Expectations of Excellence and Authenticity

expectationsRegardless of your starting date (some member schools started in early August, others are starting now, and a few will be in session around Labor Day), a new school year is underway and with it come fresh expectations, either newly implemented in response to needs or reset as core expectations that are integral to the school’s culture. Strong schools have clearly communicated these expectations for all involved, have supported their implementation with focused training, and will continue to reinforce and refine them in the follow-through. Most importantly, for these expectations to serve their purpose, everyone in the school community will be responsible for and held accountable to the expectations.

The final session of our Ready to Lead training, which assembled a cohort of 16 current and rising instructional leaders from our Coalition this summer, discussed the healthy tension that exists between expectations of excellence and expectations of authenticity. How do our schools inspire, equip and compel each member of the school community (board members, leaders, faculty, staff, students and families) to be excellent and accept nothing less than a standard of excellence? At the same time, how do our schools honor and love each member of the school community for the sacredness of exactly and absolutely who that person is? Avoiding either, or leaning too heavily toward one, can have significant implications on our ability to lead and educate effectively and faithfully.

What does this mean in practice? Our schools believe that “It Is All About Relationships.” There is an expectation of authenticity as to how members of the school community relate to and interact with one another and how each member understands the spiritual bond that exists with each and every person. Effective schools, however, also set expectations of excellence in terms of how those relationships are best formed and nurtured to avoid leaving anything to chance. For example, there is an expectation of attendance and full participation in board retreats, faculty meals, or morning assemblies and that all are fully present to those who have gathered and not distracted by other “devices” in or out of the room.

How does this tension play out in the classroom? An effective school leader embraces the importance of regular and consistent observation with clear and actionable feedback to which the individual and team is accountable. This is an expectation of excellence. At the same time, a school leader who acknowledges and balances the tension of excellence and authenticity takes the time to share who they are personally with the staff and know the passions, interests, fears, and triggers of each team member so these observations can be more meaningfully tailored to the individual.

One more illustration of this tension: An effective school leader sets a benchmark for excellence in student achievement and tracks and analyzes critical data points to measure proficiency and inform decisions about curriculum and instruction.  An effective school leaders also measures success by celebrating incremental gains in student growth and understands the ebbs and flows forward and back that characterize most developmental journeys.

The Risks of Not Managing the Tension: A school can become so blinded by narrow and rigid expectations of excellence on specific standards that they overlook other credible contributions and assets of its members and squash the creativity and spirit of the team. Or a school can also become so accepting and yielding to expectations of authenticity that they fail to be honest and truthful in correction, push, and encouragement of its members on critical standards and squash the full possibility of achievement and contribution of an individual to a functioning community.

A School At Peace with the Tension: Excellent school leaders understand the healthy tension of these expectations. Rather than two conflicting purposes on opposite spectrums that pull energy from the core culture, an effective leadership mindset embraces both purposes moderately and learns how each brings energy to the core culture. Ultimately, when this tension is at peace, expectations of authenticity also yield excellence in academic achievement AND expectations of excellence also yield authenticity in character development.

On behalf of all member schools in the NativityMiguel Coalition, all the best in the school year ahead and may each school community work toward a peaceful education.

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