Vision: Seeing That Which Should Be

A school vision is an inspiring mental image of what you believe your school can and should look like – and how others will view it–after a period of time. When asking people to engage in a change process, it is critical for school and district leadership to provide a compelling vision toward which the school community will strive. Without a vision that meets key standards, such as energising people and creating meaning, promoting excellence, and serving as a transition to a better future state, change can become directionless, demoralising, and ultimately unreachable.

Dr. William Sterrett interviewed several prominent school leaders about “what works” and all indicated the importance of the school’s vision. For example, principal and author Baruti Kafele believes visions are at their most powerful when they are clear, direct, and expressed in one or two sentences. Dr. Sterrett stated that visions must not be comprised of “empty words” and should “drive organisations into the future.” In this context, the importance of a central vision, shared by everyone in the school and communicated to the community at large, becomes clear.

Professional Development Planning that Supports Vision

Even the strongest of school leaders cannot bring a vision to fruition in isolation. All leaders need support. The stereotypical “great leader” that creates change through the sheer force of their will may have achieved legendary status in western culture, but when you stop to think about it, even the greatest leaders had mighty helpers.

Susan B. Anthony did not advance the vision of gender equality in a vacuum; she had a strong partner in Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the energy and talents of the members of the National Women’s Suffrage Association to work toward that vision with her. School leaders are no different.

Equally as important as support for change leaders is the personal and professional satisfaction to be gained by teachers as they engage in planning professional development that is aligned with the school’s vision. The pursuit of a vision should be shared and celebrated by your teaching teams. It should not be a sterile, joyless process that plays out in the absence of professional growth.

The trick, of course, is to seek the intersection between teacher support for the vision itself and nurturing their own growth, development, and professional satisfaction during the journey. It is possible for teachers to develop their own personal mission and vision for their work that then dovetails with the larger vision for the school that plays out across the years. You just have to partner with your teachers to make it a reality.

Collective Responsibility for a Shared Vision

James Kouzes and Barry Posner advanced a seemingly paradoxical idea:  “the best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.” From an investment standpoint, however, this makes perfect sense. Listening to and connecting with school teachers set the stage for powerful collective action. When teachers and leadership develops a shared understanding of the vision and takes collective action to realise clearly defined goals, the investment pays dividends long into the future.

How might this work? From this compilation of sample mission and vision statements, let us say a school’s vision is to “enable each student to flourish as a responsible citizen in the global community.” That is a very broad vision, but the teachers that wholly commit to it may come up with several collective, practical steps to make it a reality. For example, all teachers and students could develop “responsible digital citizenship standards” through their school’s learning management system (LMS), modeling positive behaviors in an interconnected global society.

One district in Pennsylvania developed a graduate profile including “the knowledge, skills, and dispositions” to be reflected by their students after leaving the district. This profile and/or other key vision-related goals can and should be made public. This allows the larger community to take part in the overarching vision for their schools. The possibilities are endless, but only fully realized through committed, common planning and action. When a school shares the vision, they also share “a commitment to change.”What leaders must ask themselves is whether all their school’s professional development planning and the professional development itself, arms faculty with the skills needed to make student success a reality in line with the school’s vision of the future.

Alignment and Accountability

Schools and communities of learning (COLS) should create formal frameworks for professional learning that reflect the principles of continuous improvement, align goals with the school’s vision, and ensure that all team members bear shared accountability for the results. A school operating in an environment of full alignment will accurately assess its professional learning needs in light of the school/district vision, determine resource needs, and implement and plan professional development accordingly.

Conclusion: The Practical Rises to Meet the Ideal

With the ideal future state established–the vision of where you want your school to be–you can then collaborate with your teachers to establish concrete steps that will allow you to meet that ideal. The process need not be staid and unfulfilling. Instead, a powerful energy between all educators can arise out of the shared vision, leading to the development and realisation of shared goals. Ultimately, it will be the students who benefit from the synergy you create.