In response to my recent post about the vision statements I am drafting for my learning team, Glenn wrote:
Bill, I think you threw everything AND the kitchen sink in there.
It is not a vision statement, it is a treatise on the philosophy of the department. Have you considered trying to whittle it down to a true vision STATEMENT? Can you, in no more than two or three sentences and no more than five or six statements, clearly articulate what you are trying to do?
I am not trying to be too critical, but it seems that you are so broad that the audience you are trying to reach will tune out before they really reach the end of the list.
Your emphasis on clarity definitely resonates with me, Glenn—but I think you and I have different definitions for vision statements! Like many conversations on education, we lack a shared vocabulary, which makes shared thinking challenging.
In most of the reading that I’ve done about vision statements—largely DuFour driven material—you really are supposed to come close to throwing the whole kitchen sink at the document! Vision statements are designed to show what your school would look like in action if you were completely meeting your building’s mission.
Vision statements become a form of a multi-year plan for schools. All decisions and actions are connected directly to individual items in the building’s vision statements. While the list can seem overwhelming at first, it is manageable in that each of the items included can be approached individually.
Once a team clearly defines what their school’s mission would look like in action, they can begin to prioritize their actions. In DuFour’s work, the narrowed down lists of priorities that schools and teams tackle each year are values statements. Values statements often start with the phrase, “We will.” They describe specific actions that members of a school community will take in the short term to meet items included in the building’s vision.
What’s interesting about values statements is that they can differ across stakeholder groups. DuFour actually recommends that each stakeholder group draft their own values statements each year because the kinds of actions groups can take to meet a building’s vision will naturally differ depending on the role that they play in the school.
Here’s how all of this would play out in my situation:
1. If I had my way, my learning team would pick one of the vision statements listed in the previous post to focus on this year. Specifically, I like 6th bullet under curriculum: Incorporates right-brained lessons that emphasize design, play, story, symphony, empathy and meaning.
This statement is motivating to me because it’s something that our building doesn’t do particularly well. Like most schools, we’ve been sucked into responding to standardized testing—even if that means moving away from learning experiences that are valuable yet difficult to test.
2. Once we’d settled on a vision statement to be our area of focus, we’d write values statements describing the actions that we would take to work towards making that vision a reality. For the sample above, our learning team might write: “We will develop one lesson or unit that is tailored specifically to each of the right-brained traits explained by Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind.”
3. The other stakeholder groups in our building would write values statements that support the same vision statement. For example, principals might write: “We will place priority on right brained thinking skills in our teacher evaluation process this year.”
4. Once every group had written values statements, measureable goals could be drafted that would include specific timelines for taking action and tools for assessing progress.
Does this make sense to you?
I guess what I’m saying is that a school’s vision has to be incredibly detailed primarily because a lack of specificity can cause “false consensus.” People end up feeling like they’re in alignment with one another about the direction of your organization, yet behaviors and practices across the building indicate otherwise.
Narrowing down focus—as you suggest in your comment—is ESSENTIAL simply because it would be impossible for a school to tackle every task in one year. But narrowing down only happens once a clear picture of what a highly accomplished school would look like in action has been developed between all members of a school community.
Thanks for pushing my thinking! You’re helping me to articulate my beliefs about how buildings create shared understandings of purpose.