It’s amazing where a story comes from. I was sitting in Wellington Airport with a corporate client, when he happened to mention he’d recently stepped down from being Chair for the Riccarton High School Board of Trustees, in Christchurch.
‘They’ve got a great programme running at our school – the Riccarton Way.’ Bill added.
My ears pricked up. Questions followed. A few weeks later I was sitting in their Principal’s office, having a chat with Gary Coburn and his DP, Phil Holstein.
Let’s add another element to the background. At the same time I was proofing my fifth book, ‘Getting a Grip on Leadership – How to learn leadership without making all the mistakes yourself!’
I had just proofed the following extract about work climate:
“You also want to learn how to help your team grow their self-leadership skills, for you know that a leader’s challenge is to spread responsibilities and rewards across all divisions of the organisation – to develop people.
How, you may ask, and where can you learn?
Not often enough in school, that’s for sure! Most colleges don’t run ‘How to create and sustain a climate of cooperation and effectiveness in the workplace: 101’ (although the occasional rare teacher or community-sponsored peer support programme integrates such concepts into their teaching). And so most of our young people hit the streets with no formal understanding of how to get the best out of themselves, their colleagues and their work environment. Result? Huge loss of productivity, disenchanted staff, and companies who waste incredible amounts of potential earnings.”
Well, I can now tell you that Riccarton High does run a programme to promote exactly that, and they’re seeing great results.
The programme began in 2001, after they’d noticed themselves often saying to some particularly challenging Year 9 students, ‘That’s not the Riccarton Way.’
Some questions then filtered to the front: What is ‘the Riccarton Way? What does the school stand for? What are our values? What attitudes do we want to encourage, amongst staff as well as students?
The realisation hit that it was easy to focus on the bottom end, the problems. But what would happen if instead they focused on what they wanted, encouraged desirable behaviour, rewarded examples of positive attitude and practical application of great values?
And so they came up with a very practical programme to do just that. The aim is to build a school based on values. The programme ‘unpacks’ care, courtesy and respect.
How do they do it? Here are some of the practical elements:
- They identified their core values, and each year emphasise just one. It will take a few years to cover them all, but choosing one per year sharpens the focus, instead of spreading energy and attention too thin.
- A smart and simple logo was created by a professional design company – branding the image they wanted to promote. (Every marketer knows the power of an image.)
- The logo is on everything – the school flag, business cards, Year 9 students’ information, the school diary every child gets, prefects’ badges, and heaps of other places.
- The Riccarton Way is constantly referred to at assemblies. The Assistant Principal at the time, Chris Kokay, and Junior Deans, run assemblies for Year 9 & 10 that focus on the Riccarton Way in a positive reinforcement sense.
- Each Year 9 student gets a fridge magnet with a picture and contact details of their Dean; the logo is on it.
- Attractive professionally designed action-style posters are displayed around the school, one for each year, promoting the value for the year, such as ‘Life is what you make it – get involved,’ and ‘Love yourself, better than before’.
- Other posters feature:
- Show courtesy, respect and care for others
- Achieve to the best of your abilities
- Special Riccarton Way badges were suggested and designed by the School Council. These badges are given out very sparingly, not necessarily to the kids who would normally be picked as natural leaders of a group, such as class captains or sports captains. Instead, they seek role models, people who really espouse the ‘Way’, who live the values, who exhibit the attitudes and skills needed to succeed in life. In fact, the first two badges were given to volunteer youth workers from the Spreydon Baptist Church who contribute tirelessly and continuously to the school – selfless practical Christian workers who live their values instead of preach them.
- Every prefect gets a Riccarton Way badge, and is expected to live up to the standards it represents.
- Student leaders pick up on the annual theme and get students involved in various applications – it helps if it comes from them, too.
- The expectations apply to the staff as well as the children. For instance, the professional development emphasis for the year on Reflective Practice is about the theme, ‘Improve yourself, better than before’. Seven senior students were invited to address the whole staff at a Teacher Only Day at the beginning of one year on ‘what will help us learn’. Then they answered questions – heaps of them!
- There are two standards documents:
– the ‘Step Up’(Yr 9) and ‘Moving On’ (Yr 10) programmes emphasise the Riccarton Way ethos by promoting and reinforcing good work attitudes and habits;
– the Yellow Ribbon programme has been introduced in the school to reinforce the Riccarton Way ‘care, courtesy and respect’ message. It’s ‘it’s okay to seek help’ message has had the anti-bullying ‘it’s okay to tell’ message added to help any student who feels isolated or threatened.
- Gary acknowledges the staff for applications of Riccarton Way behaviour – with cakes of chocolate! (at least one per fortnight – Cadbury’s is very suitable as it usually has gold and blue and sometimes red on the wrapper – the school colours!) This helps keep the Riccarton Way ethos in front of the staff as well.
Observations and Results as of 2004:
- Year 9 students don’t arrive in this ‘state of grace’! They’re the raw material, just like any other disparate group of new students from a large catchment area of great cultural diversity. However, because it is becoming ‘the way we do things round here’, staff often hear senior students helping to bring new students into line.
- All staff reinforce the Riccarton Way but the Phys Ed department is especially good at reinforcing the Riccarton Way.
- The school already had a good culture, but this enhances and improves it.
- The Riccarton Way will always be a work in progress, given human nature. However, Gary and Phil believe that you must keep a set of values in front of students and promote them in a positive way in our schools, given the increasing diversity of our student populations. They believe the Riccarton Way has and does make a difference in the school and there are so many great role models for the ethos among Riccarton High School students.
In years to come, if I were an employer in Christchurch, I’d be looking for Riccarton High graduates – unlike most people, they’re being taught to focus on great values, to build great attitude. And as all employers know, the most critical element to look for in an employee is a great attitude. Skills are great, knowledge is very valuable, but attitude overrides everything. Great work, Riccarton High.