Vision statement matters

One of the core functions of governors is to ensure clarity of vision. Myatt (2016: 79) has made the point that

The strongest governing bodies express hope for their school.

This statement is the basis of the core question governors should ask themselves when they start thinking of their vision for their school.

Tarnow (2001) suggests that an organisation’s vision statement can serve the same purpose as that of a team jersey; it can serve to unite people to work towards a shared goal. Every organisation, irrespective of its size or its purpose, needs to be able to define its vision; its hopes for the future. Smith (2016) has discussed why a clearly defined vision is important. Although he has focused on corporate companies, what he says is equally applicable to schools. According to him, amongst other things, vision helps companies create effective strategies. As governing bodies are responsible for setting the strategic direction of their schools, it follows that they should create, develop and monitor the vision for their school. Indeed, whilst ensuring the clarity of vision is one of the core responsibilities of governing body, effective leadership for school improvement itself requires clear goals (Goldenberg, 2004, 15). Governors can make schools better by shaping and guarding the values and vision of the school through its key roles of strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation (Brighouse and Woods, 2013:60).

A vision statement is a company’s or organisation’s high level road map, indicating both what the company wants to become and guiding transformational initiatives by setting a defined direction for the company’s future and development (Quigley, 1994). In essence, the vision statement is an aspirational, but realisable description of what an organisation would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action and thus determining short or near term operational goals.

The question, “Why are we working in schools?” can be broadly answered by saying, “To provide education to our pupils”. The follow up question, “Why are we working in our particular school?” is the reason why governing bodies invest time in developing the vision for their school. However, a vision statement is not solely for internal consumption. Governors, staff, pupils, parents and carers, and the community, all of whom are our stakeholders, need to understand where we want to be in the future. Indeed, a school should be readily identifiable from its vision statement.

According to a parent governor of a school in South Africa, provision of first rate education is facilitated when vision forms part of the school’s comprehensive strategic plan (Modiba, 2001). Buck (2016: 61) says that the heads of schools judged to be outstanding all talked about the importance of a clear vision of a school’s strategic plan and a shared purpose. Governors, therefore, need to ensure that the vision has clear goals for the future which the SLT can lead the school towards.

Jones (2007) argues that developing a vision is a critical part of school improvement. She also makes the point that developing the vision for a school is an evolutionary process. Once the vision has been developed and agreed by all the stakeholders, it then needs to be reflected in classroom practice. This is the operational side of managing schools and it is the responsibility of Headteachers and their teams to develop and implement the resultant School Development Plan. Governing bodies are then required to the hold the Leadership team to account for the delivery of the agreed vision. Gabriel and Farmer (2009:45) state that “Stopping to confirm common goals among the stakeholders will help the team meet its objectives”.

Below I explain how the governing body can go about developing a vision statement for their school.

The first step could be to organise a series of workshops in which the governors and the senior leadership team (SLT) can come together and contribute equally to the development of the vision. According to Gabriel and Farmer (2009:46), it is important for all staff members to have a “common, agreed-on destination” to avoid wasting energy in un-focused efforts. It is also important for the governing body to involve the staff so that the vision becomes a shared vision. Buck (2016: 62) asserts that for a school to be successful there needs to be a sense of a shared direction of travel. The vision will only be deliverable if everyone has a hand in creating it and takes ownership of it. According to Covey (1992: 142):

As important as the end product is-a piece of paper that captures the family mission-even more important is what happens in the process of creating it.

If you ask people to work in groups during the workshops then ensure that governors and staff are equally represented in each group. The SLT attending the workshops should have meetings with the rest of the staff before the workshops so that the view presented by them during the workshops reflects the views of the rest of the staff too. In a similar way they can gather the views of the students too which can be discussed in the workshops. Gurley et al. (2015) have reported that when they surveyed students, 62% of the respondents indicated that their school had a vision statement but only 20% were able to recall any part of it. By gathering student views, not only would you get an insight to what they want their school to be like; they would have ownership of the vision.

In a similar fashion, parents could be asked to express what type of school they envision for their children.

When drawing up a shared vision, people participating in the exercise should be able to “describe a desirable future” and identify the leadership which will deliver the vision (Harvard Business School, 2003: 26). The specific questions which can be discussed in these workshops are:

  • Challenges being faced by the school and various opportunities available to us
  • Think of a student who joined Year X in September. What is your ambition for that student when he/she leaves school?
  • What opportunities do you think the school is able to offer its students and staff?
  • What do you think the school will look like in 5 years from now?
  • What are the characteristics of effective leadership which would help make the vision a reality?
  • How do we unlock potential of every student?
  • How do we nurture each student?
  • How do we develop “the whole person?”
  • Who is our community and what can we offer to various members of this community?
  • What are the hallmarks of our school leaders?
  • What type of environment do we want to create in our school?
  • What will a student leaving our school “look like” at the end of their time with us?
  • What will our school be like in three to five years? How might people describe it?
  • What are the challenges facing our students?
  • What could the challenges be in the future?
  • How can the school prepare them for life after school?
  • What are the key aspects which should be developed in schools and in our school?

Notes should be taken during each session and distributed before the next session. Themes which emerge during one workshop can be explored further in subsequent workshops.

Once all the issues have been explored and key themes identified a working party can be tasked with drawing up the vision statement which is then shared with governors and SLT. Try and keep the statement short and to the point. It should be specific to your school. The agreed draft can then be passed onto students, rest of the staff and parents for comments. The final vision statement is then written after comments have been taken into consideration, and published.

References

Brighouse, T., and Woods, D., 2013. The A-Z of School Improvement. Bloomsbury

Buck, A., 2016. ‘Leadership Matters’ John Catt Educational Limited

Covey, S.R., 1994. Principle-centered leadership. Fireside Press

Gabriel, J.G. and Farmer, P.C., 2009. How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank. Virginia. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Goldenberg, C.N. ,2004 Successful School Change: Creating Settings to Improve Teaching and Learning New York, NY: Teachers College Press Pg 15

Gurley, D.K., Peters, G.B., Collins, L. and Fifolt, M., 2015. Mission, vision, values, and goals: An exploration of key organizational statements and daily practice in schools. J Educ Change 16:217–242

Harvard Business School, 2003. Managing Change And Transition. EBook Edition, Boston, Mass. Harvard Business Review Press. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [Accessed 5 May 2017].

Jones, L., 2007. The Importance of Visions for Schools and School Improvement [Online]. Available from: http://cnx.org/contents/YQkJG7Yj@1/The-Importance-of-Visions-for- [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Modiba, S. N., 2001. The importance of vision and mission statements in promoting school effectiveness in Northern Province schools. Thesis (PhD) Rand Afrikaans University

Myatt, M., 2016. Hopeful Schools. Mary Myatt Learning Limited

Quigley, J.V., 1994. Vision: How leaders develop it, share it, and sustain it Business Horizons. 37 (5), pp. 37-41

Smith, G., 2016. 7 Reasons Your Company Needs a Clear, Written Mission Statement [Online]. Available from: http://www.glennsmithcoaching.com/7-reasons-your-company-needs-clear-written-mission-statement/ [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Tarnow, E., 2011. A Recipe for Mission and Vision Statements IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol. 44, NO. 2, 138-141

2 thoughts on “Vision statement matters

  1. Pingback: Eight anniversary matters | Governing Matters

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