Ethos

As a Church of England school, we follow the teachings of Christ and the ethos of the school is at the heart of our teaching and learning. We encourage and develop both Christian and moral values.  Our core aim is to instil values of care and compassion, humility, achievement, leadership and service, all bound within a spirit of Christian love and action.

At St Michael’s, we encourage character development through a variety of activities and events.  Some experiences act as a ‘window’.  These give students opportunities to become aware of the world and themselves in new ways.  Other events act as ‘mirrors’, which give our students opportunities to reflect and meditate on characteristics we deem valuable to attain and embed into our life. Some of the ways that we develop a strong sense of virtue include:

  • Ensuring regular times of reflection. This is mainly done through form time and may include discussion on local and global events, questions on ethical decisions we face as people from time to time and prayer as a way of exploring and expressing feelings.
  • Encouraging each other to admit mistakes and to say sorry, as recognising and owning up to faults is an important part of the healing and redemptive process.
  • Exploring the ‘Big Questions’ – particularly through our RE programme, which has strong foci on British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and, importantly, respect and tolerance for people of faith and no faith.

St Michael’s is a school that encourages reflection on the meaning and purpose of life and the values by which we live. We foster an understanding of how personal development connects our relationships with ourselves, our family, friends and our community and works for the greater good of society and community cohesion.  Some of the ways we do this include:

  • providing opportunities for collective worship across the school, which are mapped out as themes across the year, based on our school values
  • exhibiting displays and pictures around the school that celebrate and encourage reflection, personal growth and spirituality
  • creating the new chapel, which is available for quiet reflection, prayer and exploring the ‘big questions’ throughout the school day

We believe the character of our students is maturing, as holistically developed children love and accept themselves and enjoy good relationships with each other.  They take an interest and delight in the world around them; they are open to what lies beyond the material, which may manifest itself in faith or belief in God. They are able to express and understand feelings, they have a strong moral sense and a love of what is good. They are able to enjoy quiet and stillness, possess an active imagination, and show joy in creativity and discovering new skills.

As a school community, our students are very much encouraged to live well together with dignity and respect and this is demonstrated by:

  • weekly assemblies have a theme that is very much linked to developing a person who is by nature more forgiving, tolerant, resilient and honest
  • themed weeks interspersed through the academic year have included:
    • Peace week
    • Interfaith week
    • ‘Words I Live by’ week
    • ‘Shine your light’ events
    • Pray day

We, as a school, also realise and accept that we do not have all the expertise in-house and so invite and use many external agencies to further develop good characteristics within our school community.  Such people and organisations include:

  • local churches that have youth outreach workers come weekly into school and deliver programs entitled ‘Strength’ and ‘Shine’. The program is broken down into three units with each focusing on achieving specific objectives:
    • worth/significance focuses on enhancing self-esteem
    • strength/resilience aims to increase emotional intelligence
    • purpose/courage encourages participants to dream and set goals for the future.
  • the role of school chaplains is very much a key focus of the school as we understand that supporting students’ emotional wellbeing and encouraging creativity, curiosity and imagination as ways to find what’s meaningful and spiritually rewarding in life is crucial to building bridges between communities of faith and/or no faith.
  • The Message Trust – We have had the band ‘Brightline’ in school all day to help young people grow in their understanding of the Christian faith and many other key issues around self-image and social responsibility which critically affect young people.

In summary, the strong ethos of the school is key and the tool that we believe aids us to build good, upstanding, resilient and respectful students of the present, but ultimately contributors to a brighter future for the UK and beyond.

School Values

Mercy

So what is mercy? If we look to the bible we can see it is very important, God is described as being merciful. God’s mercy comes from his love for humanity, and the idea is that in response to all God does for us, we pass it on through what we do and say. When we say something that we really mean, we sometimes say that it is heartfelt, because it comes from the very centre of our being. Well, the bible says that mercy is even more important because it describes mercy as coming from the bowels. Biblical writers aren’t known for their medical knowledge, if you’re feeling something in your heart, you might need a cardiologist. But we can all identify with feeling things down in the pit of our stomachs. Mercy is similar to one of the other school values, care and compassion, but it’s more than that because it comes from trying to understand what others are feeling and walking around in their shoes for a while. Steve Martin nearly got it right when he said, “Before you criticise anyone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticise, you’ll be a mile away and have their shoes.”

Mercy is about empathy, forgiveness, and being in good relationships with everyone by thinking about what they are feeling, what they might need us to do for them. And showing mercy is good for us as well; Shakespeare wrote, ‘Mercy is twice bless’d – it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ To live in an environment of mercy is to live in an atmosphere of peace, healing and growth. We need mercy because none of us are perfect and we do get things wrong, but, just as God loves and forgives us, so we need to work to love others and show mercy, right the way down to our bowels.

