“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,” said the Cheshire Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cheshire Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Mission, vision and student achievement
Like the characters of Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," a school board needs to know the direction it wants its district to take before it can determine how it plans to reach the destination. Effective school boards establish a clear path for the district - one with high expectations for quality teaching and learning that supports strong opportunities and outcomes for students. Without that, districts find themselves taking a very long walk to get somewhere, and sadly, students who need a future-focused direction to deal successfully with emerging challenges will be lost.
How does the concept of mission and vision impact student achievement? Listen to the Michael Junior "Know Your Why" Break Time1 clip to set the stage for the visioning work of school boards. We know what we are doing. "When we know our why, our what has more purpose because we are walking in or towards it."
To focus goals, objectives and strategies, the district must first be able to come together to reflect on its fundamental purpose, and very reason for existence. District stakeholders must be able to answer the question, "Why do we exist?" This is the question of mission and is the first step in clarifying priorities and giving direction to everyone in the organization.2 Once a clear purpose or a clear "why" is established, a willingness to accept responsibility for achieving that purpose is critical. In creating the mission statement, the National School Boards Association recommends school boards consider the following:
- Does the statement capture the essential nature of the district's reason for being?
- Is the mission statement student-oriented as opposed to being organizationally bound?
- Does the statement describe desired results rather than focusing on activities? 3
Tough questions about what we expect our students to learn and how will we fulfill our collective responsibility to ensure that this learning takes place for all of our students are at the heart of "purpose and why" conversations. 4
Vision, then, answers the question what do we hope to become? In a sense, it is a mental image of success. Setting organizational direction and ensuring that students will meet emerging and yet, unknown challenges is the reason for vision. According to the late Richard DuFour, vision begs the question, "If we are true to our purpose now, what might we become at some point in the future?" An effective vision articulates a vivid picture of the district's future, and it involves the community in its creation.
Creating vision requires widespread involvement among community stakeholders, especially those whose lives will be influenced and shaped by the vision. This includes: residents without children in the district, businesses, social agencies, government agencies, community advocates, faith based organizations, parents, employees and students. Without genuine involvement and substantial discussion, the commitment necessary on the part of those who are charged to achieve the vision, will be lacking at best. Properly handled, a vision created by the community and district leadership will direct board and staff action and will gain community commitment to improving student achievement. This generates support for getting resources - financial and human capital to make the vision a reality.
Why is vision necessary for achieving excellence?
Vision is related to student achievement because it provides instructional continuity for planning purposes, avoiding latest, greatest initiative fatigue. Staying true and focused on a community created vision builds loyalty from the base and confidence in the community about the district's ability to educate its children. Most importantly, vision alerts stakeholders to the need for change. We cannot, with a clear conscience, prepare our students to live in their grandparents' past.
A vision with anything less than student achievement as a top priority cannot fulfill public education's core mission. Developing a shared vision that reflects the common values and core beliefs of the school district is the starting point for the leadership team that wants to focus on student achievement. The board role is at the center of the process. As elected officials, board members have the contacts and credibility to bring groups together and are also in a position to ensure the vision becomes real, providing the resources and accountability needed to meet their student achievement goals. Understanding your district's current realities is important. But having a clear picture of what "better" looks like allows the board to take the necessary governance steps to get there.
Values, commitments and core beliefs
Our value statements answer the question, "How must we behave to make our vision a reality?" Effective school boards are committed to the purpose of public education and to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction. Knowing what you value guides your aspirations and behavior. Districts with high levels of student achievement have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn. They also have a strong belief that the system and its teachers have the ability to teach all students at high levels.5
Values and beliefs don't change with trends nor do they shift with different priorities in education. They are the belief systems that motivate a person or group to choose one alternative over another. They define how individuals interact with each other and help determine the strategies necessary to fulfill the mission.
Vision and the strategic plan
It's been said, vision without a plan to achieve it is like a great movie title without a script.6 Once the vision is created and written, the vision must move from paper to practice. To ensure that the vision becomes reality, the board should develop a strategic plan and establish policies for implementation. (NSBA p. 7) After the vision statement has been shared with the community, the next step is a strategic plan. In this process, the leadership team must identify goals that will mark progress toward the vision and strategies to achieve the goals. As leadership and community groups discuss and debate the district's most critical needs, broad goals will be determined and prioritized and measurable and realistic strategies to accomplish the goals will be established. Strategic planning is among the most important and powerful work in which a board of education can engage. It serves to ensure the appropriate governance role of the board is in place, can involve a wide cross-section of district stakeholders and helps the board and administration increase community engagement.
For more information on vision and mission or details about planning a customized workshop or strategic planning session, please contact Cheryl Ryan, director of board and management services, Teri Morgan, deputy director of board and management services, Steve Horton, senior board and management services consultant or call (614) 540-4000.
- The Purpose of Public Education and the Role of the School Board - NSBA National Connection
- Vision Self-Assessment Key Work of School Boards
The "Resources" links above and "File Attachments" located on the right side of this page are outstanding vision resources used with the permission of the authoring organization. "Links," as noted under the Resources section of the page, are additional media resources, OSBA services and publications that support district efforts in the visioning process.
1 Michael Jr. and Michael Jr. Productions @michaeljrcomedy
2 DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. E. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
3 Gemberling, K. W., Smith, C. W., & Villani, J. S. (2015). The Key Work of School Boards: A Guidebook.
4 DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. E. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
5 Delagardelle, M. (2008). The lighthouse inquiry: Examining the role of school board leadership in the improvement of student achievement. In T. A. Editor, The future of school board governance: Relevancy and revelation. (pp. 191-223) Lanham, MD: Rowan & Little eld Education.
6 Gemberling, K. W., Smith, C. W., & Villani, J. S. (2015). The Key Work of School Boards: A Guidebook.