How to create school vision statements that lead to long-term success
Can you remember your high school’s vision statement? You might have vague memories of handmade posters that mentioned educating “life-long learners” or “global citizens,” but it’s probably difficult to recall anything more specific. This is common not just for students, but also for professionals who work at every level of the school.
The ripple effect goes all the way to school administrators. It's difficult to unify everyone around a mission if no one knows what it is. Consider one educator found that of the 200 teachers he surveyed, only 10 percent could confidently identify their current school’s vision statement. This is a common trend. For many educators, vision statements have become little more than empty words.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. According to Dr. Doug DeVore, professor of organizational leadership in the School of Education at University of Massachusetts Global, school vision statements can inspire staff and students as well as inform key decisions. He says,
A good vision statement will provide a vivid picture of what the organization desires as their future state.
So, as you prepare to lead your school forward, join us as we discover how to create a school vision statement that can set the stage for lasting success—and how to act on it.
Why school vision statements are important
One of the most concrete ways vision statements affect schools is by helping to inform decision-making. Between teachers, students, parents and administrators, there are naturally a lot of different opinions. Discussions surrounding resource allocation or policymaking often result in gridlock. With a solid vision statement, however, you can refocus around shared goals and values. This can provide helpful rationale when working through tough decisions.
How you can identify your school's goals and values
Before you can write anything, you first need to determine what to include. The best way to do this is to assemble a vision team that loops in representatives from each group of stakeholders.
“Include everyone who will be responsible for making the vision become a reality,” Dr. DeVore offers. This will not only give you a clearer picture of what your school as a whole values but it can also encourage everyone to be more invested in both the process and outcome of writing a vision statement.
Once the vision team is assembled, start asking questions. By approaching goals and values from a variety of perspectives, you may get a better sense of what’s important for the success of your school. Try posing these questions to your stakeholders:
- What does “vision statement” mean to you?
- What are your goals for our students, staff, and community?
- What sets our school apart from others?
- What does each stakeholder bring to the table?
- What unites our school?
When you’re considering themes to include, make sure to think beyond merely the academic. While the obvious goal of a school is to educate its students, there are other factors that go into fostering an educational community. Access to mental health support is a good example. In fact, one study found there was a positive correlation between attending schools that promoted mental health in their vision statements and high academic achievement. As students of any age are developing in a variety of ways, consider how your school will support their emotional and social progress in addition to intellectual growth.
How to write a sound school vision statement
Specific language matters when it comes time to write. “A vision is a statement about the ‘future state’ of the organization,” Dr. DeVore explains. “Therefore, it is written in future tense.” You might say, for example, that you will provide a safe space.
Specificity is also important. You can save the 10-page explanations for your school improvement plan, but for now providing some direction on how you intend to move toward your goals is helpful. Using the same example from above, consider mentioning that you will provide a safe space by promoting non-judgmental rhetoric.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that writing is an iterative process. Encourage your vision team to discuss and draft versions of the statement, then pull key aspects together and revise as a committee. Additionally, remember that you’ll need to revisit this statement again in a few years to reflect new or updated goals.
How you can implement your school vision statement
One way to both broadcast your vision statement and foster involvement from your students is to encourage art and multimedia renditions of your shared values and display them in areas such as classrooms, lunchrooms and hallways. According to How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank by John Gabriel and Paul Farmer, this is a good start toward making the vision a meaningful part of students' lives. It can help remind everyone of their shared goals and promote buy-in from your stakeholders.
Another important way to implement your vision is to incorporate it into your marketing efforts. With the increasing popularity of school choice, you are no longer guaranteed students the same way you once were. Between charter schools, private schools and even the rising popularity of homeschool, parents need a reason to choose one option over another. A good vision statement can help show them that you value their child and want them to succeed. So, consider including the statement in newsletters, displaying it prominently on your website, and even featuring its themes in your school social media posts.
It also helps to remember that a vision statement is supposed to be a standard for your school. Use it to gauge your progress in moving toward goals and in creating further materials for improvement. “Develop an action plan to move your school to the vision’s future state,” Dr. DeVore suggests. He recommends creating a three-to-five-year plan that involves frequent check-ins to see how you’re doing and to hold one another accountable.
Make your vision a reality
There are a lot of factors that go into creating a positive school experience. Teachers need to plan lessons, students have to study and administrators have to organize. But there’s a difference between schools that merely function and those that are dedicated to achieving more. Creating a school vision statement is the first step in the right direction.
Of course, you need to go beyond writing to be an effective school leader. If you’re interested in learning further about fostering a positive school culture and engaging your staff and students, listen to University of Massachusetts Global’s webinar, “How to Save Time, Be Bold & Inspire as a School Leader."
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