School leaders have a lot to consider at the start of any school year, especially this one. With so many demands on time and energy, some important things can become lost in the day-to day operations. The intent of this first PEP column of the year is to refocus our intent as leaders. Specifically, what is the organizing principle of your school? When asked, what are the message points that you wish to convey that will encapsulate the intent that concisely goes beyond platitudes and ambiguous vision and mission statements? The purpose of this column is to spur some reflective thought so that it is possible for your stakeholders to have a better understanding of your school that is coherent, makes sense and has meaning.
In that vein, consider the following question: What makes your (elementary, middle, or high school) what it is? Considerations include a focus on academic rigor, developmentally appropriate instruction and attention to being socially responsive in ways that address the needs of all students. What this means at the elementary level ought to be qualitatively different from the middle and high school levels but should to be coherent in an overall set of concepts and shared understandings throughout the system. In my own case, it has been “academic excellence and goodness for
students”. It is not enough to have a focus on excellence; what value is this if students are not able to be civil and display citizenship? Incidentally, being able to focus attention on these two core values can transcend any school grade configuration and be woven into teaching and learning.
Perhaps all of this may seem intuitively obvious, but in the course of my work with the preparation of aspiring school principals and other leadership positions, many students initially are unable to describe both their schools’ intent and why their schools are organized the way that they are. Conversely, once these students are able to do so, they are better able to interpret their schools to internal and external stakeholders more broadly in the school community. It allows one to be more focused with advocacy to policy and decision makers on the issues that directly affect your school.
Getting to a point where there is coherent set of core values and a message that affirms them does take time. Creating school community conversations so that there is a shared set of values and messages will depend upon having structures, strategies and tactics in gear that allow for mutual understanding and consensus about the organizing principles and values of the school. With this in place there is a greater likelihood of being able to have curriculum and instruction organized around them.
Effective leaders have the capacity to provide consistent, coherent messages that can expound on the rationale for “what and the why” of their school These can become encapsulated into a set of message points that are understood, embraced and used by staff, and potentially by students and their families, to tell the story of a school. This eventually can become an effective self-reinforcing loop that contributes to the culture of your school right now and into the future. Taking time out to do this now that the year is underway can help with building a culture continuous improvement of your school. All of this takes time, but the rewards are worth the effort.
If you have more to share on this topic, kindly contact me so that your school and its story can be shared with others in our PEP network.
Dr. Mike Dietz, Director of Innovation and Global Outreach, 262-365-3947,