Let us pray: Loving God, just as you love us and show us mercy and forgiveness, help us to put ourselves in other’s shoes and show empathy, care and love to others. Amen.

Integrity

You might have seen the film “The Death of Stalin”, a comedy about the scramble for power after Stalin died in 1953. It is a fictional account, rather than a documentary, but the truth is almost as bizarre. Lavrentiy Beria was a secret police chief and was present after Stalin had a stroke and fell unconscious; immediately he began mocking his boss shouting “we are free at last”. However, when Stalin showed signs of waking up, Beria dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. Then, when Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat. We all know what it means – being honest and having strong moral principles. But it also means being whole and complete, perhaps the opposite of Beria’s hypocrisy. We might have great intellect, but without integrity, we might misuse that knowledge.

We might have great passion, but without integrity, we can’t discern and direct that passion so that it is most effective. Integrity is about using all of our abilities to work things out for ourselves, in small matters and big ones.

In the bible, St. Paul wrote a letter to his friend Titus, who was setting up a church in Crete. And he wrote some instructions on how to appoint church leaders. He said they should be ‘blameless’, meaning that they should have thought about their morals and beliefs, and then live by them. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart”, meaning that our motives and our actions should match up. Gandhi said, “There is nothing worse than being something on the outside that you are not on the inside”

Let us pray: Loving God, help us to have a pure heart and a discerning mind, so that we may be honest, undivided and the people you made us to be. Amen.

Care and Compassion

Jesus gives two simple commandments, which he says are the most important, “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”. When we think of compassion we often think of it as something soft and a feeling of empathy and perhaps being a shoulder to cry on. But I think it’s more than that. Compassion is more than sympathy or pity, it’s a desire to help others as well. Care is also a very practical thing, we show care by acts of caring, not just patting someone on the head and saying, ‘there, there’. And our acts of care and compassion should be motivated by those two commandments of Jesus. If we love God, we know that God loves everyone, and we should be inspired to acts of loving compassion. And if we love our neighbour as we want to be loved, then we work out how to help and care for others. Compassion starts when we understand how others might be hurting.

You might have heard of a story called The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. It’s a story about a man who throws starfish back into the sea, having found them on the beach. When asked why he did it, he replies that if he didn’t throw them back, they will dry out and die. It is pointed out to the man that there are thousands of starfish strewn all along the beach, so how can he possibly hope to make any difference? To which he replies — and this is the famous closing line of the story — “To the ones I throw back, it makes all the difference in the world.”

Even the smallest act of care and compassion can make all the difference in the world. We don’t need to change the world, that is God’s job, but we can change our little corner.

Let us pray: Caring and compassionate God, help us to remember that small acts of love can have a big impact on others, and reflect your love for us and the world. Amen.

Humility

The absolute best definition of humility was arguably from a primary school child, who said that humility is the opposite of being big-headed. Perhaps another way to say the same thing comes from the rule book for Benedictine monks, which begins with these words:

‘The word of God in scripture teaches us in clear and resounding terms that anyone who lays claim to a high position will be brought low and anyone who is modest in self-appraisal will be lifted up.

The biblical image that comes to mind is the ladder between heaven and earth that Jacob dreams about in Genesis, in the Old Testament. But Saint Benedict says that only by stepping down in humility can we lift our spirits to God. It is okay for others to lift us up and tell us how amazing we are, and, of course, it is okay for us to tell others how brilliant we think they are. The word ‘humility’ comes from the Latin for earth or soil, so it means being grounded. Of course, the ultimate example of humility is Jesus.  He humbled himself by setting aside the privileges of being God and became a selfless, obedient, human.

Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, said this…

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Let us pray: Loving God, help us to think less of ourselves and more about others, so that they may be lifted into your presence, and that in our humility we also might be lifted up and know you better. Amen.

Achievement

During the Olympic Games in Barcelona of 1992, in the semi-final of the men’s 400m, Derek Redmond was one of the favourites to get through to the final and maybe even win a medal. But on the back straight he pulled a hamstring and pulled up in pain. He hobbled on, determined to finish, then his Dad jumped onto the track, ran over to him and helped his son to reach the finish line, accompanied by a standing ovation from the crowd. Derek might not have succeeded in winning that race, but he had achieved something, helped by his Dad and the crowd. Achievement is not necessarily about success, which is when we are praised by others, and seen as being better or above someone else. Achievement is when everyone is able to do the best that they can, and that involves everyone working together.

