Assembly: Values and Behaviours

As we return for Term 5, I have taken assemblies for each of the five houses. In my assembly, I have talked about values, and how our values inform our behaviours.

To start with, I discussed the fact that our coins are changing. For the first time in my life, we will have coins with the King’s head on the back rather than the Queen’s head. Yet, despite the coronation of a new monarch, the coins still have the same value; although they look different, they are worth the same.

The same is not true of these coins. The “one pound” coin on the left is no longer legal tender – it is worth less than the one pound coin on the right. Why is this? Simply – we have all been told that this is the case, and we all accept it. The one on the left is worthless, despite it saying “one pound” on the front, because we’ve all been told it’s worthless and we all accept this.

The value of something isn’t always obvious by its appearance. I would love the guitar on the left – a brand new Fender Stratocaster. But the old Fender Stratocaster on the right has no strings, the strap is on the wrong side, and it has been damaged in a fire. The surface is badly scorched and the wood underneath is burnt. It is unplayable – but somebody paid $380,000 for it. Its value is not as a musical instrument, but as a part of rock history.

The guitar was famously doused in lighter fluid and set on fire by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey festival in 1967. This is what gives it its value – it is an artefact, not an instrument.

Swipe to see the change in value of a Ferrari

The same is not true of a Ferrari however. A brand new Ferrari, whilst worth less than a burnt Hendrix guitar, is worth a lot more new than it is when wrapped around a lamp post. The damage to this valuable asset has not increased its value – it has diminished it. This is not a part of history or culture – it is a testament to someone who needs to drive more carefully and hope they have a good insurance policy. 

So, the value something has is not intrinsic to itself. Rather, it is a shared idea, or a common belief that something has value. At Churchill, our values of kindness, curiosity and determination govern all our actions and inform our behaviours. We work hard to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy community, and to the wider world, and to set no limits on what we can achieve.

Professor Carol Dweck picks up this idea of setting no limits on what we can achieve in her work on mindsets. She explains through her research how it is the effort that we put in that ensures we achieve, not our ability. As she says: “no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

This idea of effort is something that we think has tremendous value. It is why it is the first of our six “learning values” at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form – the research-informed principles that inform our approach to pedagogy.

The things we value inform the way that we behave. At the start of every long term, in September, January, and now after Easter, I always remind students about our classroom behaviour expectations: the Top 5. This term is no exception. The students are very familiar with these expectations now, but it is no less important that they stick to them if we are to make the most of every moment of lesson time.

We also have a set of five expectations for social time behaviour, and I used this start of term assembly to run through these in detail. In particular, I explained the ways in which we have responded to student feedback with amendments to our uniform policy this year, and changes to the toilets, following student leadership initiatives – and how it is now the students’ responsibility to uphold those standards now that they are established.

As we moved towards the conclusion of the assembly, I talked about bullying. I explained that, if you say anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable about who they are, this is wrong and unacceptable – and may also be illegal if it references a protected characteristic. I explained that saying or doing something “as a joke” or as “banter” normalises unacceptable behaviour by making it seem okay in certain situations – but it is never okay. If we see people doing or saying unkind things again and again over time – even “as a joke” – these behaviours can become normalised. And we are all susceptible to normalisation. 

Normalisation refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal’ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life. There are different behavioral attitudes that humans accept as normal, such as grief for a loved one, avoiding danger, and not participating in cannibalism. Our perception of what is ‘normal’ can transform over time – and this can be a force of good and ill.

The video above gives a great example of how bizarre and unusual behaviour, that someone would never normally display, can be influenced by the behaviour of people around you and very quickly become “normal.” Although this is a light hearted example, this principle can be much more serious.

In Nazi Germany in the 1930s we saw hateful, discriminatory and abhorrent attitudes and beliefs “normalised” by society. Pastor Niemoller’s poem shows what can happen if we sit by and let things that we know to be wrong happen around us. We must stand up for what we know to be right. 

I finished the assembly – as I like to do – with a quotation. This one, from Benjamin Franklin, shows how values and behaviours are interlinked one with the other. Our values inform our behaviours, and our behaviours shape our values.

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