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Mission, Values, and Guiding Principles — Organizing for Open Systems

What is an open system?

An open system is one that is constantly exchanging feedback with its environment. An open system finds new information interesting, worthy of investigation, of possible use for evolving, shifting, growing stronger.

By contrast, a closed system is adverse to new information. Unexpected or disagreeable input can break it down. So a closed system works to protect itself. It excludes, punishes, blames.

Opal School works to maintain itself as an open system. (For more information: One of the most accessible authors who writes about the application of systems theory to organizations like schools is Margaret Wheatley.)

In order to intentionally design and maintain an open system, an organization needs to know — very clearly — what it is trying to do. Opal School is, in a sense, an exploratory journey about making practice of big, lovely ideas. At Opal School, this means a regular revisiting of our Mission, Values, Guiding Principles, and Goals and Expectations for students.

Guiding principles must be refreshed, revisited, revised, and renegotiated regularly. What do they mean? How have they been interpreted? What should be added or changed to reflect what we’ve learned as we’ve tried to make sense of them? How have our experiences shaped our understandings? What are our varied perspectives on these words and ideas? What worlds live inside them? Are they worlds we share?

The stories you are encountering throughout Opal School Online are all grounded in the attempt to make meaning of these guiding principles and values. They are attempts to support children towards the goals and expectations we have for them. Opal School Online itself is an attempt to meet our mission.

  • What is your mission?
  • What do you value?
  • What principles guide your decisions and your focus?
  • What are your goals?
  • What do you expect of the children you work with?

Organizing around your response to these questions is more important to your work than most anything else you can do to move forward.  We’d love to read your answers to those questions and how you’re organizing to align with them in the comments section below or on the forum.

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4 responses to “Mission, Values, and Guiding Principles — Organizing for Open Systems

  1. I love the reminder that this is an organic, ever flowing process. We must return here again and again.

  2. I like the idea of regularly revisiting. I try to do this each summer, but probably not as thoroughly and honestly as I could. I visited a school yesterday whose classrooms change dramatically every time I visit them (usually yearly). Something to strive towards.

  3. What happens when your mission, values, guiding principles and expectations differ from those of your school’s administration? Can anyone offer advice or share their experience related to this?

  4. Thanks for posting the question, Jessie. At Opal School, we spend lots of time cracking open the meaning of our mission, values, guiding principles, and expectations in order to make them a living force in the school. I wonder: Are the differences in values & principles articulated or implied? Is there space in your workplace to discuss the school’s values in terms of daily practices?

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