By Simon Camby, Former Director of School Evaluation & Development Services
The term ‘golden thread’ is used in so many contexts. In poetry, fiction and business. Try as I have, I cannot find the true origin of this phrase. However, what I do know is that I like using it to think about how schools work. I tend to think that a school with a clear golden thread has a sense of integrity about why it exists, what it does, and most importantly, how it behaves. How does this sit with you?
The reason that I like the notion of a golden thread is two-fold:
- Thread is almost invisible—you have to strain your eyes to see it
- Thread is not linear, it wraps around, it is messy
Why are these important? Because, for me, that is how schools are.
Firstly, what a school is about should be obvious, you shouldn’t have to work hard to find out. Secondly, schools are not linear places bound by cause and effect, they are messy! I see schools as complex systems where change can take place as a result of the emergence of new learning (Marion, 1999), tension (Prigogine, 1997), and through connections with other agents or networks outside the organisation (Bak, 1996).
Within the CIS International Accreditation Framework, everything starts from your school’s guiding statements. I think of these as the school’s North Star, they guide the way. Your guiding statements are your school’s way of publicly stating:
- who we are
- why we exist
- what we exist to do
- how we do it
Your guiding statements are not for the purposes of accreditation or for your website.
They are to steer your planning and decision making. When things are tough or decisions are not obvious, your guiding statements can often help because they are your roots in the ground. Within CIS, we expect each school to make clear in their guiding statements their commitment to high-quality learning and teaching, their commitment to developing global citizenship and intercultural learning, and their commitment to well-being. Why? Because we know from evidence and experience that these are essential ingredients in a great international education.
From the guiding statements comes your strategic and improvement planning. Quick check: by reading your strategic plan without reading your guiding statements, would an outsider have a good guess at the content of your guiding statements? Is there a link? Your planning puts your guiding statements into life with action so the golden thread should flow from one to the next.
Not always exciting, but essential in an effective and efficient school, are policies and handbooks. Great procedures save you time. They should help people make day-to-day decisions, without repeated debate. A moment for backward mapping—is there a golden thread from your guiding statements to your policies and procedures?
Now for the exciting part—student learning. For me, this is where the magic happens in a school. The interaction between teachers and their students is a social and emotional activity. Teachers worldwide have been amazing at making this work during the pandemic with the move to online learning. But we know that much of learning is not technical, it is relational. Classrooms are places filled with relationships and trust. By spending time with learners, talking to them, watching their interactions, watching how adults interact, how adults listen and talk—these tell you about the heart of a school. They tell you what a school is about and how a school goes about it.
So, looking back to your guiding statements—is there a true golden thread of integrity in your school from your guiding statements all the way through to learning for all students?
My rationale for writing this article is driven by two thoughts:
Firstly, there is an increasing temptation in the world for everything to be viewed as linear. As I already stated, I think that schools are complex places and learning is messy, neither work in an entirely linear way. That said, there should be a golden thread of integrity through all parts of your school. Is there?
Secondly, there is a temptation to add words and complexity to your guiding statements. My simple view is, this will probably mean that they are not lived out and the golden thread gets broken. You have a lot of people in your community (students, staff, parents, community members) so how will you make sure that your guiding statements are understood and lived? I humbly suggest, by keeping them simple and use plain language. How would do your guiding statements stand up?
I hope that this provides a useful reflection if you are thinking about the leadership of your school.
Key questions for reflection:
- Are your guiding statements written in plain language? Have you tested this with your community?
- Are your guiding statements understood? Have you testing this with a range of stakeholders?
- Is there a golden thread from your guiding statements to your planning and into your policies and handbooks?
- Is there a link from your guiding statements to what happens in a classroom and how it happens?
Based on these reflective questions, what next for your school community?
Bak, P (1996) How nature works. New York: Copernicus.
Marion, R (1999) The edge of organisation: Chaos and complexity theories of formal social organisation. Newbury park, CA: Sage.
Prigogine, I (1997) The end of uncertainty. New York: Free Press.
- Our members can read a briefing on the CIS Community portal that provides some context about the way that we evaluate governance as part of our International Accreditation Framework for schools.
- Read more posts relating to CIS International Accreditation
- International accreditation