Leading from Values

When Mark Fernandes visited us a couple years ago, and led discussions first with our leadership team, and later the division at convocation, he challenged each of us to look at ourselves as leaders and to consider the proposition that we find direction through our values. There was something overwhelmingly refreshing about his story, specifically about how Luck Stone’s compass is not focused on “making rocks” as our own Pete Gretz likes to say, but had a mission that went beyond the bottom line of their business. “Igniting human potential” is their mission and their battle cry. They could be in the education business, perhaps they could make healing drugs, or even great software. But their business is rock. And yet to grow that business and to distinguish it from others, they put a focus on human potential. Refreshing for sure.

This 2011 article made the case for values-based leadership, and from it, I think one paragraph in particular is worth replaying:

In all of these roles I have stayed committed to values-based leadership. No matter what title I’ve had, whether corporate executive, professor, executive partner or board member–or for that matter soccer coach, volunteer parent or Sunday school teacher–I’ve never lost sight of who I am and what matters most to me. By knowing myself and my values, being committed to balance and having true self-confidence and genuine humility, I can far more easily make decisions, no matter if I’m facing a crisis or an opportunity. The answer is always simply to do the right thing and the very best that I can.

Knowing your values can help you do the right thing and also focus your effort on being the best that you can be. And its worth saying here, for those reading, that values-based leadership works in two ways. First, you have to know yourself and your own values. Your values are what make you, you. Its from these that you will act on a daily basis, and when they’re known and focused on positive traits, there’s the potential for great things.

Second, there are the values that define an organization. The values are what you find, but hopefully those are the same values that you see members of an organization attempting to champion. Excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism are hopefully not just words you see on our walls, but the feeling, evidence, and artifacts left behind from interactions with teachers, students, custodians, and bus drivers. In fact, the entire organization might so focused that it’s easy to see these values all around us.

Getting that focus can be difficult. It takes time and effort. But how do we start?

First, consider what each of our ECCHO values means to you. Which ones really resonate? Are their other values that mean something to you? If you are not sure what other values you might consider, look at the Luck Companies’ app called Igniter.

Next, let’s focus on your own set of values. The personal set. For me, one of the ones that feels strongest to who I am is creativity. It drives how I work and the way I make decisions. If it’s who I am, then I need to make sure I am not compromising these value. I might take a week to reflect on how creativity has played a positive role in my work and relationships. Then I might look back on ways I could have been more purposefully engaged with the traits that reveal this value.

Next, we might sit with a small group of colleagues, or even students, and even parents. Where do we see ECCHO? How do these values align with our mission of maximizing the potential of learners? When we look at the full strategic plan, what goals might we set for ourselves in the next month that would help contribute to others seeing excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism all around them, when they interact with us, when they visit our classrooms, or attend one of our meetings?

I believe values stick to us based on our experiences and that has a lot to do with our outlook on life. Likely one of the most sure-fire ways to inspire another person is to let them experience us living through the values that resonate with us. You might be reading this, and asking “Who has the time? I’ve got a job to do!” At the end of the day, our job is inspiring and preparing the next generation. The details matter. It’s about preparing students (and one another) to make a positive impact.

If you’re hungry for more thinking about leading from values, check out Luck’s Value Based Leader blog. Thanks for reading!

The Two Cs of ECCHO

In our new strategic plan, we outline a set of five core values, which came about from asking a lot of questions. We also used a tool from the Luck Companies—an app—to ascertain our own values as leaders in the division. Dr. Lane had made a mnemonic to help us remember the four core values. Then through discussions, there emerged a fifth. “Now they don’t spell Echo!” someone said. Despite the addition of a fifth value, I still use ECcHO to remember our five core values.

The first “C” value is creativity. I believe very strongly about this value personally, in fact, I chose it myself first among the spokespeople we needed to describe the core values in one of our videos I made for the kickoff of the strategic plan.

All the values are great things for our kids: excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism. But these values aren’t just for the students, they’re for each of us working in the school division.

I studied creativity a lot in graduate school before working in Goochland. One of the things that became apparent in this research was that creativity was not just a “talent.” While some of us might naturally have a gift toward thinking creatively, it’s a skill that can be developed in anyone. I also think it’s likely something we’d see more naturally in younger students, and not expect to see it as routinely with older students. By choosing creativity as a value, we’re placing our own priority on developing everyone’s creativity.

Creativity is directly tied to problem-solving and ingenuity. I recently visited a classroom where elementary kids stopped their “normal” instruction, and took time out to sing a song. Besides belting out the words, there was dancing, smiling, and a general sentiment of well-being and engagement among the students in the classroom. Letting loose in song was, I thought, a great exercise in creativity. There were enough smiles to go around that sold me on that conclusion that the invitation to be creative had to simply feel good.

Courage is was our fifth addition to the list of values. It sounds good, but it may prove to be one of the more difficult values to cultivate in both our students and staff.

Just like creativity, some of us are more naturally courageous than others. But can it be developed? I’m confident it can be, as a skill.

