Imagine that you have a rare weekend without any professional responsibilities: no papers to grade, no lessons to plan, no activities to cover. To take advantage of this unexpected free time, you and three friends decide to go on a fishing excursion to a lake known as one of the best largemouth bass habitats in the eastern United States. Through e-mail messages, telephone conversations, and brief get-togethers, the four of you coordinate transportation, lodging, the time of departure, and other details.
It would seem reasonable to assume that you were all going with ambitions to catch largemouth bass. However, what would happen to the trip's camaraderie and outcome if each person's vision of the weekend differed from that assumption? What if one person plans to spot eagles, another is looking for lakefront property, and a third hopes to catch anything that will pull on the line, while you are there for sun and leisure?You could have avoided any confusion and better harnessed efforts by explicitly asking your companions during the planning stages,
- What is the actual purpose of the trip?
- What are the goals of the attendees?
- What does everyone envision for the weekend?
- Has everyone shared these things with one another?
Whatever the context, the point is the same: if a group wants to move forward, it needs to develop an understood, agreed-on purpose. With a couple of word substitutions, you could ask those bulleted questions of any leadership team or department in your school. If the team has a healthy culture, its members would likely give similar answers.
Stopping to confirm common goals among the stakeholders will help the team meet its objectives.
Developing strong vision and mission statements can help stakeholders in your school reach such a common understanding. A vision is your school's goal—where you hope to see it in the future. The mission provides an overview of the steps planned to achieve that future. A vision is concise and easy to recall, whereas a mission is lengthier and more explanatory in nature. Your school may also want to establish targets along the way to measure progress toward its vision. We begin this chapter with developing your school's vision, because you need to know where you want to be before you can determine how you plan to get there.
Drafting the Vision Statement
According to the Task Force on Developing Research in Educational Leadership (2003), "Effective educational leaders help their schools to develop or endorse visions that embody the best thinking about teaching and learning. School leaders inspire others to reach for ambitious goals" (p. 3). Your school must have a vision that all staff members recognize as a common direction of growth, something that inspires them to be better. An effective vision also announces to parents and students where you are heading and why they should take the trip with you.
Without a vision, your school lacks direction. As the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca observed, "If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind." If you don't have a common, agreed-on destination, then everyone is left to his or her own devices to imagine one—a scenario that results in unharnessed and unfocused efforts, with everyone believing that what he or she is doing is right. A common understanding of the destination allows all stakeholders to align their improvement efforts. And the best part of planning for this journey is that it doesn't cost anything to decide where you want to go.
One of the most important responsibilities of any leader is establishing a vision and inviting others to share in its development.
As important as the vision is, we have found that keeping it alive throughout the year is not an easy task. For you to get the most out of your vision, you must first remove the barriers from making it an integral, vibrant facet of the school community.
Eliminate ObstaclesOne of the first obstacles that will come up is people's fear of change. Creating or adjusting a vision statement is an unmistakable indicator of imminent change. It is helpful to have an idea of the internal dialogues your staff members will likely be having before, during, and even after the development of the new vision. (This also applies to the development of a new mission.) Listening to and validating staff members' thoughts will help them cope with the change as they ask themselves the following questions:
- What is the need for a new vision?
- Will I be able to live with the new vision?
- Will I be able to support the new vision?
- What will the new vision expect of me?
- How will my world change as a result?
- Will I be able to continue doing what I've always done? Why or why not?
- Do I believe in this new vision?
- Do I believe in my school's ability to achieve this vision?
- Do I believe I can help make the vision happen?
Another potential obstacle to creating a powerful vision is the reality that vision statements are often created perfunctorily and lack follow-through. They are usually the result of a directive to "get it done" by a certain date and delivered to a central office supervisor.
Such directives often lead to vision statements that have been created in a rush by one person or by a small group of individuals with no input from other stakeholders. Such statements are rarely understood or acknowledged by others in the school, and who can blame them? The process precludes genuine buy-in. Although school leadership must have a vision for the future, it should be used as a way to open up a dialogue rather than be handed down from on high.
Don't rush the vision statement; doing so leads to skepticism, stress, and distrust, which will lead to a statement that will eventually be ignored.
