Teaching is a vocation, it’s a job that becomes part of your life, it’s not something you can one day decide to do and the next day start applying for jobs in.
Teaching is an important and essential building block of society – and rightly so – teachers teach everyone.
As well as the understanding of a range of subjects and skills, teachers have a duty to curate and encourage the morals, values and ethics of their school, their students and of society. Some of this is in everyday rules and guidelines of the school – from the school motto through the values to the rewarding of positive behaviours – and some of the guidance comes through citizenship, PSHE and the teaching of ‘British Values’.
The British Values we are charged with upholding and instilling through our schools are the elements that David Cameron believed were key to Britain’s success as a nation and are as follows:
The rule of law
Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
The British Values cover all bases – from the way our constitution works, through methods of state control to individual responsibilities and social cohesion. The implicit message being, that without these values, our nation won’t function properly – the social contract that we sign up to as citizens of a nation is only as binding as the importance we as individuals place on recognising and supporting those values.
Teachers look to the arenas of sport, music, journalism, art, religion, science and politics for exemplars and role models of these values and behaviours: Dame Kelly Holmes, David Frost, A.A.Gill, Zadie Smith, Betty Boothroyd, John Lennon, Dianne Abbott, Elton John, Ada Lovelace and hundreds more.
These names live on as people who embody/embodied British Values and, although through the lens of history we may judge some of their achievements slightly differently now, they are people we can put up for discussion as some of the best of us.
Now, whilst we are looking at values and societal contracts, if we have a responsibility as educators to make sure future generations have a grasp on the moral glue that binds us together, shouldn’t we have an expectation that those in control of our democracy not only consider these values, but also lead by example.
People who are elected by the population of the UK are required to sign up to the Nolan Principles of Public Life – a code of conduct for people who are involved in politics, the civil service and a range of roles, both paid and voluntary, which are key to making sure society in the UK is run professionally, with integrity and openness. These roles include voluntary trustees, board members, governors and the like.
These are the Nolan Principles
Like the British Values, these are a set of guidelines which – you would hope – are the basic values and traits displayed by anyone who is seeking to work in public office and those which we should expect, shouldn’t we?
I mean, we teach this stuff to children as soon as they can understand the concept of values don’t we – don’t be selfish, tell the truth, take responsibility for what you’ve done, role model respectful behaviour, admit it when we’ve made mistakes – so really, we should expect those that represent us in public life should be able to understand the basic tenets of being part of society.
But what if they don’t?
What if the people who govern us, decide policy and represent us on the world stage don’t adhere to the principles they sign up to as a member of our society and as a member of parliament?
What if the leadership has a skewed notion of personal responsibility and an instinct for self-preservation rather than selflessness?
What if their openness and integrity are frequently proven to be wanting yet there are plenty of their parliamentary colleagues who are willing to state with bare face that up is down, wrong is right and that a party isn’t a party and that someone can be ‘ambushed by a cake’?
Well…if that was happening somewhere else, we could start to question whether they were a ‘failed democracy’ couldn’t we?
When we can all see what the boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes can see and then we realise that Parliament is somewhat of a pantomime “oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is etc…” and our children are seeing it too, what can we do?
We can role model the values we want to see.
We can support and reinforce the values we want to see.
We can highlight the difficulties of making decisions and the moral pitfalls that can trip us up.
We can show, role-model, share and highlight what the best behaviour shows about us as a society – we can create the society we WANT to be part of in the way that if we’re wanting to see more kindness in the world, we can start by putting it ther
It’s worth remembering what Michelle Obama said: “power doesn’t corrupt people, it reveals who they are” and we also need to remember that someone’s power depends on people supporting that position – when those followers finally see that someone’s way of maintaining power is through obfuscation, confusion, denial and distraction – they will eventually work to remove that power because, for one thing, a leader’s behaviour affects how others see the followers.
Infections spread through proximity.
Fortunately the opposite is also true, those who follow leaders with values who support everyone with honesty, integrity and empathy will help to continue that support and build the organisations, institutions and the society that we should all want to be part of.
Be the change.
The Empathy Lightbulbs workshops and keynote may be what you need to help open dialogue and debate around leadership, values and ethics in Citizenship, PSHE and RSE..