Words to live by

Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short, Dean of School

Intent, values, purpose, mission statements, key performance indicators, aspirations are now vital aspects of any self-respecting organisation. In fact, ‘they are typically used by organisations to describe why the entity exists, what it is striving to accomplish, what it stands for, and how it plans to achieve its objectives. These statements have become an integral component of corporate strategy’ (Cady, S.H., Wheeler, J.V., DeWolf, J., Brodke, M., 2011). Former CEO of the American Management Association, David Fagiano, states ‘organisations are living organisms, in many ways very similar to individuals. People have personalities, organisations have cultures. Personalities and cultures are formed by values because, quite simply, values state what is important to individuals or businesses’ (Cady et al., 2011). Brisbane Girls Grammar School is an organisation that was founded on strong values and has developed a rich culture to support these.

Embedded in the statements of the current Brisbane Girls Grammar School aspiration and intent is the School motto: Nil sine labore. This motto has been the driving force of the School since its establishment, acting as the mission statement for Grammar women for decades. The student body now takes the idea of a motto personally as, since 2000, successive cohorts of senior students developed their own mottos. Values and culture which were subliminally communicated to students for over 100 years are now clearly enunciated, discussed, and ‘owned’.

To define a motto, Joseph Gora (2010, p.77) states that it is ‘a phrase meant to formally describe the general motivation or intention of a social group or organisation’. The motto should be punchy and should be ‘about seven words long’ (Shyti, 2014, p. 24). It would seem that the 2000 Year 12 cohort motto embodied these criteria.

The year 2000 was always going to be momentous: the 125th birthday of the School, the Sydney Olympics, a new century. The Head Girls of 2000, Eleanor O’Gorman and Eleni Anthony, met before school commenced and planned to ‘do something different’ and to harness the energy of this significant year. Ms O’Gorman could articulate their purpose fifteen years later: they wanted ‘a year to remember, to make it their own and to use a unifying concept’ (O’Gorman, E., personal communication, 17 March, 2015). The combined result of the Head Girls’ thoughts and the Student Executive collaboration was Dream it, Dare it, Do it which was later immortalised in the mosaic embedded in the pathway at the front steps of the Main Building. For this Year 12 cohort, the motto provided direction, guidance for all their activities during the year, unity, and a sense of purpose: all characteristics of sound mission statements.

In the next fifteen years, mottos often incorporated similar themes and aspirations. The underpinning concepts have been: personal challenge; relationships and connectedness; and spirit and passion. The 2002 motto created by Frankie Bain and Alexandra Anthony was Born to be Blue. The acronym of BLUE captured these recurring values: B for building bridges, L for live and learn, U for unleash the spirit and E for extending yourself.

The creation of the 2015 motto was instigated by the Head Girls, Natalia Gulbransen-Diaz and Jacinta MacGinley, who explored their perception of the values of the School at the Alliance of Girls’ Schools January leadership conference at Bond University. For them, tradition, passion, and sisterhood were paramount in a year in which the School was to celebrate its 140th birthday and welcome and integrate Year 7s for the first time.

The dynamic of a group creating a value statement, or motto in the Student Council’s case, is engrossing and can often predict its future success. The 2015 discussion was robust, honest, and at times humorous, and by arriving at an end result, a most collegial experience. The process afforded the opportunity for members to learn more about each other and develop tact, patience, and sensitivity. The debate over the use of a verb in the motto was enlightening and reinforced for me that Grammar girls are ‘doers’, wanting tangible goals and beneficial outcomes. The Council also recognised the advantage of having a motto which could be promoted but would also capture the imagination of the student body and resonate with all age groups. The level of satisfaction in determining a framework for the year was palpable. There was a sense of excitement and achievement as the collective felt the motto embodied the School’s values of striving, inclusion and respect.

It was the responsibility of the Head Girls in their induction speech to launch the motto to the School community:

From the values of the Student Council we moved on to the things which we truly value about the School. We recognised principles of scholarship, uniqueness, community, spirit, diversity, fun and excellence. Nevertheless, it was Passion, Sisterhood and Tradition that stood out to us and were the three things that had the most influence on our vision for the year (Gulbransen-Diaz, N. and MacGinley, J., 2015).

‘It seems that everyone agrees that school communities should have some sort of covenant, vision, mission, philosophy, or values to guide their work’ (Lew, A., 2001, p. 290). The 2015 Student Council embraces the power of unified purpose and continues to challenge all members of the Grammar community to inspire your sisters old and new, 140 years in royal blue.


Cady, S.H., Wheeler, J.V., DeWolf, J., Brodke, M. (2011). Mission, vision, and values: What do they say? Organisational Development Journal, 29(1), 63–78.

David, M.E., David, Forest R., David, Fred R. (2014). Mission statement theory and practice: A content analysis and new direction. International Journal of Business, Marketing and Decision Sciences, 7(1), 95–110.

Gora, J. (2010). Run that sexy motto by me again. Australian Universities Review, 52(1), 77–80.

Gulbransen-Diaz, N. & MacGinley, J. (2015). Unpublished induction speech.

Lew, A. (2001). From plaques to practice: How schools can breathe life into their guiding beliefs. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(4), 289–293.

Shyti, D. (2014). Leadership values and virtues: Has your corporate culture gone stale? Leadership Excellence, 31(6), 24–25.