Many schools have mission and vision statements. Some of those schools also have a listing of core values. Within this subset, we might even find a collection of schools who have drafted essential questions.
What is painfully, distressingly and alarmingly true about many of these schools is the proportion of them that draft these well-meaning documents, file them, and never ever return to them again – until it’s time to craft some sort of improvement plan. This is only slightly better than those who print these driving statements on banners for all who visit to take note as the actions they observe are in stark contrast with the values literally hanging over their heads.
Vision must live in practice.
The same is true of mission, values, and driving questions.
At SLA, we worked to constantly ask how the school’s core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection can be seen in the learning experiences designed for our students. While not every piece of work the students complete speaks to each of the core values, asking the question over and over again helps to ensure we are constantly practicing those things we proport to value most.
The vision of a school can only live in practice if it is shared by all within the community. We have seen many schools where teachers arrive for their first professional development day of the new school year, sip coffee from industrial-sized mugs and listen as the school’s principal stands before them and explains the vision for the new school year. Often, too often, this is a vision devoid of any remanants of the vision of the previous school year.
While it is understandable for a principal to endevour to energize his or her faculty at the start of the new year, shifting course dramatically and often will only lead teachers to pay lip service to the “new” vision while resorting to those goals and values they find most comfortable when they return to their classrooms.
Any principal would be better off to find a vision in which he or she can truly root the desired practice of a school and then seek ways to embody that vision in every action of every individual on the campus. Then, when that has happened, the next step is not to find a new way of saying what you believe, but to deepen the expressions of those beliefs and values key to your institution’s identity.
It is easy to attempt to be what we repeatedly say, but it is always better to do than to merely say.
Coming to terms with what a school believes and is about as a learning organization is a strong first step. As with so many journeys, it is the steps that follow that determine what you will become.
When vision is put to practice, when who we want to be is a constant reflection in practice, then we are able to move closer to the better versions of ourselves and our institutions.