Implementing a Shared Vision

After reading several comments about the challenges of creating and implementing a shared vision in a school, I saw the need to provide some very specific steps that could assist those who want to do this. First, you must have leadership that supports and models what your vision espouses. Many vision statements make a reference to “love of learning” and then fail to see the inconsistencies of access to school especially for secondary students. Years ago when I was a part of starting the Phoenix Program, a school within a school that emphasized technology focused project-based learning, I discovered that when students are supported in their love of learning the school doors need to be open much more than what a normal school allows: 8:00 – 5:00. As Principal, I had to figure out how to allow students access to the school during evening hours, weekends, and school breaks. I quickly learned that staff, students, and parents who truly loved learning could readily address this issue in a way that complied with school requirements for supervision, needs of custodians, and the reality that dedicated teachers must have time out of school. Parent volunteers gladly stepped up to provide support so students could access the school at all hours, any day, while students naturally assumed a higher level of responsibility. Students understand that demonstrating independent responsible behavior leads to more unfettered access and opportunity. Getting student buy-in and ownership comes quickly when leadership supports love of learning and the desire for more opportunity will naturally come from students.

 

I’m sure some educators would read this and think that it is a bit idealistic and might only work with the highest achieving students and schools with the largest budgets. However, if the leadership in the school as well as the teaching staff work to create a learning environment where each student is valued, virtually all students will aspire to take part in learning. What does it look like when the leadership and the teaching staff value each student? (A fellow educator recently reminded me of the essential first step. Thanks, Nick Parmentier.)

 

You first learn student names.

 

Of course, this isn’t too difficult in a small school with enrollment under 200. In a bigger school, I had to resort to studying the school yearbook. As a high school principal, I studied the pictures and names from the middle school yearbooks.

 

In addition, the Principal needs to spend as much time as possible in the halls, on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in classrooms.

 

Students appreciate being recognized. It was always fun responding to the student who asked, “How do you know my name?” The best response was, “I always try to know the important people.”

 

An effective leader applies the same principles to the adults in the school. Learning the names of the staff is not the issue; learning what they do and do well takes time. Walking in and out of classrooms may seem to be disruptive, but that is not the case. Teachers instinctively know the difference between snooper vision, walking around in an effort to find fault, and genuine interest in discovering the good things that are happening on a daily basis in the classroom and throughout the school.

The vast number of teachers who work hard to create positive learning environments enjoy having the Principal sit-in on their classes and love getting specific feedback regarding their instruction, organization, and interactions with students. Many teachers are not accustomed to administrators taking the time to see what is taking place on a regular basis. Paying attention to staff in this fashion accelerates the effort to create or support a system that values each individual.

People who have worked with me will often comment how good I am at remembering names. What they don’t know is that I am not good at remembering names, but I am very good at working at remembering names. In addition, what they don’t know is that I am a strong introvert. In one school, I often taught students how to use some personality inventories. When I showed them my profile, they could not believe that my strongest trait was that of an introvert. Being an introvert is no excuse for not learning the names of students and for not interacting with students in all parts of the school throughout the day.

I’ve included a sample vision statement with specific metrics for implementing a vision. Staff needs to further refine the metrics as to how they demonstrate effective implementation of these statements. Please note at the bottom of the vision statement you see a simple listing of Levels of Commitment. The listing is meant to be simple, but it is very important. Effective educators are those who have a high degree of commitment to each of these aspects of professionalism.

Another painful lesson I have learned is that too much time is spent trying to convince an uncommitted teacher how important it is to engage in activities to increase their involvement with professional growth in each of these aspects of the job.

It will drain you.

Spend your time with those professionals who want to grow.

Let me close with a simple tool for measuring leadership and commitment to valuing each person in your school. Visit the cafeteria look to see if the leader eats last. Pay attention to the number of educators who take time to interact with students at the lunch table. I always chuckle at the school administrator who butts in line because he or she is so busy and so important. Well everyone should be important and is important. A true leader goes to the end of the line.

 

School Vision

 

At School each student will achieve excellence in academics, citizenship, and community life by recognizing and developing the unique potential each child possesses.

To make this happen:

  • Each child is provided daily academic and personal interactions with staff members. All staff members share in the responsibility to assist students at any time during the school day and at all school sponsored events.

 

  • The learning environment is adjusted to reflect the individual strengths and needs of each student. This is evident in the different assignments students receive and the additional assistance provided to students outside normal classroom hours.

 

  • Staff will provide multiple opportunities for students to make independent decisions based on the student’s ability, commitment, and willingness to accept responsibility. Interactions between students and staff are based on mutual respect, trust, a sense of belonging, and individual worth.

 

  • The multicultural composition of our school is reflected in the daily instructional activities, events, and individual expectations. Special emphasis is placed on the culture and heritage of our host country.

 

LEVELS OF COMMITMENT:

  • to the school
  • to the profession
  • to the work
  • to the work group

A Shared-Vision: The Bobsled Run

Anyone who has studied systems understands how difficult it is to have a true-shared vision. By true-shared vision, I mean a mission or vision that permeates all aspects of a system: structure, decisions, day-to-day operations, finances, etc. Most public schools and school districts have some sort of mission statement or vision, but few can say that their mission or vision is evident in day-to-day operations and drives short and long term planning. I understand the challenge of having an effective shared vision, but not until I watched the 2014 Winter Olympics did it become obvious as to why schools present such a unique challenge.