I think it’s important, however, to distinguish courage from confidence or foolhardiness. Of course, confidence can be a positive trait, while foolhardiness is likely to be most universally regarded as negative. Among all the quotes about courage, I liked the one by e.e. cummings:

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

How will we cultivate this skill and value among our students? I have seen my own peers face fear and frustration. To quote our friend Mark Fernandes, they enter into a so-called drama triangle far more easily than to address the issue at hand. What I fear is if we, as adults, lack the skill to overcome our own fears… How well-equipped are we to help students do the same?

Putting courage on a list was was bold and significant. It certainly sets our district apart. But we cannot skip the steps of developing trust, humility, kindness, authenticity, and maybe even confidence—all great values—in approaching the most challenging of our five.

As we dig as leaders into the next phase of our strategic plan together, tackling the tactics, I look forward to the opportunities to cultivate our values in one another as much as the opportunities to cultivate them in our students.

Freedom Writers

Probably the best illustration that comes to mind of facing courage in a school setting was a scene from the movie The Freedom Writers, based on Gruwell’s book by the same name. The puts a line on the floor of her classroom and asks the students to step up to the line. She then asks them a series of questions and to stay at the line if they’ve experienced any number of tough situations outside of school. It was a powerful, and pivotal point in the movie.

If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this post, I’d challenge you to pick one or more of our core values and call them out when you see them in practice. Send a note to a colleague to congratulate them on “being honorable,” or praise a student on finding a “creative solution.” And if you’ve overcome a fear yourself, hold your head high and smile knowing you’ve taken the high road on the side of living courageously.

Leading Through Example

I’ve always believed that we can each lead through the choices we make. And those in leadership positions, whether they like it or not, are viewed especially by the choices they make. This came to light yesterday during a conversation during the audit of our Google Apps for Education Audit (GAFE).


The audit told us a lot about how we use Google Apps in our division. We learned who the biggest Google Docs user is (ahem, it was me), and who used up the most storage (hmm, Peter!). But that was really just trivia. We saw interesting things when you looked at things a different way. As it turns out, and our consultants echoed this for us, when building administrators embrace the tool and use it, teachers tend to follow.

It takes bravery to try and adopt a new tool. At first, I myself had a hard time launching a browser instead of a Word or Pages icon in the dock. But I’ve now been living so much in the “Google ecosystem” with cloud-based doc creation, that it simply has become habit. I know if I’m going to share something with someone, I now start “in the cloud.” And the think is, I like it now. I’ve always been in love with desktop applications — but I’ve come to realize the trade-offs are worth it, when you have the power of collaboration as the biggest feature. Part of this has been shown to me working through my doctoral program with colleagues from Henrico. Just last night we edited over 50 pages together in a Google Hangout using Google Drive. At one point I had to sit back and take stock, I could see and hear my colleagues in real time, and we were all editing the same documents simultaneously.

Our teachers in grades 3-5 at GES this year will be adopting new tools and pedagogies. I’m their biggest fans right now, and think they’re going to accomplish great things with our iPad initiative. I know Google Apps will be one of the tools they’ll come to rely upon. They’ll be leading with the choice of tools they adopt with kids.

I’d like to remind my colleagues wide, near, and far, that the simple choices you make can have an effect on what happens in a classroom. Things as simple as the choices of tools we use can inspire a teacher to use the same ones. And the effect can be a profound difference when it comes to the impact on instruction. Writing in Word and writing collaboratively in a Google Doc aren’t the same thing. It takes courage to make the change I am optimistic we can do it together.

Keeping My Kids Out of My Basement

That is a goal for education… yes, I want my kids to finish school and move out and find success as only they can define it.  I don’t want them in my basement!

This was one of the messages from Dr. Yong Zhao’s presentation last week at the Region I Superintendent’s study group.  Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally known scholar, author, and speaker. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education.

Although the goal of education to “keep my kids out of my basement” was said with humor, we all understood his message.  Sometimes it is hard to define what we want out of our educational system.  When we say we want our students to be successful, what does that mean?  Dr. Zhao convinced me that promoting creative entrepreneurship can be a positive outcome, and may well happen, if we pay more attention to the child than the content.  Mastering tests is all well and good.  We want mastery.  At the same time we need to build relationships, foster engaging and inquisitive study and promote growth.  As I continue to think about what I want for Goochland school students (and  for my own grandchildren) out of an education system, I am thinking about these three pillars: growth, relationships and engagement.  We have been talking about this in our leadership team meetings since July.  Dr. Yong Zhao reinforced this idea or ‘movement’ to go beyond test scores as a measure of our schools’ success.

I have asked a number of our GMS & GHS teachers to tell me what engagement looks like from their point of view.   For me, this is not engagement devoid of content but rather engagement encouraged by the relationship the teacher has built with each child and engagement created with the purpose of fostering growth in student thinking, content knowledge and self-awareness. In the next few weeks, I will share in this blog what our secondary teachers have told me.