings and long, pointed wing tails that look like the tail of a swallowl?’ piped Chloe as she returned from the library, ‘…and it has a wingspan of 10 – 12cm! That’s huge! And, it’s not a British butterfly, it comes from North America – shame…..I’m not going to see one when I’m out and about.’

A few days later, Ruby had completed her sixth version of the painting, adding pattern and colour. ‘Come and look at this,’ Pearl called to the other bears, ‘Ruby has worked so hard!’ 

‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ they exclaimed.

Not all bears would be involved in all learning experiences but this is an excellent example of how the bears, with their ‘personalities’ can help demonstrate many of the qualities we would like to see our girls develop. Working together collaboratively, the bears supported each other, were inspired and informed, had their imagination and curiosity piqued and ultimately produced work beyond that which they had thought they could achieve. This transfers very simply to everything that our girls do in the classroom (and beyond). In this way, our whole school community can become familiar with, understand and aim to achieve our school values. 

Our goal is always to prepare our girls for their future, whatever it may hold. By developing these critical values, we help equip them for the next steps of their educational journey.