Thursday, August 03, 2006

Developing a powerful school vision

  Posted by Picasa When I visit a school I often like to ask teachers what is the vision of their school – or ‘what counts as important around here?’ I also like to ask students as well and any parents that are around. I also like to ask, ‘how did the school develop its vision?’

All schools these days have Visions, Missions and Strategy Plans but all too often few people can articulate them let alone say what they really mean in action. No matter how well they are drawn up if no ones know what they mean they are not worth the paper they are written on.

I say this with the knowledge that I have helped scores of school develop such statements – I am all too often disappointed when I ask the above questions at such schools.

For all this I still believe that a vision, properly developed with all involved, is a powerful idea. There is no more important work than the development of an inspiring vision that provides a clear sense of mission for the staff based on agreed beliefs about the need for excellence of teaching and learning.

Visions do not work if individual members own belief are not congruent, or if there is no ‘buy in’, or if the vision is not powerful enough for teachers to consider changing their practices. And to be really powerful it also must include members of the school community who need to be aligned behind their school.

To achieve this require real leadership. Leaders who are courageous enough to act as ‘champions’ of the vision and who are prepared to provide the necessary support, and sometimes pressure, to ensure action are aligned behind what has been agreed to. This is the moral dimension of leadership – holding people accountable to achieve what has been agreed to no matter how painful.

The only meaningful way to develop a vision owned by all is to develop a process that involves everyone in developing their ideal school – a school of their combined dreams. Such a process should develop their school not as it is but what it could become. It must reflect the ‘best’ thinking, beliefs, and ideals of the entire community. Every body must feel empowered. This is not to say it will all be happiness and light – tension between the vision and the reality are the source for creativity and professional development but if the vision is powerful enough it will provide the rational for all decision making.

A vision is an image of a desired future – a picture of the future you seek to create. It shows where you want to go and what it will be like when you get there. It is worth describing your ideal school as if it already exists – whatever, the pull of the future must be strong enough to overcome the inertia of the ‘status quo’. It must be worth the risk of letting go of past practices and thinking.

Values are vital to ensure it is clear how we are going to relate to, or behave with, each other .When such value expectations become central to the schools vision effort they become like a moral compass helping people make the best decision they can as they move towards their vision. It helps people speak to each other openly and honestly and to share information and ideas. Team work, open communication and shared decision making will be vital. Shared values provide an environment of openness and trust and continual feedback. Some schools I have worked with have developed simple charters of suggested behaviors for teacher, students and parents to clarify such expectations.

The mission represents the fundamental purpose of the school staff to implement the agreed vision and values. It defines that we are here to achieve the agreed vision

Finally school needs to develop a set of shared teaching and learning beliefs that all teaching will be aligned behind to achieve the vision. All teachers have their own set of teaching learning ideas but this need to be articulated, shared and focused into five or six key beliefs. A number of processes are available to tap into this ‘collective wisdom’ but once settled on the teachers need to be held accountable to implement them. Naturally this will be difficult at first but with time and professional development they will become an integral part of achieving the school vision becoming a common language that all teachers can use to self reference their actions and decisions against. This is not to say all teachers will be 'clones' - what is required is enough consistency to achieve the vision combined with individual teacher creativity to explore new ideas to improve our efforts.

When all is in place a school develops a ‘future pull’ and becomes a 'community of inquiry' continually reflecting on progress and reviewing all aspects. When such a community is realized choices are made by the vision and not by the book, or any individuals personal preference. The vision, when realized, becomes the schools DNA or internal guidance system; providing everyone involved with the confidence to explore any idea that may contribute to the well being of the school.

Being a part of such a vision community is an exciting, inspiring and creative experience. Such a learning organization is well placed to thrive in what will be an ever changing and uncertain world. Such schools are capable of new learning and adapting to change able to build for themselves a unique future.

So what is your schools vision?
What are the values you all share?
What are your core teaching beliefs?
How do you know things are getting better?

For ideas about the vision process and examples of School Visions and Stratgey Plans etc visit our site 'Leading and Learning for the 21stC.


Anonymous said...

Vision is a much abused word - these day everybody has to have one. In a past era you would get locked up for having one! But you are right, a vision , owned by all and put into action, is a powerful thing.Shame so few schools seem to have inspiring visions.

Sir Iain Hall said...

Totally agree! You may want to visit to see a new way of developing school leaders in the UK based on mission and values

Bruce said...

Thank you Iain - will check out the site.

Bruce said...

Very interesting site Sir Iain.

The site is about helping develop school leaders to work in challenging urban schools in the UK. Those who take part need to share the following beliefs:

All children can succeed, regardless of background.

The most challenging schools need the best leadership.

Students, in general, in challenging urban schools do not perform as well as their intellectual counterparts in other schools. Such children do not get the education they deserve. The quality of the leadership influences the quality of the teaching and in turn student performance. Great schools are led by great leaders.They are the 'lead learners'. Teachers are responsible for ensuring all students reach their potential. Successful leadership across groups of school can inprove the education system and society.

The programme is about:

Every child to achieve
No excuses
High expectations
Lead Learners
No Islands ( work collaboratively)

Anonymous said...

Do we have to mention a set date in our school vision; for example, do we have to say "in 2015, we shall be the pioneers in..."? Please, I need an answer. Thank you all.


Bruce said...

No - a vision is something that continually unfolds. Set times or dates could be set for a year or longer as part of strategy or annual plans but even then situations change making such targets less important.