Enacting school vision – are we walking the talk?

April 2016

 

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Core Education’s JO WILSON describes the steps schools and communities can take in order to achieve their preferable future.

walking the talkOn 1 March New Zealand schools were required to submit their 2016–2019 charter to the Ministry of Education. The charter is the Board of Trustees’ number one policy document for each school and sets the future direction of the school by outlining the school’s vision, values and strategic goals. The process for reviewing the school charter creates a wonderful opportunity for community engagement, providing all stakeholders with a ‘voice’ and an opportunity to learn from each other. This process can promote clarity, fostering a shared understanding of what the school is trying to achieve, enabling opportunities for all stakeholders to discuss and explore the way education is changing and the aspirations and needs of the community.

Stoll, Fink and Earl (2003) talk about schools having three types of future – a possible future, a probable future and a preferable future. In terms of possible future, anything is possible. A probable future is best described as if you keep doing what you’ve always done, your future will probably be one that is comfortable and one that you know. In contrast, a preferable future is when you take charge of the type of future you want, review where you are currently at, explore possible options for development, select the preferred path and strategically plan to achieve your desired future. The charter review and development process provides schools with the opportunity to identify their preferable future.

 

Where to start?

This process can at times appear to be a daunting task, with school leaders unsure of where to begin. Reviewing what is currently in place provides a framework for the initial discussion. The following questions provide examples of how to facilitate this dialogue with community, boards of trustees, staff and possibly students.

  • Is the current vision relevant and meaningful to our students, staff and community?
  • Does it clearly outline what we are trying to achieve?
  • Does it guide and determine our decision-making?
  • Does it guide and determine our professional learning programme? Our resourcing?
  • Is it explicit and evident in what we say and do?
  • Does this signal that we are preparing students for their future?

For example, if we say that our vision is to develop confident connected lifelong learners, we need to consider what this would look like, sound like and feel like in our school. What does this look like for students, for teachers, for the community and the board? Is this integral to our ‘everydayness’ – at board level and in leadership, teaching and learning programmes? How does this vision guide decision-making? What are the implications for strategic goals, resourcing and the design of learning spaces?

Simon Sinek uses what he calls “the Golden Circle” to highlight the importance of placing our vision and values at the centre of our planning, building outwards to the principles and then practices from there. He refers to the centre of the circle as the ‘WHY’, suggesting this should always determine what we do as we build towards our preferred future. Dr Julia Atkin explores this in depth in her paper, ‘From values and beliefs about learning to principles and practice’.

Taking time to unpack the principles and practices associated with the school vision and values promotes clarity through shared understanding of expectations. For example, if the school values collaboration and believes that this is integral to enacting the vision, then time needs to be spent to clearly identify the associated principles and practices. The following questions provide suggestions for facilitating this dialogue:

  • What are the deliberate acts of teaching that support collaboration?
  • What are the deliberate acts of leadership to support collaboration?
  • What resources can we draw on to foster collaboration?
  • How can we design our learning spaces to promote collaboration?

The process of reviewing the school vision, values and strategic goals sets the future direction for the school. It breathes life into the identified preferable future, taking it from words to actions by providing opportunities to explore meaning and clarify expectations. Investing time in this process, involving all stakeholders, promotes ownership of and commitment to enactment of the vision and values. This ensures that schools will indeed walk the talk towards enacting their vision.

 


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