Published on August 19, 2022
In my last blog post I wrote about the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) World and the antidote to this:
- creating a vision (V)
- developing a shared understanding of this vision in action (U)
- aiming for clarity in our why, how and what (C) and
- remaining agile (A).
The goal of our community engagement workshops over the last two weeks have been to create the stability, certainty and direction we need in uncertain times. This comes from a clear articulation of who we are as a community and what we value (our identity) and establishing a strategic vision that honours and builds on this identity. The overarching objectives of the workshops were to:
- Build a culture of shared ownership and dialogue
- Create the opportunity for authentic collaboration and agency-building
- Develop a shared understanding of the key drivers in education for HVGS.
I have completed these workshops with parents and staff and hope to do so with students in the near future. The workshops began with my version of the HVGS identity because this must be our
starting point and our truth north. By being clear about who we are and what drives us, we can then aspire for our preferred future as a school.
My version of the HVGS identity is based on our core values and statement of intent that is found on the website:
“We are a vibrant blend of courage, culture, innovation and curiosity. We act with passion and purpose and celebrate each student as a unique individual.
Central to the Hunter Valley Grammar School experience is a deep sense of care and compassion; it’s what makes us different. It sets us apart. We unashamedly believe that an optimistic, healthy learning environment is the catalyst for lifelong learning.
We know that when the right learning environment exists, children feel safe to challenge and question the world around them and participate in all aspects of school life.”
The values and statement above is why I came to work at HVGS. I came here because we are a values-driven school that believes all students thrive in a culture that values care and compassion and aspires for excellence in all aspects of learning. Central to our identity is a belief that student voice and agency is important: we want our young people to challenge the “world around them” which means also challenging their own and others’ assumptions. Hope is part of our DNA as well as the drive to foster student curiosity and innovation. We also unashamedly believe that each student should be able to access a learning pathway that matches their goals and strengths. This is not easy or always possible, but we continue to strive for this because it is part of our identity. We are, and will continue to be, a school that believes students flourish when they are in a healthy, outdoor environment and demonstrate this with a campus that has a plethora of flora and fauna. Finally, and above all else, “we celebrate each student as a unique individual”.
That is who we are at HVGS and I am proud to be part of a learning community that pursues these aspirations.
HVGS also has a unique origin story. HVGS was created by a group of passionate people who wanted to create a non-religious, co-educational school of excellence. We are unique amongst independent schools in this region as we have no religious affiliation. There is a pioneering spirit that underpins our origin story and informs our strategic decisions over the years, including to offer all International Baccalaureate Programmes, open an Early Years Centre on campus, and purchase a farm. We are a school that is tenacious in its pursuit of excellence and in being a future-thinking school. While there are always ways that we can do this better, it is very much part of our who we are and aspire to be.
I asked some students this week to describe for me the HVGS identity and this is what they said (I’ve included many statements as they are quite powerful):
“Caters for all ages and strengths”
“Is known for lots of aspects of growth and development, and for the safety of all students”
“Inclusive, respectful environments”
“We address issues within the school environment because we care about the wellbeing of students”
“To create internationally-minded students in order to give them access to opportunities around the world”
“Creates relationships that provide everyone with a sense of belonging”
“HVGS embraces differences to provide a safe and nurturing environment which allows students to develop relationships and grow into well-adjusted and educated young adults”
“Our values are the foundation of the HVGS community”
Our student comments are inspiring. However, we can never be complacent and as part of our self-reflection and growth as a community, we need to determine how we realise this identity in the shifting landscape of the next five years. Our new strategic plan, which will be published at the end of this academic year, will provide that roadmap.
During the parent engagement workshops, key opportunities for growth emerged, some of which link to strategic change and others are more immediate issues to address. Two key priority areas were creating opportunities for parents to connect with each other and streamlining communications. We are working on both and have conducted an analysis on the number of communication touchpoints for parents. At the start of 2023 we will have streamlined our communication tools for parents and have a calendar of parent engagement events.
It was also clear that some parents who joined HVGS since 2020 are feeling more disconnected from the community and are uncertain about what we stand for and where we are going. For these parents the communication challenges are exacerbated, and it is often unclear who they need to reach out to. We are looking at ways to provide the time and space for these families to connect with each other, and us, before the end of 2022.
Being clear about our identity – who we are and what we stand for as a school – and ensuring our systems and structures reflect this identity is a key focus for myself as Principal. This identity needs to be the foundation for our next strategic plan as it can provide strong, stabilising roots we need to navigate a VUCA world together. We also need to be agile and responsive to the changes that mark our children’s worlds as very different to our own. In my next blog post, I will explore some of the future trends on the horizon that will be informing our strategic vision.