A LEADER'S VIEW: Moving Your School from Infancy to Adulthood
Is your school started but stalled? Going but not growing? After a few years of success, you are not sure what to do next to grow your school. As school leaders and boards consider “what to do now,” please take into consideration the following recommendations.
Facing the Obstacles
“If we don’t take time to plan for the future, we will be its victims.” ~ Hans Finzel Looking only at the here and now seems to be the temptation that impales so many leaders of schools today; to only think about today and the “must-do list” that feels so pressing. Refine your list and find others that can do those things that are not essential for your direct involvement. If you continue to find yourself saying, “I just don’t have time,” it is time to re-evaluate your priorities. The number one priority of the leader of the school is to lead… not manage.
Setting only temporary goals. A goal for the day, week, month, or sometimes even the year, is not a long-range goal. And, while it may feel great to accomplish these, it should become the leader’s expectation that short-range goals are the task of the staff to set concerning the operation of their specific area of responsibility. While the leader may provide guidance here, he should not be solely focused on this level of planning. The board and school leader should be involved in planning that helps the school achieve its long-range vision. Band-aid mentality. It seems easier to patch up a problem in hopes that it will fix itself, or simply go away. It makes little sense, however. Problems always have a way of re-surfacing if we ignore them. The next time you have an issue that truly needs your attention, give it your full attention until you know the issue is resolved.
Shirking accountability. Accept responsibility for problems and deflect praise for accomplishments. Some prefer to do this the other way around by accepting praise and deflecting responsibility. Moving a school into adulthood requires keeping the proper perspective of these two items in place.
Assessing Mission (Why Are We Here?)
“The school’s mission is the yardstick for measuring its performance.” ~ Bruce Lockerbie
Your mission should always focus on ends. In his article, “Barriers to Effective School Leadership” (CSE Volume 10 Number 4 | 2006–2007), Phil Graybeal, EdD, writes, “As a consultant to Christian schools for several years, I have noted that the public statements of purpose or existence are frequently more about what the school will do rather than what the school is for. I believe that this reality is fundamentally reflective of a focus on means (methods, activities, programs, practices, services) rather than a focus on ends (carefully crafted statements of desired results). Rather than merely describing activities (a rigorous academic program with multiple extracurricular opportunities) or stating conditions (in a wholesome Christian environment), more and more schools are boldly stating their intended results. Excellent programs, activities, and conditions are necessary components of a great school, but in and of themselves they do not merit their existence.” Therefore, know why your school exists and whom it seeks to serve. Understand your school’s reason for being, how far it has progressed toward achieving its mission, and then examine and assess its claims against performance.
Defining Vision (Where Are We Going?)
“A good idea does not a vision make. Without some risk attached, a good idea remains nothing more.” ~ Max DePree Believe in the future. It is easy to get stuck in the mire of today and never get any further ahead in our thinking. The future is where we must live with our vision. Stop for a moment and enjoy what God has given today but then begin making new plans and count on God to direct your steps (Proverbs 16:9).
Get past temporary targets. At times we must aim at the here and now, working on issues that are impacting our school at the present moment. We cannot live there, however. Move forward. Strive to get on with the business of planning and dreaming, setting the stage for where you believe God may be leading your school. Do not worry about today, but rather look ahead to tomorrow. The saying is true, that “healthy things grow, growing things change, change challenges us, challenges cause us to put our trust in God, trust breeds obedience, and obedience makes us healthy.”
Perform surgery. Be willing to get down to the crux of what is keeping you from moving forward. This could be as serious as needing to release certain staff or families from your school. What is standing in the way of your school developing into the school God intends for it to be? What is keeping you from moving forward? Perhaps poor board governance or structure, inadequate policies to allow you to maintain order and progression, and on and on. If all we do is put a bandage on a problem, hoping it will clear up, we may be missing the real point that surgery is required to make a complete repair. Proverbs 22:10 reads “Throw out the mocker, and fighting goes, too. Quarles and insults will disappear.” What is “the mocker” in your situation? It may not always be a person, but perhaps a problem that keeps resurfacing and resurging. Surgery is likely the solution that is needed.
