I’ve got a special fondness for the intersection of business strategy and school leadership, also when the Harvard Business Review put up “Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture,” it was a must-read.
The article’s second point was particularly interesting to me. The importance of a set of stated, common values to an organization as an unwritten, vaguely defined set of beliefs is clear – the unwritten set allows us to sort of meander along, claiming that everyone’s on the same page without admitting that we all might have a different interpretation of the language and statements. It’s happens all the time in education circles. How many times have we heard about how important it is to use data in instruction only to hear a different explanation of what that means each time you ask someone new?
The examples in the article were brilliant. A few years into its founding, Google created a set of values it calls “10 Things We Know to be True,” and McKinsey has a long established set of values for their employees. In that spirit, here’s my 10 Things I Know to be True that would form the beginnings of a set of values for my school.
1. All Students Can Learn
Students aren’t inherently “smart” or “intelligent,” and research supports this viewpoint (see Carol Dweck and her book Mindset). Instead, students have what we call a “malleable intelligence” that is determined by how hard they work. If a student doesn’t understand a concept the first time, we don’t blame this on anything wrong with the student, we simply try and try again until the student masters the material. Every student in front of you is capable of learning the material you teach, and it’s our job to figure out how to do it.
2. Adult-Student Interactions are the Most Important Drivers of Student Achievement
Teachers teach, and when they do it well, students learn. There’s nothing that anyone else in a school can do that’s more powerful than the work teachers do with their students. This is where our work will be focused.
3. It’s Best to do One Thing Really, Really Well
It’s great to have an excellent basketball team or a lot of school spirit, but at the end of the day, schools are here to teach students. We can’t allow a secondary focus on these other things to take away anything from our primary job of preparing students for college.
4. Great Just Isn’t Good Enough
This one’s stolen directly from Google’s list. We will always set goals higher than anyone else will think attainable because when we stretch to reach those goals, we might get further than we ever though possible. There’s always room for improvement, and we will always find ways to improve everything we do.
5. Develop One Another
This is similar to one from McKinsey’s list, and it’s two-sided. On one hand, it’s not just the job of the administration to develop the practices of teachers. Everyone should be looking to share their expertise with their colleagues, and conversely, everyone should seek feedback and mentorship from others that have strengths in our growth areas. We are only as strong as the other educators in the building, and we all will take ownership of our collective growth to maximize our impact on students.
6. Think Outside the Box
Sometimes, to solve a problem, we’ll have to throw away conventional thinking and think outside the box. We accept that our new ideas may not work every time, but we believe that when we iterate continuously, we will eventually come to a strong, innovative solution to the problem.
7. Uphold the Obligation to Dissent
Another stolen directly from McKinsey. Being too agreeable in meetings and discussions isn’t good for the students because the best ideas rarely come from keeping your mouth shut. Instead, we know that you must voice your dissent and push the thinking of the group. The original idea may or may not be abandoned, but we know that the group’s decision will be smarter and smarter in the end.
8. Focus on the Student and All Else Will Follow
This is a variant on Google’s first belief. Our primary customer is the student, and as long as they are always at the center of our work, everything else will flow beautifully from that.
9. Data Makes the Invisible Visible
Data may not be the be all end all of schools, but it sure does make it a lot easier to target issues and support. We know of the power of data to make invisible problems visible, and we know that the use of data clears a path for us to act on that data in an efficient way.
10. School Culture Matters
We know that a teacher is at their best when they enjoy their job. Working in schools is challenging, but we’re much more likely to achieve more together when we focus on group achievements and having individual pride in successes that contribute to student achievement. Our job is hard, but with an energized, passionate staff, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish together.