Having mentioned the Olympics, the writers of the New Testament of the bible would have known about the ancient Olympic Games, so it is not surprising that one letter to the early church describes life as a race; it says, “…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”. But it is a very different kind of race, where it is not just one person who succeeds, but everyone who achieves. The first Christians had a word that summed this up – koinonia – which means, literally, ‘fellowship’ and is about opening our eyes, and our hearts to the people around us.

Back to the bible, where St. Paul writes to the church in Rome saying that everyone has unique gifts, and is advising the church on how it can be the very best that it can be by building up each other so that everyone achieves. St Paul uses the analogy of the church as a body, where no one function, or any one person, is more important than another, everyone is equal, and it is important that everyone works together so that everyone gets to be the best version of themselves. We cannot all be good at the same things, we cannot all have the same kind of achievements. But God made us interdependent for a purpose so that together, we can achieve much more.

Let us pray: Loving God, you want us to be the best that we can be, help us through our words and actions to build other people up so that together we can achieve. Amen.

Equality

The bible tells us that there is also no distinction between people; God made us all and he loves all of us equally. The bible describes the idea of the church as one body, with each person having different skills but all are equal, no one is more important than anyone else. There is a theory that everyone is only six, or fewer, steps away from anyone else in the world. In this way, any two people can be connected by a chain of up to six people. And of course, we are all linked by God, all connected to and created equal by God. We believe in promoting equality and want all our students to celebrate the differences between us all.

Let us pray: Creator God, we pray that we might think of everyone as equal, and that we are all connected, and that we are all recipients of your love. Amen.

Leadership

Our Queen has been on the throne for 68 years, but she is an exception because, if you look back over history, the average length of a reign for a queen or a king is only 3½ to 4 years and, for the most part, royalty has had a violent, murderous history. In the bible, near the beginning, when God first calls the Jewish people to be God’s chosen people, they have God as their leader. God was their monarch. The system worked well, but the people started noticing their neighbouring nations, all of which had human kings. They became jealous and demanded a king of their own. God heard them and gave them human kings, first Saul, and then David.

Monarchy is appealing for us too. We like having someone in charge, someone making the tough decisions, someone taking care of us, and guiding us when life is especially complex or difficult. But these human leaders are inevitably fallible. So let us look at Jesus, who was also given the title of King, but he was a very different kind of leader and perhaps of more help to us as an example of leadership. Jesus is often said to be a ‘servant king’, where he served others, but the people he served were not his master. He did not rule through power, greed, or at the expense of others. He did not conscript any army to dominate the minds and hearts of people by force. Jesus’ reign as king is revealed in humility, service to others and the lifting up of his followers; very different to what we might expect.

So leadership is about following Jesus’ example to make each other, and the world, better. There’s a Leonard Cohen song called “An-them” that contains the line:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And so we need to look for the crack, as small as it might be, and talk about it, act upon it, exploit it. That might be a crack in the glass ceiling, a crack in the systems that exploit people, a crack in the walls built to stop immigration, a crack in the phobias that deny rights and promote any kind of hate. Leadership at our school looks to emulate the style of leadership that Jesus modelled.

Let us pray: God of power and love, help us to work to let the light in, to be the light of Christ, the ray of light that shines as a glimmer of hope for all and especially for now. Amen.

Service

The bible talks about how serving is about shining a light for others. During autumn and winter, we are particularly aware of a lack of light, especially after the clocks go back, and we leave the house in the dark in the morning and then it is dark going home as well. So, when Jesus says, “You are the light of the world”, we understand the metaphor. Jesus means that through us, other people can see God. Through what we say and do, we light up our world and make God visible. In other words, God can be seen through us.

If you ride a bike or a motorbike, you might have a reflective jacket so that people can see you, so that you stand out. People who work around dangerous machinery have bright clothing so that they can be seen. And it is the same for us; if we have faith, we need to make it seen, so that the love of God shines in the world and lets people know that God loves them too!

Mother Teresa used to tell a story about a time when she was ill with a high temperature. In her illness, she became delirious and had a vision of being at the gates of heaven and telling St Peter that she was ready to pass from this world to the next. But St Peter refused her entry into heaven. Mother Teresa asked why. Peter replied: “Because there are no slums in heaven.” That is a good story to help us think about service because the Christian faith at its heart is not about following a set of rules or judging others or trying to achieve a place in heaven. It is about trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

It’s very difficult to convince people that a God they cannot see loves them; if the Christians that they can see, do not act and speak in ways that express God’s love and shine in the dark places of the world. So how do we shine in the dark? Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves and love God, and that is always a good place to start.  We can start by serving others.

Let us pray: Loving God, help us to serve other people, to bring light to their lives and help make their world a little bit better so that we might make your love present in the world. Amen.