Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week Four: Vision

Creating Frameworks for Possibility

While the last chapters of this month’s reading were all valuable, the one that resonated with me was the eleventh practice.  The school that I teach at was completely overhauled with an entirely new staff, students, and grade levels this past school year.  This whole year has been a work in progress, as the staff was hired only 2 weeks before school started (and in fact is not entirely complete now, and I came at the end of October), the administration was only assigned then as well, and our contract language is changed entirely for this building in the district alone.   Teachers had never worked together before, and none had worked in this neighborhood or had any connections to the families in our school.

I say this because while we have been hired as “the best lead teachers in the city”, we have been operating without a clear vision.  We have been thrown together with the task of “turning this failing school around”.  A gargantuan task with no support from central administration to do so.  At our last staff meeting, we discussed the need for a vision statement.  I was a bit dismayed when we all contributed ideas and ended up with a vision the length of an essay with points encompassing all things we want to accomplish:  lifelong learners, safe environment, parental education, engaged students, fostering curiosity, attending to health needs, community support, giving opportunities, 21st century technology, ending the cycle of poverty… the list went on and on.  I felt that we were missing the mark on our vision statement. Of course we want all of these things for our students, but our vision could encompass all of these ideals without being an essay.   It was simply a list of all the things that overwhelm us everyday and frankly, it was depressing to me to read it all and see all we have to accomplish.

According to The Art of Possibility, a vision articulates a possibility.  It fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind.  It is free-standing ~ it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement.  It is a long line of possibility radiating outward.   I think that our vision for my school started during that staff meeting by looking at all that is wrong with our students’ lives, and what we want to do to fix it.  That may be the worst way we can look at our vision.  Why not the same vision as HP – “Robinson Elementary School For the World”?  Not “Robinson Elementary School where we hope to erase poverty, drugs, gangs, parents who don’t know how to help their kids, kids who have no love of learning, atrocious behavior problems, pathetic attendance, government dependent citizens, violence....”  Instead of looking at what we want to get rid of, we should be looking at where we strive to be.

Do we approach our vision by looking in the rear view mirror and addressing things that need to be changed?  Or do we look forward at where we want to be as a school community?  I will be sharing this chapter at our next staff meeting when we meet again to hammer out our vision statement.  
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  1. Cynthia,

    Sounds like you were all thrown into this situation with little setup to help you succeed in what is/was needed for this school/community. I agree with, you a vision statement has to be about what could be, not about what is or was. A vision is a look at what could be, regardless of the obstacles in the way of it. It sounds like what you and your staff ended up with was a very limiting list, what happens if there is a solution for your community that isn't on that list? Is it now now in line with the vision statement so you can't go down that path? A vision statement needs to be something that can withstand change over time and still be applied, it has to have hope and possibility.

    In case you're looking for some ideas my school's vision statement is Eagles Prevail, Invest, Empower, Achieve. Simple yet open to many possibilities. Our district vision statement is High Expectations, High Achievement, Everyone, Everyday.

  2. Great post! I would like to say that I think and do the same as what you have stated, but even though I have been with my school since I graduated in the late 90s, I sometimes fall far from the vision that I first set out to achieve. You said it exactly, "Instead of looking at what we want to get rid of, we should be looking at where we strive to be." This action research has forced me to look at the problems that are prevalent in my work environment, but I was not forced to rid the school of the evils that prevail. This research project should have forced me to re-evaluate my goals for the school and shoot for that pot of gold! I am no hero, but I definitely need to be aware that I can make just as much of a difference.

    The vision that my school seems to be portraying (even though i do not think it means to) is tradition to the point of not moving on. Our school motto is Proud Tradition, Future Promise. Unfortunately, the many conservatives in the school community have been around since the construction of the school and their ideals differ greatly from the ideals of today.

    I hope you the best in your endeavors for you definitely have your work cut out for you. And though the faculty at my school has been together for quite some time, we need to ask ourselves: "Do we approach our vision by looking in the rear view mirror and addressing things that need to be changed? Or do we look forward at where we want to be as a school community?"

    Thank you so much for sharing. This was an enlightening perspective that keeps my vision in focus, or out of focus should the circumstances be open.

  3. Teachers work so hard and diligently for so little money and so much criticism. I find the most stressful part is the end of the year shuffle when the teachers discover their fate.

    Discovering your compelling vision can be a messy process. Forming your ideas will take work to become concise. This does remind me of a story, one that I have forgotten the details to.

    Low-end retail stores have an enormous amount of rules. The rule list is as long as an essay. High-end retail stores, one in particular has one rule, “we will do our best and expect others to do the same. When asked why they didn’t have dress codes, behavior codes, and so on; the owner said, “I hire the correct people. Those people know that doing our best is, and therefore they do it.”

    I have this thought that the short mission statement will be put into your memory banks, and become something you remember and use daily. Pithy ideas seem to stick. Rambling ideas end up in the circular file in your brain.

    I suggest that the next time you meet, you say that what you really need is a slogan for your school. “Make right!” or “Always the best.” or “This is my success.” Much like the marine “hoorah.” Something pithy and hits at the core of what you want, and avoid what you don’t want. Good luck! Thanks for sharing.

  4. HI Cindi,
    Great great post. I bet that this post was therapeutic even. Knowing what you have been through this year has been so hard for me to watch. I have taught in that kind of Kaos before, and I know how hurtful students can be to you and each other. Your districts dream of "fixing it" is commendable, but it seems they have not thought it through. Does that surprise me NO. Administration always have a vision, they just don't think it through.

    The art of possibilities just the title itself is how your school should be viewed. Each and every one of those students has a possibility. If the school staff can commit to its vision then I am sure you will succeed. The words invest, empower and succeed offered by Alyson are awesome and apply.

    I know it's hard and it has been so rough for you, but I know you can do it. Your personality will not let you throw in the towel without trying. Do you have support? At school maybe not always....but from me and others in this cohort? YOU BETCHA!


  5. Excellent grappling with your environment and bringing the reading into the mix. I've seen the lofty and usually meaningless mission/vision statements just like you described. Long, convoluted and tied to too many issues. It is so powerful to dig into the heart of the matter and press for a positive goal that is, in fact, a vision that can mark a direction forward. So well expressed. They are lucky to have you working with them.