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Words to live by – Putting our UWCSEA Values into Action

By Sinéad Collins, Director of Engagement and External Relations
17 August 2021

If you ask any student, staff or parent at the College about the UWC mission, they will likely all be able to speak, many compellingly, about what the mission says and why it matters. But if you ask the same people about the College values, you may get many different answers. Not everyone can identify the values, let alone name them or explain why they make a difference. And yet the values, even more than the mission, define the behaviours we expect from ourselves and each other and build culture for our whole community.

In 2020, under the leadership of Carma Elliot, College President, the College embarked on a review of our values, which were inherited from the UWC movement as a series of long sentences in an unusual mixture of values, dispositions and behaviours. The movement had reviewed and updated their model, but the College had yet to follow suit. From the start, the project was conceived as a ‘Values in Action’ project, which would result in not just a revised set of values, but clarity around the behaviours that would bring those values to life.

Through a series of interactive consultations with students, staff and parents, Carma and the team identified the elements of the existing values that resonated most with our community members, as well as what was missing and what needed more prominence. Extensive analysis of the input, led by the Directors of Teaching and Learning on each campus, resulted in just seven words that captured the concepts within the feedback and together, clearly and unapologetically, expressed the types of behaviour we collectively believed we wanted to see in our community.

The values ‘unpacked’ in the table below include explanations and elaborations of each of the seven words. Through the 2020/2021 school year, the values have been ‘tested’ in various scenarios. Lizzie Bray, Head of Dover Campus, describes how she was bringing staff members from across Dover Campus—who did not know each other well—to work together on a new project that was guaranteed to stimulate conflicting views. In the kick-off meeting, the staff spent some time working with the values, to establish the behaviours they would bring to the meetings to allow for conflict while ensuring mutually beneficial outcomes. At the same time groups involved in a review of the medical provision for staff relied on the values to set up the principles of negotiation. The 50th anniversary planning team uses the values as a lens through which to select activities and events. Each time the values have ‘stood up’ as being fit for purpose.

In the final months of the year, parent communities came together in small groups online and face to face (in the brief hiatus when that was allowed!) to identify how those values might play out as a set of community agreements for the parent community. The workshops explored the link between these values (what we expect from ourselves and each other) and the behaviours (actions) that will demonstrate they are being lived on campus and supporting the culture of the College. Parents completed the sentence “In our parent community, the value of x can be seen in such behaviours as y.” A follow-up survey for the whole community gave others the opportunity to input and a set of Community Agreements will be put in draft, for testing and launch in the 2021/2022 school year in honour of our 50th!

Creating and then living by school values can be difficult. It would be far easier to rely on each individual to interpret the meaning of the values as they see fit, rather than engage in the complex negotiation required to agree on the nuances of meaning in order to come to a collective agreement on what we expect from ourselves and each other as a community. But creating shared meaning is exactly what will make the process successful. The Values in Action process provides all of us with a set of values, and accompanying behaviours and agreements, that will ultimately hold each of us to account for the culture we are building as a community. And that makes them words to live by.


Creating shared meaning: elaborating on the concepts underpinning each value


• embracing challenge • engagement • perseverance

• dedication to the mission • resilience • purpose

• grit • diligence • passion • autonomy


• empathy • kindness • help • compassionate • caring

• support • forgiveness • encouragement

• generosity • balance • happiness • gratitude


• diversity • belonging • acceptance • equity • equality

• collaboration • teamwork • multicultural

• avoid prejudice • fairness • unity • community

• intercultural competence • identity • friendship

• local community • harmony


• principled • honesty • accountability • authenticity

• being your best self • maximising your potential

• idealism • challenging status quo • courage

• independence • self management • authenticity

• evidence-based • critical thinking


• willingness to listen • withholding judgement • humility

• openness to other ways of being • curiosity

• changing one’s perspective based on new evidence

• perspectives • tolerance • flexibility


• to one another, to the planet and to future generations

• action orientation • morally responsible • duty

• moral and ethical service obligation • agency

• minimising harmful impacts • empowerment

• leadership for positive change


• presumption of positive intent • do no harm

• building and maintaining relationships • connection

• self awareness • loyalty • respect