Six Actions to Keep Moving Your School’s Vision Forward
A school’s vision statement is its goal for the future—the values the school community collectively holds, what success looks like, and how everyone works together to make that growth possible. It’s the principle that guides the initiatives you develop alongside staff, the language you use with students and families, and the mindset that inspires and motivates everyone to do their best.
As important as it is to have this kind of shared vision statement, our current circumstances—teacher shortages, changing public health guidance— make it difficult to concentrate on anything other than short-term plans. Yet, your school’s vision is the shared foundation that can sustain you and your school community through these challenging times. And maybe even emerge from the pandemic stronger and wiser.
We’ve outlined six actions that education leaders can take right now to help you keep that vision front and center.
Why having a shared school vision is important
A shared vision represents the ideal future state for students, teachers, parents, and your entire school community. Developed with a wide range of stakeholders, a school vision answers these questions:
- What is the ultimate goal for our students?
- What do we want our students to believe about themselves and their potential?
- What is our vision of success for our students beyond our school to college, careers, and citizenship?
- What values should our larger school community model to help students reach these goals?
More than a poster or mission statement on your school’s website, a shared vision serves as the anchor for how students, staff, families, and community members experience your school environment. And, it makes them feel responsible and empowered for doing their part to maintain it.
More than a poster or mission statement on your school’s website, a shared vision serves as the anchor for how students, staff, and families experience your school environment.
Prioritize what matters
The pandemic solidified something we already knew—educators can quite literally do anything. That doesn’t mean they should do everything. Taking the time to make sure your teachers and staff know what the priorities are and where they should focus can help them avoid overwhelm. This also means actions that were important at one point may fall into the background for a bit, and that’s okay.
While student achievement goals are important priorities, it’s also important to remember other needs. As she watched her school grapple with immense losses from COVID-19, New Leaders alum and principal Clariza Dominicci focused on remembering the humanity and complexity of her school community—and making happiness an integral part of the school culture. “We need to bring joy back into our classrooms again,” she says. “We need to bring back those smiles.”
Align with what’s happening now
In our book Breakthrough Principals, we say that a school vision is most effective if it “grows out of your school’s needs,” and there have been plenty of challenges and setbacks over the last two years that may have shifted those needs slightly.
For instance, if your school’s vision statement is to ensure that every student can and will be ready to succeed in college and career, but you see that students of color aren’t getting access to age-appropriate coursework that’s relevant and engaging, it might signal a gap between your vision and your current state. This gives you an opportunity to think critically about your strategic plan and the programs and initiatives you’re planning in the future.
Motivate your community to keep going
Having a school vision statement can be a built-in motivator—when school leaders, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the greater community develop a sense of unity based on a common goal, it’s easier for everyone to work together and persist when things get hard.
Having a shared vision can be a built-in motivator—when school leaders, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the greater community develop a sense of unity based on a common goal, it’s easier for everyone to work together and persist when things get hard.
When New Leaders alum and principal Felipe Jackson was looking for ways to keep his school moving forward during the first months of the pandemic, he realized the one thing he could control as a leader was the way he motivated teachers to teach, students to learn, and parents to stay engaged. “I became their biggest cheerleader every day,” he says. All of that cheerleading kept them driving toward their shared goal of accelerating student learning.
Open the door to collaboration
The creation of a school vision statement begins with soliciting ideas from a broad range of stakeholders within your school community. It reflects the diverse perspectives of your staff, students, and parents, and it’s responsive to their needs and values.
Having a set vision also means it’s easier to distribute leadership responsibilities and decision-making to a collective group when it gets hard for school leaders to go it alone. The group is already invested in where the school needs to go and is ready to jump in to figure out how to keep the rudder in the water.
Communicate your own “why”
As a principal in a New Orleans school after Hurricane Katrina, New Leaders alum and principal trainer Karen Bryan-Chambers knew she needed a fresh slate to bring about change. To do that, she thought about her own vision and mission, sharing with her staff why she became a teacher and then a school leader. “Once I shared my why, I asked every staff member to tell me their why. That’s how we got our collective why—that was living within each of us.”
That first year, Chambers’ students soared because the school believed in its vision and its students—and their academic achievement grew year after year. Being candid about why she chose to be an educator led to a renewed purpose among all of her staff and their drive for excellence.
Listen to your community
Making space for all the voices within your school not only gives you insight into the day-to-day lives of those in your community, but it can also create an atmosphere where people can voice what’s important to them and be vulnerable. Clariza Dominicci’s teachers and staff are grateful they have the space to share their experiences and feelings, and this has also allowed her to lean into her vulnerability. “Sometimes, I have one plan for a meeting, and as I am listening to everyone, I decide to pivot. I put my ego aside and say: ‘You tell us. We don’t know. And we’re okay with that.”
Making space for all the voices within your school not only gives you insight into the day-to-day lives of those in your community, but it can also create an atmosphere where people can voice what’s important to them and be vulnerable.
Building a school culture and a professional learning community rooted in listening also means honoring the voices of parents and students. A recent Education Week article detailed the experiences of three administrators who have experienced student walkouts due to school policies, racial injustice, and national political concerns. Even when students were protesting, schools found a way to listen and respect the issues students were elevating as important to them—giving them a chance to express their concerns and process their emotions.
A shared school vision can make an uncertain and challenging present seem clearer, building resilience for the present and capacity for the future. It’s a reminder of how important it is to continue moving forward to benefit students and the greater school community—even when it’s tough. Especially when it’s tough.