When most organizations say what they value in teammates, they share vague buzzwords like “leadership” or “teamwork.” Organizations reveal what they really care about by the decisions they make regarding promotions, programs, products, projects, policies, and procedures. Here's how we navigate those decisions. The more this sounds like you, the happier you’ll be at Kairos.
obsess over families
While we pay attention to feedback, Kairos is not a fundamentally reactive organization. Instead, we are proactively oriented toward building new and better ways to empower and delight our families. We’re trying to invent the experience our students and parents don’t even know they want yet.
Backwards planning from our family experience—as opposed to designing around our existing model (product obsession), assumptions about how we provide value to students (business model obsession), or what other schools are doing (competitor obsession)—lets us tightly align around a shared mission without tightly controlling faculty. Any decision will be supported that makes our family experience more enjoyable (increasing student learning, strengthening parent partnerships, etc.). That’s why we seek to deeply understand that experience, even going so far as moving into the community we serve. Our team is building the school that we want to send our own children to.
Do you know the joy when something just works? Everything at Kairos should be like that: clever, gorgeous, and easy to use. That’s because everything you build here, whether shared internally or externally, reflects on our community—not just our students, but the vanguard of education reform. Don’t submit work with solecisms, ugly formatting, or bugs; fix those, and make sure they stay fixed. Many people may think our standards are unreasonably high. Those people can find somewhere else to work.
you are kairos
There are schools where people leave litter for someone else to pick up, and there are schools that people treat like their home. The difference is a sense of ownership. In your own house, you probably have a bedroom that’s truly yours, but if there were trash in the living room, you’d pick that up too. It just wouldn’t make sense to say “that’s not my responsibility.”
Of course, at home you can take responsibility because you’re empowered to make decisions. That should be true at Kairos too. The role of your manager is not to control your work, but to contextualize it so that, on your own, you can make the best decisions possible given our organizational priorities, resources, and constraints.
Don’t seek to please your manager. Seek to build a future of self-directed learners, leaders, and citizens. Even when we disagree, we’re all on the same team. When our kids win, we all win.
don't be a jerk
It’s a myth that geniuses must be socially inept. You can be eccentric here. You can ignore staid “professionalism” here. You can even tell someone their idea is dumb here. (In fact, you should; it takes lots of dumb ideas to get to a good one.) The one thing you can’t be here is mean spirited. That’s not very nice!
In a lot of schools, staff think about teachers and administrators as “us vs them.” That adversarial mindset is toxic, and we have no patience for it. Relationships are our community’s most important asset. We don’t all have to be friends, but we all have to work together as colleagues. When there’s damage to a relationship—either student-student, student-staff, or staff-staff—we facilitate “relationship work” to restore collegiality.
So if you’re upset about something, don’t bottle it up. Candor and clarity are acts of kindness. If a teammate was a jerk, request relationship work. If a teammate made a bad decision, tell them that you feel compelled to bring it to your manager. As long as you're oriented toward solutions, it's always helpful to air out problems.
have a (thoughtful) opinion
Operating by consensus slows us down, but so does having to override bad decisions. We balance decision velocity with decision wisdom by soliciting input.
Decision-makers should hear from colleagues with either a valuable perspective or a stake in the outcome. Since everyone’s input informs the quality of the decision, it’s your job to...
Input is best collected in meetings, but thinking is best done beforehand. That’s why agendas are set 24 hours in advance. Don’t bother coming if you haven’t studied it. Meetings are used for clarifying questions, opinion sharing, and responses to opinions. Stay concise and keep discussion to the decision at hand. Don’t bloviate on extraneous topics or future decisions.
Speed matters. Reversible decisions that do not require significant upfront investment do not need extensive study. When you’re about 70% confident, make a call. Small decisions may be shared in a quick email; larger ones merit a memo or meeting outlining the various positions. We expect everyone, including those who still disagree, to commit to helping make the decision as successful as possible. A manager might write “disagree and commit” at the end of an email disagreeing with a proposed decision to say, in effect, “here’s my opinion, for what it's worth; no need to waste time persuading me; I’m committing to support you either way.”
think big; experiment small
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Experimenting big is risky and wasteful. This conundrum often tends to drive organizations to safety, where they avoid challenging conventions, or to overextension, where they fail to protect their promises.
