Reconciling Competing Values

By Doug Eadie

High-impact school boards typically play a strong role in leading district strategic change, which is perhaps the most important governing work you can do in these rapidly changing, challenging times. And in the strategic change game, boards have no more critical job than updating your district’s strategic framework -- mission, core values, and vision -- for the future.

In my experience, school boards and other public and nonprofit governing bodies are pretty comfortable dealing with mission (defining in a nutshell what your district is about and what its key purposes are) and vision (articulating the long-term impact you want the district to have on students and the community). Core values are another matter.

Core values don’t describe your district’s reality. Rather, they are cherished principles and beliefs -- golden rules with a strong ethical flavor -- that are intended to direct (the “thou shalts”) and constrain (the “thou shalt nots”) your district’s planning and operations.

If transparency is one of your district’s core values, you will look for every opportunity to promote more open, honest, accurate communication with students, parents, and the wider community. If the efficient management of public resources is another core value, then you will develop systems and processes to guide against wasteful expenditures.

Many school boards periodically update their core values statements, usually by having a breakout group brainstorm a list in a daylong retreat, by completing the sentence, “We believe in ...” The board’s planning committee can refine the statement and recommend its adoption at a board business meeting.

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