A School Person’s Compass Points: Essential Advice to Center Our Work

Before I took a new post at Hawken School, I wrote the first draft of what has evolved into what I have included below. Initially, I did this simply as a means to articulate what is most important in my work in a school. I had been at Asheville School for a decade before making this move, and I realized that I needed to do something more than “dead reckon” my way into a new school. I had no intention at first of sharing what I wrote–it was me talking to me about the essential components of school work as I saw it. I was giving myself advice.

When I finished that first draft, I realized that I wanted the bullet-points to apply not only to me but also to the people with whom I work. It is in that spirit that I offer them here. Sometime toward the end of the summer, I will revise these again, and when we gather for our first faculty meeting at Westminster in advance of the 2012-2013 school year, I will hand them out to the High School faculty.

Compass Points–

General:

  • Trust the mission and commit to the school’s vision statement.
  • Strive to be a school that deserves the huge investment we ask others to make in it.
  • Earn the credibility we need to be a great school by handling parents, students, alums, friends of the school, and guests with respect, professionalism, promptness, and kindness.
  • Be purposeful. We should be able to articulate and support the actions we take, and all those actions should take into consideration the needs of students first.
  • Avoid trying to be all things to all people, and the things we choose to do we should do well.
  • Support the fundamental direction of the school.  Schools cannot operate well and certainly cannot be great if the professionals on the payroll act and speak at cross-purposes. It is OK to disagree, as well as desired and expected that people will voice their ideas and concerns in a thoughtful way; however, once a decision is made, I expect us to behave in a professional and supportive manner.
  • Take pride in the programs in which you work, keeping in mind that success in one facet of the job does not give one license to participate less in the other facets of the job.
  • Return phone calls and emails in a timely fashion.
  • Communicate with colleagues, parents, and students ahead of problem.  Be proactive.

Students:

  • Serve the best interest of the child first.
  • Combine nurture and high expectations. The best educators reveal their commitment to students not only through a thousand and one warm interactions with young people each day, but also through high expectations for each student’s positive engagement in the school community and for each student’s dedication to achievement. A school should strive to enrich its students by asking students to enrich both the school community and the larger community of which the school is a part.  This balance between demand and nurture is common to great schools. 
  • Meet and often exceed the expectations we hold for students regarding school rules, as well as civility and character.  If we are going to ask students to meet these standards, we must be willing to do the same.
  • Return papers, quizzes and tests in a timely fashion and meet grading deadlines.
  • Enforce school expectations and rules.  Beyond the specific rules, I have two basic expectations for students: a) avoid endangering self, property or others; b) avoid diminishing, disenfranchising, or humiliating others.  To create a community that understands these expectations as shared values takes the work of adults working thoughtfully with students.
  • Be present in the life of the school.  It is not possible to “just teach.”


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