Because these closed approaches to developing vision statements are incredibly common, most staff members are turned off by the mere mention of the words vision and mission and groan at the prospect of yet another initiative that will eventually be forgotten—that after a flurry of activity, the vision will be shelved alongside the school improvement plan, out of the reach and off the minds of staff members. Because they had little involvement in it, they see no real reason to dedicate themselves to it. If setbacks occur along the way, most will shrug their shoulders because they weren't committed and invested in the first place.
You can avoid these obstacles by creating a fresh and meaningful vision statement with the involvement of the entire faculty. The collective force and talent of the faculty is more likely to be realized when there is a common understanding of a shared vision. As Bamburg (1994) notes, "The schools that have been most successful in addressing and increasing the academic achievement of their students have benefited from a clarity of purpose that is grounded in a shared set of core values" (p. 14). We define values as the behaviors, beliefs, and actions that a school finds important.
Ask yourself, Do I understand what this organization values, believes in, and hopes to be?
The size of most schools' faculties prevents them from being as productive or as effective as smaller groups, but their full investment is still crucial. We recommend that you first form a team that, with training and guidance, will introduce the concept of a vision, facilitate and engage faculty in the process of writing one, and synthesize the multiple values and visions that the faculty develops. Ultimately, this team is the one putting together the pieces of the puzzle. This team may be made up of the members of the shared leadership team, or it could be composed of other staff members in the building as long as all departments are represented. Opting for the latter provides leadership opportunities for staff members who are not already formal teacher leaders. For our purposes here, we will refer to this collection of leaders as the vision oversight team.
Share Examples of Vision Statements
When you meet with the vision oversight team, sharing examples of vision statements with them is an important first step. This will help them better understand what a vision statement is, which in turn will help them assist the faculty when they facilitate its work. It's easy to find examples of real vision statements on the Internet. Here are a few to start with: Every Battlefield High School student will achieve personal success and become a responsible and productive citizen. The Richard Montgomery cluster will work collaboratively to ensure all students succeed. Placing the highest priority on reading and writing instruction will support consistent student achievement so that all students attain grade-level or higher performance levels annually, as measured by county, state, and national assessments. Partnerships across the cluster will sustain student success so that all students will read fluently by the end of Grade 2, write proficiently in both narrative and expository modes, pass algebra by the end of Grade 8, pass all High School Assessments on the first attempt, and graduate on schedule with the skills and knowledge required for success in higher education and/or the workplace. Our vision, as a community, is to inspire a passion for learning. All Potomac Senior High School students will achieve personal success in their learning and become responsible and productive citizens. At Brentsville District we believe that all students can learn to their fullest potential. Student learning will be enhanced by national, global, and multicultural perspectives. Graduates will possess the basic knowledge and skills that will assure their proficiency in problem solving and technology. They will be responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and will be prepared for a variety of postgraduation options. We will devote our human resources and technology to create superior products and services, thereby contributing to a better global society. Our vision for the future is to be the customer's first and best choice in the products and services we provide. There is a "Marriott Way." It's about serving the associates, the customer, and the community. Marriott's fundamental beliefs are enduring and the keys to its continued success. —Battlefield High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland —John T. Baker Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland —Potomac Senior High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —Brentsville District High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —Samsung Electronics, America —State Farm Insurance —MarriottAfter presenting these examples to the vision oversight team members, give them time to discuss their impressions of them with one another, and then lead a discussion with the entire team. You can ask the following questions to generate some dialogue on the statements:
- What patterns do you see in the statements?
- What do you like or dislike in the statements?
- Are the statements easy to understand?
- Are the statements too vague, or are they specific enough?
- Are they too long? Too short?
- Do the statements express an idea or a hope for the future?
- Are they too unambitious? Too "pie in the sky"?
- Do they contain adjectives or goals that are more appropriate for a mission statement?
- Do they clarify a direction for the school and for its improvement efforts?
You should also make sure to have copies of your school's current vision statement at the meeting so that participants can compare it with the examples. By discussing the current statement, the sample statements, the bulleted questions, and pertinent articles that you might wish to share as well, the vision oversight team should be able to reach an understanding of what makes a strong vision statement. You might also urge team members to explain to the faculty how the vision is a reflection of the
school's values and hopes: it offers an opportunity to dream bigger, so stress to the team that it shouldn't let the faculty develop a "get-by statement," something that expresses a notion of mere adequacy. Tell team members to get the faculty to articulate what it is they truly want from their students and school. Graduation or job attainment is the bare minimum of what most educators hope for their students. The vision oversight team might consider having teachers brainstorm a list of adjectives or values and beliefs that will help them come up with an inspirational, compelling vision.
