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Administration, Education, Leadership

A Principal’s First Week: Visions, Missions & Mantras


cc flickr photo by toolstop

On Monday morning, about nine hundred seventh and eighth graders will come streaming through the gates at Willis Junior High.  For the past several days, our faculty has had the opportunity to plan together and discuss our vision for the future of Willis.

As a new principal, I began the week with a presentation (Prezi) to introduce our staff to our theme for the year – Learning and Leading with PRIDE. While I threw a lot of ideas out for consideration, the emphasis was on three questions for reflective educating–questions to guide every action and activity on our campus.

  1. What is the purpose?
  2. Is it a good use of time and resources?
  3. Is it in the best interest of students?

Later in the week we began the process of developing a mission statement that would be meaningful and express the core values of our school.  A great deal of time was spent considering the best way to work with our mission and vision statements.  I turned to my PLN for help and received valuable advice from George Couros (@gcouros – a great Twitter follow for all educators) who suggested narrowing our focus to a short and easy to remember motto.  George provided the following examples:

  • Think, Lead, Serve (Van Meter, Iowa Schools)
  • Collaborate, Create, Learn (George’s suggestion for Parkland)

Working off of this idea, our assistant principal discovered this great video of Guy Kawasaki speaking about mantras.

In preparing for our staff discussion we also found the, Creating Program Transformation Through a Mantra, extremely valuable.  Page eight of the article provided a great activity for encouraging our staff to reflect on our core values as a school and identify key terms that exemplify what we want for the Willis learning community.  After a lot of hard work and spirited discussion we arrived at the following terms:


I was very pleased with the discussion that took place in arriving at this mantra.  It was good to see the staff actively engaged in the process of envisioning a positive future for our school and I hope that they found the activity challenging, but beneficial.  I can honestly say that I was a bit nervous about where this activity might lead us.  While the mantra that the staff developed might not have been exactly what I would have chosen, I believe the logic that was used to arrive at those terms was sound and student centered–which was my only “non-negotiable” guideline.  I also believe the staff felt ownership in this process and will be passionate about putting these words into action.

The first week was much more challenging than I envisioned and I find myself exhausted before the kids even arrive.  A little rest and recuperation this weekend and then on Monday…onward and upward.  Empowering, achieving and leading!

About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


6 thoughts on “A Principal’s First Week: Visions, Missions & Mantras

  1. This post provides me with a lot to think about, even as I enter year 4 of my principalship. There have been so many initiatives undertaken in the past three years… we’ve seen things come and go… it’s time to drill down to what’s most important, and I love how your mantra encapsulates your vision. Thanks for sharing this!

    Posted by Lyn Hilt | July 24, 2011, 4:01 am
    • Thanks for the comment Lyn. It was certainly an exciting week with what, I hope, was meaningful reflection and conversation for our staff. Now comes the tough part. Our kids come back tomorrow, so it is time to put words into action.

      Posted by azjd | July 24, 2011, 5:58 pm
  2. Hey Jeff,

    Interesting topic indeed—-and while I’ll agree that having a short and easy to remember mantra is a great starting point for organizational change because it serves as a touchstone for every faculty member and school decision, I’d offer one word of caution: Short, general phrases can lead to a ton of false consensus.

    Here’s why: Teachers with VERY different philosophies can all make a case that their actions and choices result in empowering, achieving and leading.

    The result can be disastrous for schools who are trying to work in a shared direction. If you’ve got teachers believing that they’re adhering to your mantra even though their actions don’t align with your beliefs about what “empower, achieve, lead” looks like in action, you’ve got a source of real contention on your hands.

    I wrote a bit a while ago on this topic called “Are You Leading By Cliche?”


    It made a few of my closest friends very angry because it challenged their own work with setting vision for their schools, but it might be worth a look. It will at least force you to think about where to go now that you’ve got a mantra in place.

    Rock right on,

    Posted by Bill Ferriter | July 26, 2011, 6:47 am
    • Enjoyed your post Bill and I certainly appreciate your advice. For our faculty, the mantra (or mission) is only a starting point. We needed to have some candid discussions about where we are as a school…and where we are going. This activity, and the development of a mantra, served as a springboard for that discussion. However, I don’t have any false conceptions about the need for continued discussion, defining and action related to “empowering, achieving, and leading.” We are just beginning this process and there is a danger in allowing those three words to become cliche.

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and offer advice. Appreciated!

      Posted by azjd | July 26, 2011, 8:13 pm
  3. Any way you can make your presentation in editable form? I love the content and would like to tweak it for my teachers. I know I won’t have the time to recreate the presentation. I’m a Prezi newbie. Thanks!

    Posted by Lori | August 12, 2011, 7:09 pm


  1. Pingback: What is Your School’s Mantra / Slogan? What Does Your School Offer? :: School Administration Mastery - July 24, 2011

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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