I have long thought and argued that, as a school leader, your values and principles are what are made real by your actions. If you are really clear about your own values and principles, these should be reflected in your actions, and interactions, as a leader. I agree with Disney also, in that when such values are clear and understood, they make making decisions easier. They help you establish the 'lines in the sand' that you wish to establish personally professionally and within the organisation you lead.
A good self evaluation question to ask is, 'do your actions reflect and give life to your values?' Leaders who struggle with credibility are those who display a mismatch between what they say and what they do. It really is destructive to talk one talk, but walk another walk. People really do judge you by your actions, not your words. Yes they will listen to your words, to start with, but if these do not match your actions, it really won't be that long before they stop listening!
I am sure that every Headteacher, or senior leader, begins their role with a clear understanding of their values and principles. After all, all will probably have been asked to articulate and share these ahead of their appointments as part of the employment process. The danger we all face is that over time, as we are faced with the daily demands of our roles and the deluge of activities and issues we have to deal with on a daily basis, our values and principles become lost in busyness. I would contend that we should be aware of this as a possibility, but that we cannot and should not let this happen. We need to create time in our very busy lives and roles to keep revisiting our values and principles to not only consider whether they need adjusting or reshaping, but also whether they are still being reflected in what we do and the decisions we make.
We really need to be careful that we are not swamped by all our managerial responsibilities, important as these are, but that we still have the time to get our heads up and look at what is on, and beyond, the horizon and how our values and practice might be impacted by what we see coming. To do this we need to engage in professional dialogue with colleagues face to face and across various media, and we need to read. Too many headteachers and senior leaders get themselves into a mindset of being too busy to do either of these in any meaningful sort of way. It is unfortunate that it would seem for some, the leadership role is the one that is sacrificed on the alter of the management one. I believe we have a professional responsibility to engage at a level outside our own establishments and perhaps outside our own comfort zones. This has been espoused by Michael Fullan as others and is also part of the new Standards for Leadership and Management established by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. (GTCS)
So what are the values that shape you as a Headteacher and school leader? When was the last time you considered them and whether you were still being true to them? are your values reflected in the school you lead? Is there mismatch in what you believe and what actually happens? If there is what are you going to do about it? Do you have to change or does the organisation you lead? These are big and important questions to ask, but all are worth time and space to consider.
How does it feel to be a pupil or a member of staff in your school? You need to ask them regularly to find out. It's too easy to think you 'know' what the answer to some of these questions are, but the only way you will really know is by asking everyone on a regular basis to check out how they are feeling, individually and collectively. To do this properly you need strength of character to accept what people are saying and you need a culture and ethos within the school that encourages openness and honesty, and where it is okay express opinions that may not be entirely in tune with your own. The real test is then what you do when you have all this information? Ignore it at your peril and at a detrimental cost to the collective health of the establishment.
If you are clear about your values and principles, and you have shared and modelled these amongst your colleagues, you are in a much stronger position to identify appropriate actions and developments within your school. Consciously and subconsciously they become the starting point from which to measure any new proposals or change. As Disney said able 'it becomes easier to make decisions.' I believe it puts you in a much stronger position to resist what needs to be resisted from the agendas of others outside of the school, and it helps protect you and colleagues by enabling you to 'gatekeep' and manage the constant demand for change within schools and education.
Being a Headteacher or senior leader is not an easy role to fill. We have obligations and responsibilities to so many. What we shouldn't lose sight of is that the most important people we have those obligations and responsibilities to are our learners. Therefore we need to be prepared to stand up for what know to be right on their behalf. Being backed up by well considered and tested values and principles, aligned to professional knowledge and expertise, best equips us to resist and confront others who would deem to know better and might perhaps shout loudest about education and learning.
I have had many conversations with people who have disagreed with decisions I have made, or actions I have taken. I still have listened to them all and sometimes I have changed or compromised as a result of such interactions. But, I am also clear about the things I am not prepared to compromise on and have said this when necessary. My values and principles shape the type of leader I am, and they help me sleep at night.
"It is impossible to give what you don't have. Invest in your leadership. Keep learning. " Shawn Upchurch