A Vision Statement for a Good School: Being the Best Version of Yourself to Make the World a Better Place
A good school is a place where the community is happily learning. Human brains evolved to learn. Babies inantly start learning the moment they are born. Most children learn to move and communicate naturally and it brings them joy as seen through proud smiling face of a toddler who has just pulled him/herself up to standing for the first time. Our job as educators is to keep that joy for learning alive through our work and help people achieve versions their best selves. In leading this vision, it is important to keep in mind that Marzano, et al.’s research concluded the top five leadership responsibilities that affect student achievement are all related to soft skills of positive school culture, strong communication and building trust (2006, p. 42). My vision is focused on:
“Lead learner” is a term used by Sanfelippo and Sinanis in their book Hacking Leadership (2016, Chapter 1, Section “Hack into Action” para 2 “Tony’s Story”). Lead leaders are administrators who focus on their own learning and that of the staff, students and community. When all the adults in the community are genuinely inquiring into concepts and content that interest them, students will continue on their natural path of learning as established as babies. It seems that without this, the love of learning dies around nine years old. What if that wasn’t the case? To ensure learning is enjoyed through life, the adults have to give some control from the traditional classroom arrangement to students so that students possess agency over their learning (“About the IB”, 2017). When teachers ask thought provoking challenging open ended questions, sparking the natural curiosity of students, magic can happen when the teacher listens to the students. As an adult, I get to learn what I am interested, students should get to exercises that same right within the community of learners. Barth stated that the “principals, teachers, students, and parents learning together can create within their schools an ecology of reflection, growth, and refinement of practice: in short, a community of learners.” (1990, p. 513).
With in a community of learners who are inquiring together, we are already taking steps in the direction of flattening the top down approach to leadership (Bolman and Deal, 2008, pg. 82-83). Students can lead teachers, teachers can lead administrators and administrators play a supporting role. That seems backwards and powerful! The people whom the system is designed to benefit actually get a say in the system. Leading together is about listening to others and supporting where needed. Fullan strongly advocated for principals to support teachers as an instructional leader (2001, pg. 57) just as teachers support students. In my vision, leadership is a shared responsibility. When everyone is listening and supporting other to reach goals, Northouse described this as people acting as transformational leaders (2016, p. 161). Leading together can help everyone become the best version of themselves.
Acting with Common Values
Three values that I hold closest to my heart are integrity, kindness and a growth mindset founded in risk-taking. There are many other words communities can choose that have similar meanings and as a lead learner, I would want the community to decide on the words that hold the most meaning for them. The community deciding upon common values is important to me. Through acting with common values, children and adults have a common vocabulary to speak with and use as a base for building relationships. Relationships are imperative to any community. To have a joyful learning culture, all the members need to adhere to a common set of values. In my vision, it would integrity, kindness and a growth-mindset; however, with the leading together as a major point of my vision, I would like to create our common set of values together as a community rather than imposing my own. I am able to do this through the assumption of positive intentions.
Celebrating a Vibrant Community
The sayings “two heads are better than one” and “it takes a village to raise a child” both imply a strong sense of community. My vision for a good school is founded upon a community playing a large role in people becoming their best selves. I believe schools should be founded on inclusion. The school needs to be organized to provide all students access to opportunities through social inclusion, including children with special and exceptional needs (Theoharis, 2009, pg. 38). Some people think that this is a matter of respecting diversity. I believe that we must take the next step and celebrate diversity. Everyone has something to offer and through living out our shared values, we all learn and grow from each other. I know this takes a lot of trust. Hattie discussed building a collective trust (2017 para. 6) as a component for student achievement. A key factor in bringing my vision to fruition is working with moral reasoning and relational transparency as an authentic leader (Northouse, 2016, pg. 220) thus being able to build trust. In a community, communication is also key. As mentioned in “inquiring together” and “leading together” listening is an important skill to practice as is honoring various perspectives. Communication is more than speaking and listening, it can bring opposing viewpoints to a mutual understanding. In my vision of a good school, people celebrate diversity and communicate with mutual respect bringing our understandings about the world to new levels thus becoming better versions of ourselves.
Joyful Outlook on Learning
According to an article in Forbes, children smile on average 400 times a day while adults only 20 (2011). I am sure that adults working in good schools smile more than 20 times a day! At least in my vision of a good school they will. With a focus on learning and developing together rather than on work completion, the culture of the school can shift to a more joyful place (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 71). As stated previously, children innately love to learn, but by talking about learning as work and assigning work, makes the task oriented learning arduous and boring. Ritchhart wrote about language as being part building a culture of thinking. In my vision of a good school, learning is surrounded by words that enliven the curiosity and honor deep thinking. Thus everyone in the community can learn and grow becoming their best selves.
