School leaders know well the power of policy to increase clarity, reduce conflict, and simplify decision-making. We have policies for tardies and absences, discipline, appropriate dress, and more, and these policies save an enormous amount of time and hassle.
When we have a policy, it means we’ve thought through a particular situation enough to realize that it’s going to come up again, and that having a well-thought, consistent response as a school is a priority.
When we have a policy, we don’t have to rely on persuasion or personal capital to convince others to go along with our decisions. If the policy says it, we’re doing it; the debate was over when the policy was created.
When we have a policy, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel; we can do what we did last time and not spend too much time on a simple matter.
When we have a policy, we can make purposeful decisions about when to update or revise our approach to particular issues. Many schools, for example, are revising their cell phone policies to enable students to use their phones for learning. If we aren’t as clear on our rules – for example, if every classroom has a different policy about cell phones – we end up wasting time on endless debate and negotiation as students move from class to class, and making changes is a more involved process because there’s no agreement to start from.
Policies don’t take the place of caring and responsive leadership, but they do allow us to focus our time and attention on the truly novel and emergent situations.
One day, I was the only person in the office for a few minutes while the nurse and secretaries were dealing with something. A student came in complaining of a stomach ache, and I spend the next 5 minutes talking to the student and trying to figure out whether to call the parent. The student wasn’t made to feel better, and I got nothing done until the nurse returned and followed her well-rehearsed policy for dealing with (real or imagined) stomach aches.
Some of our policies, like this one, are more personal than organizational, and it’s these policies that store what we’ve learned from experience.
Think about the situations you encounter over and over again in your work (if you need help, check out Dr. Frank Buck’s book Get Organized!). What personal policies could save you duplicated effort and time?