School considers core values

Emily Bialkowski
Managing Editor


What are my core values? Going into the Caledonia School District’s  first strategic planning team meeting, I thought a bit about the idea. I didn’t want to show having never considered what we’d be talking about, but I struggled to arrange something eloquent and thoughtful ahead of time. Perhaps that is why a professional was brought in to facilitate the discussion. Perhaps many participants struggled to hit the nail on the head ahead of time.

That said, a sense of direction, purpose and core values became wildly apparent before I left.

Superintendent Ben Barton invited community participants to help the district formulate a mission and goals for the future. He said he didn’t feel he could lead effectively without this type of direction and wanted all shareholders to have a say. I, too, feel that stamping out a mission and creating goals based on that mission is a worthwhile pursuit, so I’m participating.

After brief introductions, the group of about 25 was asked to consider three things:

• Core values I am thinking about

• What does this core value mean

• What is the evidence that this core value is embedded in the Caledonia district culture

We all jotted down ideas and were asked to partner up and talk about our values — values that we think already exist in the district. The great thing about mingling with multiple individuals was, despite our varied backgrounds, a clear indication of Caledonia’s core values came out.

Repeatedly, participants mentioned work ethic, safety, quality, positive energy, equality, dedication, respectfulness, inclusiveness and many, many more wonderful attributes that make a school and the community shine. There were teachers, school staff, grandparents/retired folk, a pastor, school board members and parents. They represent a diverse cross section of the entire community and come from different backgrounds, but the core values that kept coming up were the same.

The facilitator suggested:

“Core values form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. Effective organizations identify and develop a clear, concise and shared meaning of values/beliefs … values guide every decision that is made once the organization has cooperatively created the values and the value statements.

“And when a core value is violated, there’s a strong reaction.”

I tell you what, the experience was uplifting because not only did we name a lot of positive attributes, but we also started to see how these attributes can guide our school district’s future. Core values, the facilitator said, also help motivate, create trust, loyalty and commitment and also create reasons to celebrate.

By no means did the evening serve as a big “let’s pat ourselves on the back” festival. There are areas that will require improvement and this team is aware of that. But it served as a way to awaken our sense of culture — not the kind that reflects ancestral background, but the kind that people feel when they first walk into the school.

The facilitator, Diane Schwinghammer of Southeast Service Cooperative, started the program by explaining culture. She said it’s the feeling you get when you walk into a school you’ve never been in before. Are you greeted courteously, or treated like you’re interrupting somebody? Are people friendly or standoffish? Is there a sense of excitement or indifference?

I think there’s excitement in Caledonia. I sense my colleagues on the planning team feel the same way. We can accomplish anything when our intentions are inspired by a set of solid core values.

You can contact Emily Bialkowski at [email protected]