Symptoms of safety include:
Symptoms of overextension include:
You need big thinking to transform an industry that’s failed for centuries. But to continue innovating without jeopardizing continuity, you need small experiments. That’s why we’re always prototyping multiple ideas in parallel. Our goal is not error avoidance; it’s long-term value maximization. The value of a bold idea, when scaled, far outweighs many, many failures, as long as those failed experiments are contained (as measured by resources spent and students affected). The faster we strategically experiment, the faster we learn, the faster Kairos improves.
One final note: Experiments get you data, and without data, much of your effort will likely be worthless. That’s why you should always try to commit the fewest resources possible to your experiment without sacrificing long-term value. It’s very hard to predict black swan events, how plans will unfold, preferred use cases, and future priorities. If you invest a lot up front, there’s a good chance much of that investment will be wasted. Instead, it’s a good idea to make a minimum viable product (MVP), then let organizational needs drive the roadmap for development. This is true for plans, tools, or decisions. Do the least you can do in order to learn from an experiment, then “punt” until you have more data. If the data confirm your theory, you can expand the commitment later. If they disconfirm your theory, you minimized waste.
do more with less
Kairos began as a couple of frustrated teachers meeting in their kitchen to dream up what public education could and should be. We pinched pennies and worked side jobs to make ends meet. But resource constraint is the mother of resourcefulness, and we picked up a few questions to help us stay scrappy.
Transforming public education is a tall order, so every minute and dollar count. There are no bonus points for growing headcount, budget, or complexity. War against entropy.
Finally, no amount of resourcefulness beats opportunism. Share our mission to rally allies to the cause. Every ally brings a resource: a word-of-mouth recommendation, connection, discount, donation, pro bono service, in-kind gift, volunteer hours, etc. Be opportunistic and capture those resources. They help our team stay frugal and self-sufficient.
We may raise the bar for public schools in St. Louis, but we’re terrible compared to how good we plan to become. Everyone at Kairos, from students to faculty to the board, is focused on iterative, incremental high-leverage growth (lowest lift, largest impact). That’s why our year is structured into build-measure-learn cycles. We don’t measure intentions; we measure results, and we benchmark ourselves against the best. You should be self-critical and relentless in your pursuit of excellence.
figure it out
We’re trying to do something no one’s ever done, so we spend a lot of time figuring things out. Don’t know how to do something? Google, read, figure it out. Found something that can help our kids? Steal it. (In this section alone, we’ve stolen from Netflix, Amazon, and The West Wing.) At Kairos, we don't depend on our managers or external training for professional growth; we each figure out how to grow ourselves so that we can all better serve kids.
P.S. Learn Google Sheets. “Proficient” is just the beginning.
welcome to the nba
Students are our family. We love and support them unconditionally, no matter their behavior or performance. Colleagues are our team. Sometimes teammates are let go, and while that’s disappointing, being on a dream team can be the professional thrill of a lifetime.
In sports, it’s up to the coach to make sure each teammate is extraordinary at what they do. The coach pushes everyone on the team to be their best, help their teammates, and prioritize the team’s victory over any individual’s success.
Concretely, here are some of the questions our coaches (i.e., managers) ask when hiring, promoting, and firing.
We expect teammates to work both smarter and harder, but above all, we expect them to navigate by this constellation of values. You may be brilliant, but if your orientation pulls Kairos off path, then you’re undermining why we organize our efforts into an organization—to accomplish something together that we couldn’t as uncoordinated individuals. One drop of poison infects the whole tun.
The kids are why we educate, but the team is what makes it fun. There’s something extremely appealing about extreme competence. That’s why we promptly let go of folks who aren’t a joy to work with. What you get is a chance to shape the future of public education alongside colleagues who inspire you to be your best each and every day.
2315 Miami St.St. Louis, MO 63118-3910