Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Power of an Oath

It's easy to get into a routine.  We go to work everyday; we teach lessons; we lead faculty meetings; we email parents; we supervise carpool ... and the list goes on.  We make a million decisions every day, and many of them, we're barely aware of.  We get bogged down in the minutia and the mundane.

So how do we rise above the "grind" and stay mindful of why we do what we do?

I'm glad that every physician in this country has committed to practicing by an established collection of standards.  The field of medicine is so important that every doctor takes an oath to embrace and support a common set of values. A few years ago, I gave my teachers a copy of the Hippocratic oath at a faculty meeting.  I asked them to read it and to underline the words or phrases that resonated with them.

As it turns out, there is much in this oath that reminds educators of their own profession.  When we read the following phrases, it is hard not to apply the ideas to what we do (or what we should do) in school.

"I will gladly share knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."

"I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not,' nor will I fail to call on my colleagues when the skill of another is needed."

"I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being."

After some discussion on the relevance of the Hippocratic oath to the work of educators, I asked the teachers to write their own professional oath.  I asked teachers who felt comfortable, to post their oath outside their door.  As is normally the case, my teachers exceeded my expectations!  They articulated their professional values and commitments in some profound and poignant ways. Two of them are below:

These oaths are posted outside their classroom, and I know that they have had an impact on many of the visitors in our building.  I also wanted the students, staff, and parents to know what my commitments were as the school's principal, so my oath is posted on my office door.

I wish I had written and posted my oath 23 years ago.  These oaths keep us connected to our core values.  They communicate to our students and our colleagues what they can expect of us.  Most importantly ... they remind us why we come to work each day.  In the near future, I'll be encouraging my teachers to post their oaths on their school website.  I cannot imagine a parent who would not love to read the values, priorities, and commitments of their child's teacher.

So what are your commitments to your students and your colleagues? How are you accountable to them?  Consider writing and posting your own professional oath.


  1. Thank you for sharing this great idea. I'm sitting down to reflect on my own oath now...spring break is a perfect time for reflection. I'll also be using this as part of our philosophy workshop when teachers come back to school in August. Thanks for the inspiration!

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