There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Einstein, that goes: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” For the past two years, I led the Head of School Support and Evaluation Committee (HOSSEC) for our day school. As I reflect on the goals we set for the Head of School, I also think of the goals I set for myself. My preoccupation with measurement goes beyond my profession as a market researcher and my role on the HOSSEC and extends into my physical health, my mental wellbeing, and even my social interactions.
Every year, every month, and every day, I evaluate myself both qualitatively and quantitatively. I enjoy quantifying my actions and monitoring my progress. I set concrete goals for myself – walk or run at least 5 miles a day, read a book a month from my bookshelf, visit my in-laws at least twice this year. I assess my progress at the end of each month.
How do we measure, though, those things that count but that cannot be counted? It could be that we look for certain qualities in a person. The Torah emphasizes skills that solidified Moses as the most prominent leader of the Jewish people. In Shemot and Bamidbar (Exodus and Numbers, respectively), Moses is lauded for his humility, adaptability, empathy, and courage. Those skills are important to leadership. They are also difficult to break down to a number.
Still, we look for those qualities in our own leaders today. The HOSSEC committee is an apt illustration. The committee purposefully balances support and evaluation: supporting the growth of our professional, and evaluating if, and to what extent, the leadership goals we agreed upon are being met. In this way, the board can be responsible to their day school professional that they supervise.
During his first year of service, our new Head of School needed to learn his role and transition from his role as a history and civics teacher to leading teachers and staff and working with our board of directors. Our committee dialed up the support side of our mandate. In his second year, with his contract up for renewal, we developed SMART goals. Those are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. We applied those goals in four distinct areas – enrollment, curriculum, culture, and community. For each goal category, we set distinct sub-goals that would allow us – the board together with the Head – to collaboratively assess progress on the goals.
The balance of head and heart is crucial to a functioning community. We needed to collect data across a range of factors that informed school leadership and governance: Have we raised enough money to meet our budget? Do we have enough students in each grade? Are students learning the way they should be? But also, do parents and students feel positively toward the school? Does the school have a soul? We can measure each of these aspects quantitatively, but the numbers don’t always convey the full story of what’s working well and what can be improved and how. That is why a combination of qualitative and quantitative assessment practices is most helpful for describing the most robust picture for a given reality.
The goals for the Head of School provided necessary guidance, but they were also overly prescriptive and complex. They failed to measure qualitative data. For example, how was the Head of School able to adapt when we learned our school’s lease would not be renewed? When the school nurse quit in the middle of the school year? When new students joined the school mid-way through the year? How was the Head of School able to balance touting his achievements while remaining level-headed and humble about what he accomplished? How did his communication style reassure parents or turn them off? And how could our committee guide and support him in his evolution?
As we continue to work with our Head of School to set new goals and to assess his progress toward current ones, it is important that we acknowledge both the quantifiable, SMART, easy to measure goals and the Moses-like leadership qualities that are essential for the community to feel supported through our school’s impending transition. If we make an effort to recognize the concrete measures and the immeasurable values in ourselves and in our organizations, goal setting and evaluation don’t have to be “gotcha” exercises that put the board and professionals at odds. Rather, they can be meaningful, collaborative processes that keep both the needs of the school and the professional in focus.
Get to know the author
Julie Katz (WHP New England 21) self-identifies as “a work in progress.” She is proud to wear many hats, including mom, market researcher, community volunteer, runner, and aspiring artist.