The St Paul’s Way
At the Secondary School Assembly on Monday, I spoke to the students about Character and Community. I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you.
As you know, we talk about character a lot at St Paul’s. Character, as we understand it, is the type of person that you are becoming. It’s different from your image, and it’s different from your reputation. It’s who you really are (or, at least, the person the student is becoming as they grow up). It’s about the “habits of the heart” that they are developing. We also call these habits “virtues”.
Similarly, we also talk about virtues a lot. There is a St Paul’s School Character Framework poster in every class room (and a copy in every student diary). This framework defines the virtues and helps students to understand how these concepts translate into practical actions, such as the way in which we speak to and treat one another.
In addition to character, which mostly refers individual traits, we can also consider culture; specifically, the culture of St Paul’s School. The word ‘culture’ can have a few meanings but, in this context, the dictionary definition of culture is “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” We – the students and staff (and parents) of St Paul’s School – are a “particular people or society”. We are a community, and so we have a culture. You could call it “the St Paul’s way of doing things”. Let’s think about what that might look like…
Obviously, if we are all striving to live out the virtues, that will have a significant effect on the culture of the school. We will be a community in which everyone treats each other with kindness and respect. We will be a community in which our individual efforts are characterised by honesty, diligence, humility and courage.
But there’s more. I believe the culture of St Paul’s School, “the way we do things around here” will be seen in the following –
We will be an inclusive community, not one in which people are marginalised or picked on because they are different in some way;
We will be a willing community, in which everyone strives to do their best and to become their best; a community in which excellence is celebrated.
We will be a generous community, in which we share what we have and give credit where it is due. We will also generously forgive one another, when we make mistakes or fall short.
Let’s face it; we all want to be part of a community like that, don’t we?
St Paul wrote to the first Christian community in Rome, and he described the church as a body; made up of different parts, but in which each part plays a vital role. I think it’s a good analogy for our school community too. St Paul wrote –
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour….
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Now, as you may have realised, I was prompted to think these thoughts because of several specific behaviours that I have observed or heard about in the past couple of months.
In some year groups and friendship groups, I have been disappointed to hear about a lack of love, a lack of kindness and a lack of respect for one another. There has been some gossiping, and exclusion; there has been bullying and even some fighting; there has been offensive and even abusive language – face-to-face, and also online. I stressed, in talking to the students on Monday, that this is not the St Paul’s way.
There has been a lack of respect shown by a small number, expressed as graffiti and vandalism. Specifically, a few have thought it was okay to leave their tags around the school – creating extra work and expense for our cleaning staff. Similarly (apparently associated with a TikTok challenge) a few students apparently thought it was okay to cut into the back of some of the chairs in the Science labs, using the strings of their face masks. Again: that is not the St Paul’s way. Those responsible, when they are identified, will be paying for the repairs to the chairs they have damaged.
In closing, may I stress that I do understand that our students (indeed, all of us) are still works in progress. They are still working out who they want to be and where they fit in the world. TikTok might seem really cool (aside: it seems to me that most of the challenges posted there are dangerous, or stupid, or illegal, or all of the above). On the other hand, trying to develop the virtues in their lives can seem like hard work and not much fun. But – and here is the secret – it is the best way. It is the most rewarding way. This is the way to make their parents and teachers proud. This is the St Paul’s way.
Mr Nigel Grant
Executive Director of Faith & Community