Present Data to the Vision Oversight Team
Before you involve the entire school in working toward a vision, you should first share some data with the vision oversight team. Doing so is important for two reasons. First, you want the vision oversight team to be familiar and comfortable with the data; since team members will in turn be sharing the data with the faculty, they should have a strong working knowledge of them so they are equipped to answer questions and help the staff understand what they are looking at. Second, as Bamburg (1994) observes, "Only when schools develop a shared understanding of current reality can a commitment to change be initiated and sustained" (p. 23). Reviewing data as an oversight team and then as a faculty is essential to help everyone identify where the school currently stands while also determining where they would like to be. Without a general understanding of the current data, the development of the vision could go in as many directions as there are opinions. The data provide a common, objective understanding and a solid foundation to build on.Important data can be found everywhere in the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly life of a school community. Too often, however, we associate data solely with student test results when there are other, sometimes more significant, data to examine. The vision oversight team and, eventually, the faculty should review
- Student attendance rates.
- Student tardies.
- Staff attendance rates and days most often missed.
- Department or grade-level staff absenteeism.
- Staff turnover rates.
- Student enrollment in sports or clubs.
- Disciplinary incidents (including types of referrals and where they occur among teachers, teams, and departments) and dispositions (including detention, in-school suspension, suspension, and expulsion).
- State assessment results.
- Local common assessment results.
- Standardized achievement test results.
- Advanced Placement (AP) test or International Baccalaureate (IB) test results.
Preloading the vision oversight team with these data will give team members the background knowledge they need to develop a vision in collaboration with the entire faculty.
Involve Staff in Developing the Vision
It is now time for the vision oversight team to involve the rest of the faculty in developing the vision statement. However they choose to present the examples of vision statements, data, and professional literature, be sure they give staff clear directions, specific questions, and definite time limits; the faculty will quickly discern fluff or a lack of organization, which will immediately turn them off. After they have had an opportunity to review and discuss the above items, they can craft their vision statement (see Resource 5).First, the vision oversight team divides the staff into groups of no more than eight people. Then they ask each group to discuss the following questions:
- What evidence can you think of that we are meeting our current vision?
- What kind of school do we hope to be?
- What do you think should be reflected in our vision statement?
- What do we need to do differently to achieve this vision?
- How are we different from other schools?
Key ideas, values, and beliefs are the beginning of powerful visions.
Each group should have a scribe whose responsibility it is to record responses, ideas, and key terms and phrases that come up during group discussions. It is not necessary for groups to develop full sentences or statements at this point.
After group members have had a sufficient amount of time to share their thoughts with one another, each group should select someone to present the information to the rest of the staff. At this point, you also need to select a "master scribe" to maintain a master list of group responses on poster paper. The master scribe does not need to record duplications or similar phrases, although he or she may add checks or tally marks to indicate patterns or common ideas emerging from the faculty. The groups' presentations are an ideal time to validate responses, affirm staff members' commitment to education, and reinforce key ideas and values.
After each group has had the opportunity to share its information, the vision oversight team takes the master list and wordsmiths the key concepts and phrases into a vision statement—a one- or two-sentence statement that captures the faculty's image of the future. Some members of the team will be so excited by the good information they received from working with the faculty that they might find it hard to limit the vision to something so short. If so, you might have them work with the faculty to create a school "philosophy"—a lengthier paragraph that would extrapolate the vision. Next, each department receives a copy of the vision oversight team's draft vision to review, discuss, edit, and return to the team, which then makes appropriate adjustments to the statement.
When developing a vision, remember that less can be more; keep it short, and your staff will remember it longer.
The vision oversight team then unveils the vision statement to the entire staff at the next faculty meeting. At this point, you should celebrate your staff's considerable accomplishment in guiding school improvement efforts.