In my vision of a good school, I encourage the childlike sense of wonder where we are all learning, growing, improving ourselves in a joyful manor. In line with the International Baccalaureate Organization, I too believe “the main goal is the development of curious learners who seek personal growth and act with international mindedness” (“About the IB”, 2017). When inquiring together, leading together, acting on common values, celebrating a vibrant community and having a joyful outlook on learning, my vision of a good school will take shape. We will know we have accomplished the vision when every child and teacher loves coming to school and thrives on challenging themselves to be better. Everyone in our learning community will be able to make the world a better place through becoming the best version of themselves.
About the IB. (2017, November 12). Retrieved from http://ibo.org/about-the-ib/
Barth, R. (1990). A Personal vision of a good school. Phi Delta Kappa. 71(7) p. 512-516.
Bolman, L and Deal, T. (2008). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Gutman, R. UnTapped Power of Smiling. Forbes (March 22, 2011). Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2011/03/22/the-untapped-power-of- smiling/#1b4fed997a67 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. on 9/9/2018.
Hattie, J. (2017). Don't be a hero. Leader 99. Retrieved from http://www.leadermagazine.co.uk/articles/dont_be_a_hero/.
Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., and McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Northouse, G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints, Wiley.
Sanfelippo, J.S. and Sinanis, T. (2016) Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning that Teachers, Students and Parents Love. (Kindle Edition) Cleveland, OH: Times 10.
Theoharis, George (2009). The School Leaders Our Children Deserve. New York, NY. Teacher College Press.
I believe... and ask myself...
My personal code of ethics applies to the way I interact with students, my colleagues, and the families in the school community and my vision for a school culture. I strive to treat people well through understanding, kindness, and integrity. My mom always said that I would be a good judge because as a child I was always working for justice and able to see multiple perspectives. I think the job of educational leader suits me well for the same reasons. Empathy and the ability to work with others are strong skills that need to be reflected on an constantly refined to suit the people and situations. Reflection is present in my code of ethics for this reason.
Students come first and being committed to all students are at the top of the list because keeping the focus on students is what it is all about for me. Students provide the purpose and inspiration. As educational leaders, we need to nurture, include, inspire and protect each one. McKenzie and Scheurich article, Equity Traps, encouraged school leaders to dive into the work of discussing equity for all students.
The remaining four bullet points are lists in no particular order, as they are all important to me personally and professionally. Everyone knows that school is for learning and I know that everyone in the building needs to be learning to make it the best place possible. I am a life-long learner for learnings sake, fulfilling my curiosities. I often lead books studies, share articles, participate in Twitter book chats and whatsapp friends and colleagues relevant quotes from books I am reading. I will be able to check myself by asking how I can see a result of my learning in action. I know that when adults are curious and excited to learn, students will emulate and internalize the practice.
Respecting diversity is a good first step, but I dove in. Celebrating diversity, highlighting the difference and similarities amongst us is so important. Diversity exists in many ways around us through culture, ethnicity, thought, and more. Learning from each others’ various perspectives and experiences. Celebrating diversity reflects the idea that we are better together.
Healthy relationships take intentionality. Speaking with people face to face, listening before forming the next thought and being open-minded to ideas. This communication takes practice, reflection and refinement. Marzano, Waters and McNulty’s meta analysis of the impact of principals showed that strong lines of communication had a direct positive correlation to student learning (2006, p. 42). Fostering a culture of shared beliefs was right behind communication on Marzano, Walters and McNulty’s list which hints at the idea that communication and culture are connected. When communication and culture are positive, then trust can be built. Trust allows for collaboration and feedback, positive and constructive, helping us all to improve ourselves and our professional practice.
Acting with integrity is the underlying aspect that makes all the above ethics possible. Having strong moral principles that guide decision making about students, the staff and the community is of utmost importance so that trust can be built. Authenticity in a leaders actions and transparency, when possible, all lead to the community seeing a person of integrity helping in difficult situations.
I want the people that I work with to be able to see my code of ethics in action in every interaction we have and the decisions we make together.
What would you put on your personal code of ethics? Do you agree or disagree with something I wrote? Please share in the comments below.
Association of American Educators. Code of Ethics for Educators. Retrieved from
https://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics on September 11, 2018.
Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
McKenzie, K and Scheurich, J. (2004). Equity Traps: A Useful Construct for Preparing Principals to Lead Schools That Are Successful With Racially Diverse Students. Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 40(5), pp. 601-632.