Creating a school vision that resonates with your community is difficult work. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it and helpful posts like this wouldn’t exist.
The truth is most school vision statements are average at best.
Below are 10 pitfalls you can avoid so that your vision has a much stronger chance to lead to transformation within your organization.
Pitfall #1: Rush the process.
It’s great to be excited about creating a strong school vision and doing it right takes time. This is emotional labor. It should take hours to develop a sketch and then after going through the vision making process, it will take months to produce.
Pitfall #2: Plain vanilla.
Nothing against vanilla. I enjoy ordering vanilla lattes every now and then. It’s a safe bet, but safe is not inspiring. A strong school vision makes a bold statement. It should be a challenge to get there.
In the next three years, I want to double the amount of leaders I serve in the mastermind from 60 to 120. That inspires me and it will be a challenge to get there! I also want the book I’m working on to become a Corwin best seller. That’s also a challenge. My vision is not plain vanilla.
Pitfall #3: Everything to everyone.
Schools suffer when they try to please everyone. We all know phrases like, “If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.” Schools should specialize in what they do.
Own it. Be known for that work.
If you want to be known for the arts, it doesn’t mean you ignore math and science. It just means that you go “all in” on the arts and prioritize them in every decision you make.
Pitfall #4: Safe. vs picking an edge
Building on this idea of trying to please everyone, a school vision also takes a stand. Think of an axis. On one side you have restorative practices. On the other side you have traditional discipline. Pick some edges that will show your school stands for something.
Some examples of picking edges:
Lecture … Socratic Method
Industrial … Innovative
Standard Schedule … Flexible Schedule
Students Grouped by Age … Students Grouped by Interest / Knowledge / Needs
Top Down … Bottom Up
Cafeteria Serves Cheap (and Fake) Food … Cafeteria Serves Vegetables Grown in the School Garden
Have fun with this list. If you go through the picking the edges exercise, email me your work or contact me to set up a one-on-one coaching session.
Pitfall #5: A statement, not a story.
When I talk about a school vision, I am not talking about a statement. If it is just a few sentences, you’ve done it wrong. A robust vision is a story that dives into multiple aspects of your organization (including but not limited to):
- Culture: What would I hear your students saying if I was in your halls?
- Programs: Tell me what services/programs you will offer your community you don’t currently offer?
- Staff: Who is an ideal staff member at your school? What qualities do they display? How do you attract, retain, and nurture them?
- Core Values: What are the core values you live out and are willing to be punished for?
Pitfall #6: Maverick.
As the leader, you should create the first draft of your school’s vision. It is a mistake to start with your people and without a process. I’ve seen this approach give too much voice to the faculty and be drawn out for far too long.
You were hired to lead, so lead. The principal role of a principle (see what I did there?) is being a CVO — a Chief Vision Officer.
That doesn’t mean go it alone. After you complete your first draft bring it to your leadership team. Explicitly state, “This is a draft.” Ask for feedback and how it can be better. Revise and bring it back to the group and ask, “Did I miss anything?”
After you do this with the leadership team, bring it to a larger group, maybe your department chairs. Keep doing this process until everyone has had a chance to comment on the vision.
Pitfall #7: Fake.
If your vision has the following terms, it is fake:
- Be the best (at anything)
- 21st century
- Global community
- Global leader
- All kids / Every student / All the time
As leaders and organizations, we write those words because we think it is the right thing to say and what we think others want to hear.
Say something that will truly resonate with your community in personality.
In Houston, Texas maybe it’s about harnessing the spirit of a cowboy.
In Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois maybe it’s building on the ideas of art and activism to create a more equitable society.
Schools can pursue a dream that is much more real than merely preparing kids for the future. After all, isn’t that a “permission to play” idea? Shouldn’t all schools prepare all kids for the future?
If you believe all schools should do that, how is yours different?
Pitfall #8: Unrealistic and out-of-touch.
There is a tension of creating a vision that is just out of reach, but not so challenging you will never get there.
At Mickey Mouse Middle School, only 10% of graduates currently read at grade level. If the vision was that all students would read at grade level in the next three years, the staff would say, “Yeah right,” and throw in the towel before they even attempt to accomplish the vision.
If however, the vision was that the staff of Mickey Mouse Middle would work hard to double the rate of graduates reading at grade level each year, for the next three years, the vision will come true.
Why? It is realistic. It tells your staff you see the challenge in front of you. In Year One, the staff would just have to figure out how to get 20% of graduates reading at grade level. Then in Year Two, make the process of doubling this percentage a bit better. In Year Three, iterate again, this time at scale.
The momentum from Year One will carry on over the next three years.
Pitfall #9: Coffee mugs & tee shirts.
If your vision fits on a coffee mug, tee shirt, or banner, you’ve done it wrong and for the wrong purpose.
Pitfall #10: One-and-done (not embedded monitored etc)
And after you put your vision on the coffee mug, if you leave it in Google Drive, in Dropbox, or print it and put it in a file cabinet to collect dust, then you’ve also got a problem.
An inspiring vision is referred to frequently. It’s talked about at every meeting. The school looks for examples of where they are progressing and living out the vision or conversely, where they are falling short of the vision and need to step up.
Staff members hold each other accountable to living it out.
The vision is monitored and you keep score on your progress.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post on school vision.
Keep your eyes peeled on the blog or make sure you subscribe to my emails. I’m working on a free vision audit and will post that on my website as soon as it is ready to launch.