Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Envisioning What Can Be

According to leadership expert Jim Clemmer, we tend to find what we focus on. In fact, Clemmer suggests that faulty vision “sees things as they are, not as they can be” (2005, Growing the Distance).

Vision provides two foundational components for educational success: motivation and direction. With vision, we can focus our energies. For example, if we determine to produce individuals with exceptional thinking abilities we will direct our energies toward embedding student thinking in every area of our curriculum.

Many schools lack a well-developed vision. As a result, their energies get scattered and they tend to latch onto any new thing that comes along. New textbook? We need that. New computer? We need that. New teacher training? We need that. Without a vision, every change seems to offer a promising direction.
To avoid this, and to thrive as schools of excellence, we need a vision. What, then, are the characteristics of a well-developed vision?

First, the vision can be envisioned by all school community members. The vision should be so well and so thoroughly communicated that each individual connected to the school can articulate and explain it.

Second, the vision is congruous with the school’s values, history, and capacity. Not pursuing something that’s either impossible (e.g., our students will be the most technologically advanced graduates ever) or something short-sighted that betrays values (e.g., our test scores will the highest in the city, the county, the state, the nation!).

Third, the vision guides decision-making and problem solving; it establishes a reference point. For example, a school with a vision for producing writers capable of communicating truth with clarity and beauty would be skeptical of a new computer program that has students choosing correct end marks for 15 minutes a day, even if it guarantees a 3% increase in standardized test scores. The program simply does very little, if anything, to make the school’s vision reality.

Fourth, the vision is challenging. It promotes striving for improvement and excellence, requiring the investment of time, attention, and energy to achieve. It balances the ideal and the possible to motivate everyone to greater growth.

Finally, a well-developed vision is inspiring. It generates enthusiasm and commitment, or as researcher Alan Blankstein explains, it provides a “profound sense of purpose” (2004, Failure Is Not an Option).

For example, a school may claim the following as its vision: Our school equips and empowers individuals to influence society through soundly-reasoned thinking and action. Consider the vision's key words: 1) equips, 2) empowers, 3) individuals, 4) influence, 5) society, 6) soundly reasoned, 7) thinking, and 8) action. Each possesses implications for instructional form and content, providing a guiding challenge for faculty and staff.

What vision do you and your school have for students? Remember, we tend to find what we focus on!

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