Vision without action is a daydream
Action without vision is a nightmare.
– Japanese proverb
All effective organisations not only have a vision statement, they actually use it to drive everything in their organisations. Vision statements are advantageous (if not crucial) to schools because they help drive the decision making and keeps the school focused. In short vision statements:
- help motivate and keep staff focused on the goals of the school,
- define the purpose and directions of the school,
- allow a foundation for publicising the school, and
- helps to differentiate the school from other educational organisations.
As schools break for the winter (or summer) it is an opportune time for school leaders to take stock of where they are at in working towards achieving their school’s vision. One strategy is to measure the relevance of your vision statement by reflecting on the following questions:
- What strategies have been used to intentionally build a shared vision in your school? Can you draw lines between the strategies to the components of your school’s vision?
- What actions have you taken as leaders to model the vision?
- What strategies haven’t you used to move your stakeholders closer to owning the vision?
- How have you, as leader, demonstrated a true commitment to change?
Reflecting on these questions guides leaders to ensure the vision is at the forefront of their daily tasks. To take stock of where the school is at the school leader can undertake:
- Surveys: Climate surveys are useful in understanding how parents, teachers, students connect with the vision and if there is alignment across the school
- Decision Making: Leaders need to be able to articulate the connect between decision making and the vision. No alignment means no growth towards the schools goals.
- Meeting Agendas: An easy measure is to peruse the elements planned for each meeting held. Regardless of the groups focus
- Teacher Personal/Professional Goals: Are teachers’ goals in line with the school vision. As teachers work on their own professional learning, ensuring it connects to the school’s vision will benefit the school.
- Signage: Having the school’s vision in plain sight of the community makes an easy reference point for the community as they wander the school.
Remember…..“Every choice you make leads you away from your vision or moves you toward it.” – Patti Digh
When you place “leadership” into an internet search engine you very quickly come up with millions of hits. There are as many theories as there are experts. For me there are a few essentials that the school leader must put into practice in order to move their school forward.
- Uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
- Building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
- Attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement your strategy;
- Relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
- Creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
- “Leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices.
Only the implementation of each may differ from leader to leader. Each leader will exercise each essential in their own was as they sum up their school’s circumstances.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
As a principal in a school it is important that my school community is clear on what I stand for. This is not just about brainstorming a list of strategies and putting it into a plan. Its about exploring ideas and developing a clear vision.
The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for a school has always been a vital component of successful leadership. Once developed, the vision should provide the cornerstone for everything that you do in the school.
A vision is about creating a short statement that will guide you over the next 3 to 5 years. It should be specific enough to say something about what you will do and equally what you will not do. It should be capable of driving the school to achieve its goals, and be somewhat motivational so that you have a constant reminder of what you are trying to achieve when the going gets tough.
Without a vision, a school is like a ship without a rudder and is in danger of drifting aimlessly. Many schools lack a clear vision and so they tend to jump from task to task without a clear understanding of what bonds the individual tasks together and/or the value created by the individual tasks. Schools are notorious for jumping on the next “bandwagon” as they chase the panacea for improved student outcomes.
When I begin leading a new school I am always reminded of the quote form Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” where there is a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Remember, vision and strategy are both important tools for the school principal. But there is a priority to them. Vision always comes first. Always. If you have a clear vision, you will eventually attract the right strategy. If you don’t have a clear vision, no strategy will save you. This is the challenge for the school leader! What do you stand for?