Ready for a challenge?

Grab a piece of paper and pen, or pull up a blank document on Microsoft Word. Set the timer for five minutes.

Your task is to write down your school’s vision statement. It’s ok if you aren’t able to recall it word for word. Just get the gist. Ready, set, go!

Were you successful? Pull the vision statement up on your school’s website to see how close you came.

If you were successful- great, you are way ahead of the curve! If not, don’t fret- you are not unlike the vast majority of school leaders I work with who can tell me all about what they are doing at their school, but struggle defining exactly why.

You see, the problem with most vision statements, is that they aren’t useful or memorable. They are either too broad or too general, poisoned by abstract language that say little about what they actually do. Something to the effect of “creating successful students in college or life,” or “preparing students to be productive members of society.” These statements are imprecise and provide little direction for where the school is headed or how decisions will be made.

What do good vision statements look like?

Good vision statements are written so concisely and clear, that there is little disagreement or uncertainty over where the school or organization is headed.

Take Google’s Mission statement for example:

Google’s Mission Statement: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

That’s a pretty clear vision.

As this vast tech conglomerate decides upon new iterations, innovation, and systems, they can always revert back to the impact these developments have in making information “universally accessible and useful.”

Prioritizing for the 2017-2018 school year

As we begin the strategic planning process for the 2017-2018 school year, it’s important that we too prioritize what we hope to accomplish. Creating these priorities starts with establishing a clear vision of where we are headed.

Here is a simple 5- step process to create achieve this:

Step One: Assemble your staff

In too many schools, strategic planning happens behind closed doors. It involves bringing together only a few of the key stakeholders, and defining what this small minority believes are the most important priorities. It’s hard to gain momentum on these tasks with a staff that wasn’t involved in the process.

I suggest a different approach.

Bring your entire staff all together into one room with the following objective written on the front screen:

‘Today, we will write our vision statement for the 2017-2018 school year.’

Have your staff members sit in pre- determined mixed table groups (cross- curricular across grade levels and departments) and start the same way I had you begin this blog post.

Ask them to try and recall your school’s mission or vision statement. Give them 5 minutes. Step Two: The Graduate Profile

Next, have a laugh as each member shares their version, pointing out how diverse their ideas are, before sharing the real mission/ vision.

After realizing their is uncertainty or disagreement as to your school’s direction, your staff will be eager to come to consensus. To accomplish this, provide each group with a piece of chart paper. In the middle of the chart paper, ask each group to write “__(name of school)___ graduate profile.” Ie.

Futures Academy Graduate Profile.

Divide the chart paper in three sections that read: “What graduates of our school know;”What they are able to do;” and “How they think/ act.” Finally, provide every group member with a pen and some sticky notes.

Setting up the process in this way will ensure that you build your school’s vision around concrete student outcomes, rather than general nondescript phrases.

Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Their task is to independently come up with as many descriptors as they can for each category. For example, one sticky might say, “Our graduates can solve complex local problems.”

One rule- NO TALKING. This is the idea generation phase, and its crucial you provide a space for all possible ideas in t room. Step Three: Narrow the Focus

Next, ask each group to appoint a group facilitator. The facilitator’s job is to narrow the group’s ideas to a maximum of three per category.

To accomplish this, the facilitator will group combine similar descriptors, pose clarifying questions around ideas that are unclear, and remove those that have been written twice.

After narrowing the ideas through this initial process, the facilitator will condense ideas even further by asking each group member to vote on the three for each category they find most compelling.

If this process is successful, each group will have a total of nine descriptors; three for each category.

Step Four: Popcorn protocol

Next, facilitate a whole group conversation to establish one whole group list. This can be accomplished through the creation of a smaller sub- committee, or as a whole group. It all depends on the size of your staff. If your staff is small, I suggest doing it as a group. 

Start with the first category, “Graduates will know” and ask each group to share out one of their three descriptors. If groups have the same descriptor on their list, they will cross it out and simply provide another. Record these on the chart paper up front.

Once all descriptors are charted, give each member of your staff a colored dot. They will use this dot to vote on the descriptor they find most compelling.

Repeat this process for each category.

When this process is complete, remove or cross out those descriptors with the least amount of votes.

Step Five: Creating your school’s vision statement

 This is the fun part!

You should have a total of 9 descriptors on the chart paper- three for each category (“know”, “able to do”, and “think/ act.”)

With the paper visible to the entire staff, ask each group to create a simple vision statement that incorporates these 9 descriptors. Use the following structure:

Graduates of Futures Academy are empathetic and creative problem solvers, able to tackle complex global problems on a local level.

Your vision statement:

Optional Additional Step: Voting on the school’s vision statement

When finished, collect each group’s vision statement and share via a Google Survey. Ask your staff to vote on their favorite statement. The statement receiving the most votes will be displayed at the successive staff meeting to help your school determine its key priorities for 2017-2018

In Closing