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.
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.