Core values, says researcher Jim Collins in his 1996 book Built to Last, are "the organization's essential and enduring tenetsa small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification; they have intrinsic value and importance to those inside the organization."
We felt values were likely to be a crucial aspect of understanding what the school saw as a priority, its guiding principles as an organisation for how it should operate, potentially as guiding principles not only for staff, but for learners too.
We were not necessarily concerned with defining particular values. As Collins himself makes clear, "The key is not what core values an organization has, but that it has core values."
Many schools already have a sense of what their values are, even if they have never expressed them. This perspective changes the focus from "creating" values to "discovering" values, and as such we made this a session in the Review stage as opposed to the Concept Brief stage.
The session plan we created is therefore aimed at a school that has a weak articulation of its values, and would need to be adjusted should the school already have a stronger articulation.
We were keen to not go in and work on redefining an existing value set, but we also felt that since values should ideally drive behaviour, decisions and strategy in an organisation, it was important to ensure any strong themes were translated into the concept brief and concept design.
In order to make those links more tangible, this session introduced a set of definitions of Values which the school may not have used before, distinguishing between Core Values (what the school believes) and Operational Values (what informs decisions).
We started by stimulating discussion by creating a set of common beliefs which many schools share, before looking at articulating those as core values. This provided a foundation to consider operational values already in place at the school and examine the alignment between current practice and ideal practice.
This was a difficult session to facilitate, requiring not only the facilitators to think creatively through the session to reach a useful output, but also for participants to be alert, reflective and in a mood to think about highly conceptual material. In some pilots, we found running the session at the end of a working day, when participants were tired, made the session very difficult. We would advise running similar sessions in staff training days away from the day to day activity of the school, and preferably in the morning.
We also found the primary schools in the pilot schools tended to find the session more useful in forging themes which were later better articulated in the brief. Kingsley, for example, found the session a thought provoking and useful opportunity for staff to look closely at their practice in relation to the bigger picture philanthropic ideals that are often at the heart of their involvement in education. Although the concepts explored were not expressed explicitly in later output, the conversions that occurred in that session forged a sense of spirit and understanding between the school and project team that ultimately influenced the direction of the pilot project.