While watching the analysis of the Gold Medal winning 2- Man Bobsled, or Bobsleigh, I realized why schools find it nearly impossible to implement a true-shared vision. Let me connect the Bobsled analysis to implementing a shared vision or mission in schools. The TV commentator first showed the winning bobsled ride. He then repeated the video, then showing a distinct blue line imposed on the ice. The line represented the ideal path on the course that would allow the maximum speed as the sled moved along the course. In addition, the second video showed a red line attached to the rapidly moving sled. When the red line completely covered the blue line, the sled was moving in an ideal fashion. When you could see separate blue and red lines, the sled was not in an ideal path and was losing time compared to the ideal. As I was watching this analysis unfold, it dawned on me why schools struggle with the concept of a shared vision. My mind saw individual classrooms as sections of the bobsled run. Hallways, the cafeteria, the playground, the library, and other parts of the physical building are essential parts of the bobsled course. Many teachers see their classroom expectations as a clear blue line, but do the blue lines from one classroom align with those of another? Are there blue lines in the hallways or other portions of the school that align with the expectations in the classrooms? From the student perspective, the student’s sled adjusts to a series of blue lines throughout the day. In some cases, there are no blue lines but fortunately most students know how to navigate those patches on the course in a manner that doesn’t send them out of control to a point that they cannot recover when they enter a place where a blue line exists.

The bobsled analysis made it clear to me as to why few public schools have a shared vision that is evident throughout the day and in all aspects of the school. A similar analogy can be made for teachers who spend most of their day in a cubicle isolated from other classrooms and parts of the school. When I turned off the TV and the bobsled analysis, I reflected on the analogy of a shared vision in a school similar to the blue line on a bobsled course, I felt an energy that gave me hope. Of course it is a daunting task to do in a school, but it is not impossible. More has to be done than placing posters around the school espousing core beliefs. Creating rules would be just as ineffectual as the hallow posters. Then what can be done?

The first step is to look at what you have in your school as the mission or vision. Is it something of value that would really guide a student or teacher in a manner that would lead to positive and effective experiences throughout the day and school year? Many schools have mission or vision statements that are noble and worth following, but few schools create metrics to measure or guide the implementation of the noble global goal. Attached you can see an example of what can be done to make a vision come to life in classrooms and throughout the day. Teachers and administrators need to take time to be clear what action steps look like. This needs to be an ongoing process. It needs to be a process that involves students and to the degree possible parents should be involved. Take a look at a video that comes from a school that was well down the path of a true-shared vision.

What do you do, if there is no hope to engage your entire school? Find 1 or more teachers who are willing to work together and created a pod or team where a portion of a blue line can be established. In a secondary school, you do need to have enough teachers involved so that at least one-half of a student’s day will be tied to the same blue line.

Student Data Research

For those of you who find this idea interesting, check out this article regarding the world-renowned rugby team, How the All Blacks Sustain a Winning Culture

Quality Education: A Personal Concern

Sitting in a doctor’s office may seem like a strange place to come to grips with the need for quality schools, but my visit on a steamy day in Baltimore brought clarity to my understanding for this. As the nurse, medical assistant or whatever her title is completed the preliminary tasks taking blood pressure, pulse, weight, and other basic tasks, we engaged in a polite conversation about her personal background and current situation which included the status of her obvious pregnancy. It was intriguing to hear how education played a key role in her life and how she was determined to provide her daughter with a similar experience. The young woman told me how much she benefited from having a stay-at-home Mother who was able to provided daily support and guidance, and how the local school program aligned with the family values. Her Father as the bread-winner in the family made sure that they lived in a community that valued education and supported an educational system that recognized the need to develop the potential of each student.

 

What made this conversation so captivating was the reality that this young woman would not be able to be a stay-at-home Mother. She had done her due diligence investigating the effectiveness of schools and school districts where she currently resided. It was painfully clear that the couple needed to move if they were going to find the kind of school they wanted for their daughter. In order to find the location they were seeking, both parents would have to work. The parents also understood that finding jobs conveniently close to their home was probably not going to happen. On top of the financial realities, she and her husband knew that having quality time at home as a family was also going to be a challenge.

 

I asked about the feasibility of looking into charter schools or private schools. The soon to be Mother knew that was not a viable option. Putting her daughter in those schools took away or significantly limited the opportunities for her daughter to play, socialize, and simply spend time with the friends in the neighborhood.

 

As a life long educator, I was acutely aware of the obvious need to improve schools in cities especially in low socio-economic areas. This brief conversation made it abundantly clear that the need permeates a wide spectrum of people and locales. Waiting for more funding, better systems, and higher quality of educators throughout the system is like “Waiting for Godot.” The need for quality schools is much more than the flood of data painfully showing how many schools are failing to provide the kind of experience that these parents want. The need for an effective school system is a personal issue, personal to parents, students, communities, and to our nation. Charter schools and private schools beg the issue. Schools can be improved without massive infusion of funds and without complex staff development. I will layout a number of things that can be done now and done efficiently—stay tuned.