Drafting the Mission Statement
A mission statement is the wind that brings you to your desired harbor. It guides your travel and powers your momentum. Mission statements "give educators stronger motivation and provide parents with a clearer picture of what the school values. … A clear vision and a common mission that identify the kind of learning to be achieved can help keep the school and the efforts of its staff and students on target" (Peterson, 1995). Mission statements are the "how-to" statements or action plans that help schools achieve their vision. They prompt change and growth. The mission is the touch point that can help you determine whether what should be happening is, in fact, happening.
Share Examples of Mission Statements
The responsibility of crafting the mission statement can also lie with an oversight team or with the shared leadership team. Ideally, you would implement a process that echoes the vision development process by preloading the group with the information necessary to guide the staff in the development of a mission statement. Consider the following sample mission statements: At Battlefield Senior High School, we believe that student learning is the chief priority and all students can learn to their fullest potential. Students will develop their individual talents, critical thinking, and technology skills by being actively engaged in the learning process. Continuous commitment to improvement ensures that our students are well-rounded, self-directed, lifelong learners. By maintaining a safe and optimum learning environment, we provide the opportunity for students to be successful. Promoting high standards and expectations, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community share the responsibility for advancing the school's mission. In order to prepare students to live in and contribute to a changing world and engage in active, lifelong learning, Richard Montgomery High School provides a balanced, varied school curriculum designed to meet the academic, cultural, and social needs of individuals from the diverse backgrounds of our community. John T. Baker Middle School seeks to be an exemplary learning community school. We build the foundation of this community through meaningful relationships, relevant and engaging learning, and effective communication. We challenge ourselves to be better than we think we can be, and advocate for the greater good of our multidimensional community. Our success in this mission will build lifelong, confident learners, who have the tools necessary for success in a changing world. Our mission is to empower all students to apply their acquired skills and knowledge, and to rely upon their personal attributes to lead productive lives and to become contributing members of the global community. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, comprehensive, and meaningful education for all students. Each student will be expected to succeed within the bounds of their abilities and chosen educational goals. Each student will be treated as an individual, given the tools to be a lifelong learner, and taught to function as a member of a group and as a productive member of society. State Farm's mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected and realize their dreams. FedEx will produce superior financial returns for shareowners by providing high value-added supply chain, transportation, business and related information services through focused operating companies. Customer requirements will be met in the highest quality manner appropriate to each market segment served. FedEx will strive to develop mutually rewarding relationships with its employees, partners and suppliers. Safety will be the first consideration in all operations. Corporate activities will be conducted to the highest ethical and professional standards. To continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices. —Battlefield High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —Richard Montgomery High School, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland —John T. Baker Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland —Potomac Senior High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —Brentsville District High School, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia —State Farm Insurance —FedEx —Costco WholesaleThis range of examples should spark some discussion among mission oversight team members. You can ask the following questions to generate dialogue on the statements:
- What patterns do you see in the statements?
- Are the statements specific enough?
- Do the statements simply state a belief, or do they express a purpose for existence?
- Do the statements clarify what action steps students and staff will be expected to take to achieve the vision?
- Do the statements clarify how staff will engage in improvement efforts?
The mission statement should encompass the values of the staff, the actions that the school will take, and the areas it will address (e.g. curriculum, assessments, data) to achieve its vision. The mission statement should be longer than the vision statement because it is a specific plan for driving the school to fulfill its potential (see Resource 6).
After the faculty has worked on the mission using the same procedures they used in developing the vision, the mission oversight team again attempts to blend key words, phrases, and concepts into a viable statement. During this process, they need to ensure that the mission they are crafting aligns with the new vision statement—specifically, that the steps, actions, and values stated in the mission are things that will help them achieve the vision. The relationship between the mission and the vision must be clear.
After the mission oversight team has completed the draft, it is sent back to the faculty for review and discussion. Then the team meets again to review the feedback and make necessary adjustments before a final unveiling to the staff.
After the school has adopted the final drafts of both the mission and the vision, invite multimedia or art classes to design posters prominently displaying the statements. Soliciting these classes' assistance saves money and is a good way to make the vision and mission a meaningful part of students' lives. The vision and mission should be sent home in newsletters and posted in prominent gathering places throughout the school—classrooms, the mailroom, the lunchroom, and so on—to keep it at the forefront of people's minds.
Repetition, design, and placement are strategic ways to keep the mission alive.
Define What You Intend to Accomplish