Some thoughts that run through the mind of a school leader: Is my school’s message being heard? Are people listening? Are we being clear?
At Sioux Center Christian School, we follow a set of internal norms, our “rules of the road” when it comes to working together as colleagues and with students, parents and supporters. These norms were written collaboratively by our faculty and staff, and all employees are held to them (including me). They provide a framework, help everyone know what to expect and embed guidance and accountability. During our opening faculty and staff meeting this August, all employees selected two of our norms to focus on this year. They reflected on the norms, how they’ve shown them, how they would like to show them and what their slippery places — places and times when it can be hard to show the norms — are. That’s right. From the nurse to the custodians to the teachers to the head of school, we all follow the norms.
Norms are important. Research shows that organizations with a clear set of norms are strong. Norms provide safety and structure while also encouraging growth and creativity. That is what we want to be, a thriving place for the benefit of our students.
Here are the norms we follow, all under the umbrella of our biblical framework as a school:
1. Communicate regularly (face-to-face is often best).
2. In conflict, seek direction through prayer and wise counsel (seek guidance versus gossip). Focus on solutions. Follow Matthew 18.
3. Assume positive intent; trust, but verify.
4. Put student needs first.
5. Provide and seek kind, specific and helpful feedback.
6. Celebrate and support each other.
7. Take healthy risks.
8. Remain flexible, focused on growth.
9. Balance professional and personal needs.
10. Face reality boldly.
These show up in conversations, when we’re working through conflict, when we’re making decisions and more.
Please don’t mistake these norms as ways that we can hide behind nice language or as me saying we have a perfect school. In fact, the opposite is true. Norms help us lean into hard things. They inspire courage over comfort. They encourage getting into the grittiness of life, digging deep with each other for the benefit of our team and the school culture.
Author Brene Brown, in her book “Dare to Lead,” highlights the importance of norms by sharing: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind, when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair. Feeding people half-truths to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.”
Norms are about being clear because clear is kind. They don’t cause people to wonder what’s expected. They help us save that mental energy for more important things, like providing a fantastic learning experience for our students.
So what are the norms in your organization? In your business? I encourage you to think about a few. Write them down. Make them visible so you see them often. Reflect on them. Think about your slippery places. Being clear with yourself is how you can be kind to yourself. And couldn’t this world use a little more kindness?
How do you know if the norms are working? One way would be listening to what people say. I recently overhead the comment, “I’m going to assume positive intent” at school and wanted to jump up and down! Our institutional norms are not perfect, but comments like this one make me think we are on the right track.
Let me be clear about one thing as I close. Thank you to the Sioux Center community for your support of Sioux Center Christian School. Our school is thriving in this supportive community. I can tell you that experiencing Christian employees working at a Christian school is a beautiful thing. Employees committed to providing an intentionally Christian education are thriving and living out their part in God’s story as they invite our kids into His Story with them.
And, because of that, our students are thriving and are getting a top-notch education, one that treasures them as image bearers of God, one that trains them in God’s Truth through strong faith nurturing and academics, and one that seeks to transform them through the power of the Holy Spirit.
On behalf of our near-record enrollment of 522 students (526 is our highest), we thank you for your support our efforts, and we look forward to many more years of partnering with the Sioux Center community.
Josh Bowar is head of school at Sioux Center Christian School.