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.
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