Education

Four Steps to Defining Your School’s Core Values

This summer has been one of self-reflection and momentum. Although, unfortunately, we are still facing the COVID-19 pandemic, I have decided that I am not going to let it rob me of anything this school year. It is not going to steal the joy I find in working alongside incredible educators. It is not going to steal our focus on helping our students achieve great things. It is not going to define our culture–we will define who we are every day and how we want our school to feel. So, take that global pandemic. WE get to decide how this school year will go…not you.

Part of my renewed forward-thinking momentum came from rereading Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead” in anticipation of participating in “Dare to Lead” workshops with our district administration team. In the book and the training, Brené shares four skill sets of daring leadership and the skill set that spoke loudest to me this time around was “Living into your values”. In the book, Brené tells a story about her CFO and that until she understood his core value of financial stability, she thought that when he questioned her about big risks she wanted to take it meant that he didn’t trust her. After understanding that his questions are about his core value of financial stability and not about Brené at all, it really helped their relationship. This story got me thinking about the staff at our school. What if they knew each other’s two core values to help them better understand the motivation behind behavior? What might that mean for staff relationships?

Step One: Values Self-Awareness

We know (but don’t always put into practice) that the first step in moving forward with a new idea is self-awareness. As the leader of our school I have to first recognize my own core values, so I downloaded Brené’s list of values to whittle the list down to my two core values. It is a really hard exercise, but it really helped to recognize that naming my two core values does not mean that I don’t have any other values. My core values are “integrity” and “making a difference” and in the weeks since I named them my eyes have really opened to where I lean into my values and areas where I can work on leaning into them more.

Step Two: Guide Staff in Naming Their Core Values

During one of our Staff Collaboration Times this fall teachers will go through the exercise of defining their values. This could be accomplished in a group setting or it could be introduced to the group and teachers could work through it on their own. Here is a slideshow I created to introduce the idea. Once teachers have identified their two core values AND a trusting environment has been established, they can share them with each other. In her book, Brené talks about an activity where staff members wrote their names and values on chart paper and hung them around the room. Others wrote positive comments about the person and how they live into their values. You can get creative with this–the whole process could take place during one staff meeting or the papers could stay up on the walls in the staff lounge for a week to give teachers time to write comments. You can do this activity virtually with Google Slides and having each staff member create a slide for themselves with their name and their core values.

Step Three: What does knowing each other’s values mean for us?

After working through values self-awareness and allowing for teachers to understand each other’s values, it will be helpful to circle back to the concept for some reflection. At the next staff meeting, ask this simple question, “What does knowing each other’s values mean for us?” to give teachers an opportunity to share how this practice has changed them and has changed the school culture for the better. In a virtual meeting we could use a tool like Mentimeter or Google Jamboard to allow teachers to share. If you are sharing at an in-person meeting, you could give teachers an opportunity to talk about the question in small groups and then share. Or, they could spend a few minutes writing a reflection before sharing their thoughts with the whole group. This time for reflection is a crucial part of the next step.

Step Four: Determining Your School’s Core Values

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if staff could work together to define the school’s core values? I picture taking the self-awareness process and mirroring it in small groups to whittle the list of values down to core values for the school. I am SO excited about this idea. Years ago we worked through this process to define who we are as the Q-Crew, the staff of Quincy Elementary. Here is what we came up with.

We are going to use this framework as we go through Brené’s list of values to choose the core values that shape everything we do at our school. I am not sure we will be able to narrow it down to just two but we will sure try and we will be okay with settling on three or four if that is where we land. However it is important to keep in mind that the clearer the target, the more likely we will be able to hit it. And, it is helpful to have all stakeholders have a voice in this process–ALL staff, students and even families.


I am incredibly grateful to Brené Brown and her team for their research-based and insightful leadership. This rejuvenation was exactly what I needed as we approach this school year. I am really looking forward to working through this process with our school staff and I would love to hear your creative ideas and how the process works for you. Please share your ideas with all of us by commenting below or tagging me on Twitter (@AllysonApsey and #SerendipityEDU).

Living life with a “Serendipity Mindset” does not mean pretending that everything is a happy accident. It means knowing that everything we go through, from our highest of highs to our lowest of lows, offers us beautiful gifts–IF we look for them. You can check out the #SerendipityEDU books out on Amazon by clicking HERE. Each book is filled with inspiration to help us discover the gifts in along life’s journey. With the addition of my newest book, a middle-grades chapter book called The Serendipity Journal, there is a book for every age level. There is no better time to start looking for happy accidents.

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