Take responsibility. As schools face issues head-on, they can grow. Shunning responsibility is a dilemma among struggling schools and will potentially cause permanent death to a school’s vision. Understand that at whatever level a school falters, leadership must be held accountable. Organizations rise and fall based on their leadership. While others may be directly at fault, leadership must react and take upon itself the role of correcting and improving a situation and environment.
Coherence (How Will We Get There?)
“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Philippians 4:2
Simply put, coherence refers to systematic consistency. Schools that have determined they will grow and move forward must systematically determine to keep all of the parts and functions of the school headed on the same path. When one group or groups of individuals deem their way better than the stated mission and vision of the overall school program, they become a distraction and potentially cancerous to the school. It is the role of leadership to safeguard against this taking place and seek to bring all parts together to form a whole unit, working on the same goal. This is not a task easily done but one that can be accomplished. Here are some things to consider:
Right people “on the bus” – This is now a very common phrase, drawn from the Good to Great book by Jim Collins. Related to the Christian school it simply implies that we should hire the best people possible. Get them in your organization and build the school around them. Certainly, you will need subject specialists and those trained appropriately to lead in the classroom, but this also indicates that you should not settle for just anyone to fill a vacancy. Seek the best possible personnel and then get them in a position where they can excel and will help your school develop to be the best it can be.
Diversity but unity – The more diverse we can remain in ethnicity, denominational backgrounds, educational training, and experiences, the greater our appeal will be to the community whom we serve. It is a great testimony when Christians from various backgrounds can work together as a team with a common mission, vision, and purpose. It is the role of school leadership to unify many diverse factors in a school, and staff is at the top of that list.
No lone rangers – Watch for those individuals or groups within the school who seek to promote their agenda. While a quality school is diverse but unified, and individuals are encouraged to be independent and creative thinkers, they must do so within the framework of the overall mission and vision of the school. Where some may decide to have their departmental mission statement or focus, this must always be a complement to the school’s direction. Therefore, create an environment where teachers and staff can be shepherds of their domain, but work under the authority of the overall direction of the school. When it becomes obvious that a staff member is not playing by these rules, it is best to see them correct their ways quickly or move them out of the school. This is also true of school parents. While parents are the truest “customers” of the school, they still must willingly desire the product you offer. This includes your mission and vision. I have seen situations where parents were given their way whenever they wanted it simply because they had money or presumed “power.”
Core Values & Beliefs (How Far Will We Go?)
“What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it.” ~Ezra Pound
Our core beliefs or core values, as some refer to them, are so integral to our being that we would not abandon them even if we were penalized for holding to them. Core beliefs prescribe the attitude and character of an organization and are protected through rules and standards. These are the values that your stakeholders (parents) expect in return for their tuition and their voluntary contributions to the school.
Don’t be tempted to think people will know your beliefs (values), but list them everywhere, visible for all to be reminded of and to see. Find creative ways to discuss these with staff, students, and parents, and use every public opportunity to share an element or two of who you are as a school (based on these beliefs). This means at a Christmas concert, appreciation banquet, awards ceremony, faculty meeting… wherever, and whenever. This is one of the best ways for the school community to receive an ongoing education about why you exist and to determine in their hearts and minds how the school is progressing against these claims. Your best form of advertisement is always word of mouth!
Conclusion (What Will You Do?)
Moving your school from infancy to adulthood requires a great deal of concentrated effort, by facing the obstacles that may be keeping you from growth, assessing mission and defining vision, understanding systematic coherence, and not veering from core beliefs and values. Schools that determine to make some effort forward in this area will make positive strides. Those who determine to stay put, ignoring warning signs and advice, will likely fade into complete irrelevance or cease to exist at all.
What is next for you and your school? While there are myriads of daily needs to tend to, what can you do to carve out time to think and plan more strategically for the future? The future, after all, begins right now.
One of the most common step approaches is to consider a third-party survey to help your school gain valuable insight and understanding of the prevailing attitudes and opinions of parents and staff.
The SchoolRIGHT Group has been conducting such surveys for years. Our surveys are geared to help schools make informed decisions with objective data made understandable with our easy-to-understand report and free follow-up consultation. To learn more about the features of any of our surveys, visit our
or email us today. Authored by Clint Holden © SchoolRIGHT, LLC., unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.