By Design, Not by Accident

As a teacher and, later, head of a high school, I was continually amazed by the multitude of decisions that I had to make everyday.  I began to realize that if I had no framework, or schematic, to order and prioritize, I would always succumb to the tyranny of the urgent.

In the book, Schools as Communities, Gordon Brown makes the following assertion:

Faced with such an array of decisions…The real question facing all of them is, ‘By what rationale does one evaluate which courses of action are best?’  Decision making by Christian school leaders should be by design and not by accident. (from the essay “Weighing Leadership Models”) 

As a consultant, I develop relationships with many schools.  I find that I spend most of my time helping schools develop goals and a framework for making decisions. The point I make is that the urgency is not in the overwhelming details and questions facing you every moment of everyday, but in developing a way to make the most purposeful decisions.

The hallmark of Classical education has always been the pursuit of a telos, an “overall end”, the ultimate goal.  Classical education has always been an education of purpose.  The challenge for us as Classical educators and leaders is to set overall goals for our jobs in light of the ultimate goals that the vision and mission statements of our schools promote.   

Developing goals from the top down is the only way we can escape being confused by the plethora of choices that confront us everyday. It is the only way to build a hierarchy of priorities. 

Only then can we make those best and highest choices – purposeful choices – that move us toward our ultimate end. 





4 Responses

  1. The Covey priniciples are interesting and helpful. Thanks for taking the time to explain it.

    I would start by reading the book “Schools as Communities” edited by James Drexler and published by Purposeful Design – specifically chapter five.

    We are really lacking in this area in classical education and I hope to craft a few documents soon to assist schools.

  2. Sorry in advance for the long comment.

    –I had a boss/mentor that pounded Covey’s principles into us. Covey suggests looking at activities in terms of four quadrants, with urgency and importance as the axes. Looks like this:

    * QI – Important and Urgent (crises)
    * QII – Important but Not Urgent (planning, prevention, proactivity)
    * QIII – Not Important but Urgent (Interruptions)
    * QIV – Not Important and Not Urgent (trivia, busywork)

    He says QII is the place to be, where you are looking far enough ahead that the most important tasks benefit from thinking processes that only time can allow. I guess that’s where most strategic planning belongs.

    QI is no less important, but it’s where the “tyranny of the urgent” is the norm.

    –I’m a reader first; having a helpful introduction to strategic planning that has helped other schools and leaders would be invaluable as a beginning. From there, I think I’d be in a position to ask better questions than I can right now.

    –That does help. Our statements are fairly unpacked; we’ve spent some quality time on them. The ideal student thinking has begun, but needs some more focused attention. I remember the skills, content, and ideas from Intellectus Conlectio. I can go back and work my way through some of that to make some recommendations for our own long-term plans.

  3. Jamie – Would love to know more about Quadrant 1.

    1) I would like to know what would be helpful for you.

    2) The decision-making begans with making sure that the vision and mission statements of your school are “unpacked” to the degree that they inform your decisions in goal setting. The second point would be to develop your “ideal student” or vision of a graduate to define your end “product”. Third, using Mortimer Adler’s three columns, identify what “skills, content, and ideas” are connected to producing these graduates. Another way to ask it is” “what skills, knowledge, and ideas should our students possess when they leave our school?” From that, set your overall goals for your school.

    Does that help?

  4. Great reminder. How often I end up in what Stephen Covey called Quadrant 1!

    This post raises a lot of questions for me:

    1) What are some solid resources for classical school strategic planning–“human” as well as print?

    2) How does purposeful decision-making trickle down from a school’s strategic plan? Case study, please!

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