Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hippocratic Oath for a School Leader

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by doctors swearing to practice medicine ethically. It is widely believed to have been written by Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of western medicine. The Hippocratic Oath (orkos) is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold a number of professional ethical standards. Sounds like something every professional that has something to do for people should take.

Unfortunately, a school leader must make difficult decisions and many times is attacked by many people for these critical points. So, will diverse groups of people respect the job a school leader does, knowing they take an oath such as an "educational Hippocratic Oath?" Probably not. An oath is a personal commitment for excellence, based on ethical guidelines and standards. To be valid, the oath a person takes really only matters to the person taking it, becoming a personal commitment and a guiding light in a perilous journey to guarantee a quality educational experience for each and every child.

Last week was one of the most difficult time periods I have had in my role as a school superintendent. To sum it up, I  closed an elementary school due to declining enrollment, proposed a reduction in work force to the tune of 
$ 1,000,000, negotiated agreements with all of our bargaining units and district employees to freeze their salaries next year, performed two superintendent hearings with kids from troubled homes, and to top it off I decided to retire.

Over the past few years I learned that no matter what the decision a leader makes, someone gets upset with you, In fact one day half of the people are mad at you, while the other half of the crowd takes the day off and gets upset with you tomorrow! And I am sure no one cares that you took a personal oath to be ethical and guided by high ideals. 

But, ethical standards and high ideals are what drives anyone to become a school leader. And, chances are those standards and ideals focus on kids, and the reasons we all work in a school. So, here is my version of what a school leader's Hippocratic oath should be. Let me know what you think:

I swear to fulfill to the best of my ability and judgment this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won leadership gains of those leaders in whose step I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as well as mine to those who follow after me.

I will apply, for the benefit of my employees, community, and society, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of control and absence of leadership.

I will remember that there is art to leadership as well as science, and that compassion, courage, and understanding employees’ ideas may outweigh the logic of student achievement data or strategic growth.

I will not be ashamed to say “ I don’t know,” nor will I fail to call upon experts when their skills are needed for student, employee and organizational success.

I recognize that my experiences create biases that limit my perspective; therefore, I will cultivate a culture of inquiry amongst my peers to invite others to help me see possibilities beyond my viewpoint.

I will respect the needs of my students to grow as human beings, and do what I can to support their development in ways that help them better contribute to the organization and society.

I will respect the privacy of my students, faculty, administrators and support staff..  I will do what I can to support their needs for learning, work and life.

I will respect the need to support the growth and transformation of my school district. Most especially I must tread with care in matters of ethics and integrity.  If it is given to me to “save the life” of my school district I must call upon the two and act accordingly with all stakeholders.  It may also be within my power to terminate employees; this awesome responsibility must be faced with humanity, humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.  Above all, I must not put myself before others.

I will prevent “organizational disease” whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to “cures.”  I will remember that I remain a member of the school-community and of society, with special obligations to my fellow colleagues, those who report to me as well as those who work and live nearby.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.  May I always act so as to preserve the finest actions and ways of being a school superintendent and may I long experience the joy of being a school leader.

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