Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Are Our (or Your) Core Values?

Science Leadership Academy Sign, originally uploaded by willrich.

Will Richardson blogged about his visit to the Science Leadership Academy and also kindly included a link to his Flickr photoset of the visit. This photo caught my eye and made me wonder why we don't have similar signs posted around our building. Then I got to wondering if our students could even identify our core values. Of course, then I wondered the same thing of our staff. Which then reminded me of this earlier post on The Fischbowl and I got frustrated all over again (yes, I do this a lot to myself).

I've blogged before (here and here) expressing my doubts about whether we as a faculty "have a vision of what a well-educated student looks like after four years of study" at AHS. But I think the author makes an important statement when he says "A good test of the degree to which a school has such a vision framing its instructional program is the number of students who can articulate the vision . . ." - emphasis is mine. This goes back to some of the ideas in The Power of Their Ideas book that I excerpted previously. If you randomly stopped 10 students in the hall at AHS, what kind of response do you think you would get to the question "What's Arapahoe's vision and describe how your current, previous, and future classes are contributing to achieving it?"

My opinion is that if we were a great school, not just a good school, at least 8 out of the 10 students (and 9 or 10 on a good day) would give a pretty good answer. Do we not think this vision is important enough to communicate it to our students? Or do we not think they are capable of grasping it? I worry about how many of our staff would answer yes to both of those . . .
We've talked a lot about Essential Learnings for courses in our school, and that's not a bad thing, but I still think we have a long way to go if even we as a staff can't articulate the vision and identify our core values. I think we (and that includes me) need to do some hard thinking about this and clearly identify our core values. What do we believe about education? Learning? School? Students?

What do you believe?


  1. Altho this is perhaps a little off-topic, I benefited a great deal from reading Nutshell Notes, a series of professional development articles by Ed Nuhfer (then at Colorado State University). In particular was a series on developing one's teaching system. You can read them online. Here is the first one in the series:

    The series came out in 1999.

    The index page is here:

  2. Our high school's Vision committee is struggling towards the same question, as we try to formulate a vision.

    We are considering how to create outreach to the community as well.

    One idea we had was a "One Book, One Community" idea centered around a book (like Whole New Mind) that articulates some of the ideas we are discussing in the committee.

    I think there is also a challenge about having your vision "words" posted and also having them be meaningful to the staff and students. The buy-in is the difficult part.

    I'm curious how your campus has worked on this issue in terms of teacher buy-in?

    We've talked about small group forums, study groups, etc. but our committee is still in its early stages of planning.

    Thanks for raising important questions!

  3. Well, I visited Arapahoe’s website, clicked on “General,” and found a very well articulated principal’s letter outlining exactly what makes our school unique and what we expect from our students. Aside from the statistics that make us strong, the letter also asserts that “We believe teenagers need to become independent thinkers, self-disciplined, and take ownership for their learning.” Although I stress this nearly every single day in my classroom, this is the first time I had seen this concept as part of our school’s description. To be honest, this is the first time I had ever read this letter. Do our students read it? Have we ever pointed it out to them?

    Simplifying this letter into bullet points that are easy to read, digest, and remember and posting them around school is great idea. I think it’s always helpful when teachers are using the same language to express their expectations (while maintaining our own identities, of course).

    Also, some of the worst behavior I’ve seen is in the hallways; it’s as though kids forget they’re in school when they’re not in the classroom. I’m not suggesting that hallway posters with our school’s expectations will fix this problem, but they can’t hurt. It also reinforces the idea that students are bound by the same expectations as they move from class to class and from one extracurricular activity to another.

    As a final thought here, I think it’s important that our values reflect the entire body of teachers. When I used to work in a private school, the staff met each year to review and revise our school’s mission statement; some students had a say in it as well. I don’t know how this could be accomplished efficiently with a staff as large as ours (I don’t think anyone’s about to join another PLC), but this, to me, would be a worthwhile use of in-service time.