Ethos derives from the Greek word for ‘character’. When you walk around the school you feel its character and this feeling will be the evidence you need that the school values are actually happening in practice.
Headteachers are responsible for maintaining the ethos of the school. In other words, the Headteacher has to make sure that the values of the school are upheld and reinforced in such ways as to make them evident to any visitor. Newsletters and publicity should provide the community with examples of what the school means by its values.
For example: One of the values of Saltash.net Community School is ‘Respect’. Visitors report that it is a respectful school and when you question them more deeply about this they typically talk about an ethos of friendliness and a feeling that there is no ‘us and them’ between staff and students. There is a shared culture in which people expect to speak positively about striving for achievement and the achievement of others such that it feels like a community and an extended family even though there are over 1300 ‘family members’. Other shared cultural elements that support this value are the expectations that people apologise when they bump into you and they smile back when you smile at them. This myriad of small behaviours, customs and culture create the ethos that reflect the school value of respect.
Values displayed in everyone’s behaviour and are the same as those displayed on the walls.
It is essential that there is a common understanding of what these values look like in practice and what culture each member of the community needs to reinforce to uphold them. This interpretation and ‘enforcement’ is clearly the responsibility of the Headteacher and should be infused from them through the culture to every corner of the organization. This is one of the reasons why it is essential for the Headteacher to be out of their office more than they are in it, feeling the ethos and contributing actively to the task of maintaining it.
Further examples of how values are expressed in the ethos of a school.
If we say a school has an ‘Ethos of Compassion’ it means that there is actual evidence of real and genuine compassion running through the organization. It would be possible for a school to value compassion above all but actually for there to be some evidence that compassion was lacking in the culture of the school and hence lacking in some of the ways the school operated. Often schools needing to apply rules fairly for example, may opt to make no exceptions to their rules. Such a policy would inevitably place the school in situations where they were unable to show reasonable compassion. A policy that allowed for compassion would always have a clause that said ‘except in exceptional circumstances’ or ‘at the discretion of the Headteacher’ for example.