On My Last, Best “No”

At my school, the divisional leadership conducts a transparent survey on various leadership competencies in order to inform divisional goal setting. I think it is excellent practice, not only for informing school leadership about its performance, or, more importantly, perceptions of performance, but also because it provokes reflection on behalf of the responder. I do something similar in my own classroom practice, based on the teacher competencies promoted by Charlotte Danielson and the research done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into teacher evaluation. Here are the essential agreements and list of questions that I, and my department, use.

When I responded to the school’s divisional leadership survey this year, I was struck by the following conundrum:

If each year we know how to do a better job, this often, but not always, involves doing more.

If we know more about what we can do to help our students learn and flourish, to what extent are we morally obliged to act on that knowledge, and at what individual cost? Rightly, most educational practice is based on the notion of doing what is best, at any given moment, for student learning. However, I wonder if this concept is dangerously blunt unless schools, as a community, can answer the following:

Do we have a clear communal understanding of what we, as school, value most highly in terms of student learning?

Are there things we should stop doing to focus our finite time, talents and resources on doing what we value most highly?

If yes, do we have the institutional confidence in our shared vision to do this?

If yes, what, and when, is enough?

I wonder if we need to get better, on an individual and community basis, at knowing when to say, “No”, with the understanding that the intention of a “no” is to ensure our skills, time and resources are focused on the projects that matter most for student learning in the context of a school’s vision. I’m trying to think of my last, best “No”… And I’m drawing a blank. I think it’s something I will look into this year.