Getting the values right

On January 3, 2019,

When Alice asked which way she ought to go, the Cheshire Cat answered, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” This is a relevant starting point for a teacher who will be taking on a new and challenging role of a Head of School, since there will be a paradigm shift from the confines of a single classroom to handling the multiple aspects of an Institution. Hence knowing both the path you want to take, and the destination is important to get the values right from the start.

This transition to move from the role of a teacher to a Head of School is most effective for an individual if you believe deep inside that your sphere of influence will increase, and you will be able to reach out to a larger community of learners. What helped me make this transition was to think of myself as a principal teacher, one who is really focusing on instruction along with [and] by the side of teachers – not top-down mandates and edicts. In creating such a culture, it helped me ensure that the doors remain open and we value each other as colleagues and therefore collaborate. In order to do this well, the trust pays a key role. Hence I would begin by saying that trust is the fundamental value for me at the start of a career – to build a culture of trust and care with the teachers so that we could create a relationship to build an institution.


In writing about the values that drive me, I asked myself a fundamental question – do I want to look at values from the end of the spectrum, rather than from the beginning? There are more questions than answers since values are the intangibles that cannot be measured. At the end of a career, what would I want to be remembered for? Will I know passion in my work? Will I touch lives? Will I change a school in a meaningful way? What will my regrets be? The position of a Head of School is so demanding, requiring a multitude of skills, a huge time commitment, the tremendous responsibility and knowledge that I as an individual was ultimately responsible for the overall functioning of the Institution – the good days and the challenging ones.

The main driving force for me was that I simply loved being in the environment of a school, and the energy of the children – I value every single moment of my time, and that is what I want to be remembered for – that I knew each child by name, that I was there for each one albeit in varying capacities, that my office doors were open to the children, even if parents had to seek an appointment, that the teachers could share personal concerns without fear of judgment, that for all of us the school was a happy place, and parents would say that their children looked forward to the end of a vacation and were excited to return.

How do we measure values – the intangibles that make a whole? As Lao Tzu has said, “We make a vessel from a lump of clay – it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.” Here are some experiences from my own tenure, which go beyond the data and the measurable – the immeasurable, which contribute to the intangibles!

Be true: I would ask each person who is an educator, “is this work which you really want to do? Is it your calling?” this is a very different profession since we are working with young minds – minds, which are true and not yet tainted with cynicism and manipulations of the world. As a Leader, be true to who you are, stand at the gate and greet each child when they return to a new term at school, address the school gatherings with glimpses of your personal life, let the children see the person behind the authority, but most importantly, be yourself. A value is what you believe has intrinsic worth for you, and the behaviour of the Head of an Institution very quickly infiltrates to the others.

Personal clarity: The political climate in the world today can be extremely challenging. As a Head, you may have to make certain hard choices about the school, which affect the Institution and not the individual. Here is where being clear on one’s values becomes imperative. A lot of what a Head of School does is invisible to the teachers – we sometimes use the metaphor of the conductor of the orchestra. While watching the conductor, the audience views it like an extremely simple act. However, for a Head of school to orchestrate the collective harmonious work of teachers includes organizational design and development, instructional leadership and the development of learning opportunities. Moving an Institution from where it is to where you envision it to require an understanding of change management. Finally, I cannot underplay the role of outreach and support – to the school board, the parent community and other members of the community who are resources for the school. It is important to understand those things, both to be able to expect and support them and to also provide good feedback and evaluation. For all this to work as a well-orchestrated symphony, there must be personal clarity on what you value to be the most important.

Be a Role Model: For me, the focus was always on the children. The teachers as adults also need to be nurtured and feel valued, and therefore being a role model is absolutely vital. I always tried to be the best at what I did, never feared to admit my mistakes, and saying sorry and not being afraid to express the vulnerable side of my human nature. It is essential that the Head is strong, especially when the chips are down, it helps to think of oneself as “gentle steel.” It helps to boost the morale around the school, especially during the time of exams. Presence is vital. I would try to be present everywhere without actually being present! This may sound very esoteric, however, think about it – a Head of School who is constantly away in Meetings and Conferences does not have an influence on the school culture. While the position demands that networking and outreach are two essential roles, be selective and choose when and where you go. Remain on the premises at the essential times of the year, even if there is a distributed leadership network. Everyone values the presence of a leader. The key is to create an aura of omnipresence even on days that you need to be away for good reason.

Schools create lifelong relationships for people. The bonds and friendships that are forged by sitting together all day pursuing common goals create almost everlasting links. Value these relationships, and ask yourself each day – “what did I do today that helped transform a life? Think about this as being your key value in this position. Cherish it, and let it grow your school right from the start!

Quote by Maya Angelou when asked about children and resilience.

I would ask the teacher to be sure that this is the program—this is the job—that he or she is called to do. Don’t just teach because that’s all you can do. Teach because it’s your calling. And once you realize that, you have a responsibility to the young people. And it’s not a responsibility to teach them by rote and by threat and even by promise. Your responsibility is to care about what you’re saying to them, to care about what they’re getting from what you’re saying. If you care about the child and care about the information, you’ll handle both with care, and maybe with prayer. Handle them both with prayer.