Living Your Values


After graduate school, my goal was to teach at a school in which I could learn from and observe amazing leadership.  My advisor connected me with San Francisco International High School.  I knew it was an interesting opportunity because the school was committed to educating recent-immigrant students and had a unique model of distributed leadership.  I had met the principal in one my classes and was impressed.

I just started my second year teaching at SFIHS, and I have to say, I am amazed at how much I learned about myself, about teaching, and about leadership in the past year.  My learning did not come from an amazing curriculum or even an amazing principal; it came from the amazing leadership that emanated from all of the staff.  Everyone was a leader that challenged themselves, each other, and the status quo.  We learned together and supported one another in order to create change in our school and in the lives of our students.

This did not happen by accident.  What I admired most about the school is how deeply it lived its values.  Day 1, we teach the students about the values – what they look like, what they sound like, and what they feel like.  Living the school values isn’t an option, it’s what we do.

Almost more importantly, these are the values by which the staff operate as well.  Each staff meeting we start by drawing attention to a few and end every meeting with a process check to see how well we followed the norms.  Did we honor our time and show up to the meeting on time?  Did we assume positive intent even in those with whom we disagree?

The school values hang in every room and are printed on every agenda.  It’s the common language we all speak, even as students arrive from different countries with little to no English.  We learn together, we act with empathy, we challenge ourselves, and we create change.  These values define us and our students.  They drive us in our work and keep us in check when the workload is large and time is limited.

  1. Learn Together 
    a.) Celebrate success and opportunities for growth.
    b.) Seek resolution.
    c.) Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.
    d.) Be fully present. Honor our time.

2. Act with Empathy
a.) Assume positive intent.
b.) Communicate honestly about your needs and perspective.
c.) Seek to understand others’ needs and perspective.

3. Challenge Yourself
a.) Take risks and allow yourself and others to grow and learn.
b.) Step up; step back.

4. Create Change

I’m curious what values drive your work or your school?  Do you have a common language and method to keep yourself and your school’s many personalities in check?  Define your values and create a school where everyone leads and grows together.


  • Ben

    Great post! Reading this makes me realize that at the school I taught at we didn’t explicitly define values. I think what happens when a school doesn’t have explicit values, implicit ones develop which are less than ideal.

    Do you have any thoughts or activity suggestions on how a school, or a culture in general, can work together to create values in the first place?

    • Mr_Ulrich_UW

      I think the work we do for students is so important a students, staff, and the community need to work together to define what is important to them now and for the future. Values, mission, and vision are all essential to organize and rally people behind a cause.

      I would say start with the values. Keep them simple so you can remember them and use them as everyday language in your work. They will shape your work as well as the formation of your mission and vision.

      I think of the vision as what you want for the future. What will your school look like in 10 years – staff, students, community members. And I think of the mission as the means by which you’ll get to the vision.

      They start with a question – why? If your school can define that coherently, succinctly, and uniformly you may be in a good place already. If not, maybe its time you start the conversation.