Guiding Principles of a Learning Community

Effective leadership on any level requires reflection about core values. Through this process your principles are identified and tested. Actual core values consist of what you live out, as opposed to your idealized principles. The challenge for any leader is achieving consistency between expressed values and daily actions. Truly living out guiding principles will lead to confrontation occasionally. When this occurs it takes courage to stand by your actions.

Core Values

Recently I was asked to share my non-negotiables as a school leader. Put another way, what standards am I prepared to vigorously defend? Those are deep questions to say the least. To best formulate a response I will examine my guiding principles as an educator.

Student-centered Focus
After 11 years of teaching and 8 years as a middle school administrator, my first thought is about our focus as educators. I expect ALL adults in a school to be student-centered above all else. Peripheral issues come and go, but our primary purpose and mission is serving children. When we forget who we serve, when it becomes about adult preferences, matters of perceived seniority or entitlements, we have lost our way, our moral purpose, and influence. This mindset is everything within a learning community.

Behavioral Norms
Throughout my experience in education I have worked with teams of all formats: community, district, departmental, grade level, and administrative. The best experiences occurred when teams had high levels of trust, maintained a positive outlook, exhibited personal accountability, focused on results, and demonstrated mutual respect. Those behaviors are not a given and take time to develop. Norms like those require a commitment from all stakeholders to foster and protect a healthy culture. I have found several resources helpful in developing this type of culture including the following books: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, Standout, and The Energy Bus. These can help build the capacity of your staff or team. Ultimately effective teams are measured by the degree to which they honor collective commitments.

Reflective Practice
Another bedrock value worth protecting is reflective practice. The best educators and leaders possess a growth mindset, embrace the practices of continuous improvement, and engage in collective inquiry. These habits can lead to widespread improvement of organizational climate, culture, and student learning. John Hattie (2012) summed up the essence of reflective practice in Visible Learning for Teachers: “My role, as teacher, is to evaluate the effect I have on my students. It is to ‘know thy impact’, it is to understand this impact, and it is to act on this knowledge and understanding” (page 19). A precondition for reflective practice is the ability to receive feedback, process it, and take action. The ability to accept constructive criticism and feedback determines our success in work and life.

Collaborative Practice
Traditionally, educators have worked in isolation without the benefit of collaborative structures. Thankfully the rise of professional learning communities has offered an alternative to better meet the needs of students and develop the collective efficacy of a faculty. Collaboration is an essential ingredient to sustain change and continuous improvement. An important outcome of collaboration is collective inquiry. By removing the buffer of isolation, and incorporating structures to work on problems of practice, an entire system can take a critical look at current practice. Instructional rounds is an effective way to promote widespread reflection, collaboration, and inquiry. As noted by City, Elmore, Fiarman & Teitel (2009): “The idea behind instructional rounds is that everyone involved is working on their practice, everyone is obligated to be knowledgeable about the common task of instructional improvement, and everyone’s practice should be subject to scrutiny, critique, and improvement” (page 4). Opting to work in isolation and citing ‘professionalism’ as the rationale, is no longer an option. Together we are better and we know a better way. We must have the courage and conviction to follow through and move past tradition and the status quo.

Buckingham, M. (2011). StandOut: The groundbreaking new strengths assessment from the leader of the strengths revolution. Thomas Nelson Inc.

City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Gordon, J. (2007). The energy bus 10 rules to fuel your life, work, and team with positive energy. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Lencioni, P. (2006). The five dysfunctions of a team. John Wiley & Sons.

Miller, J. G. (2004). QBQ! The question behind the question: Practicing personal accountability at work and in life. Penguin.


Photo Credit: Core Values: Mutual Trust (2010), Designed by @GavinKeech, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0