What if you were a sailboat captain.
Let’s even say you’ve got a great boat and a wonderful crew. Together you’ve done a lot of sailing. Maybe you even work well together and know how to collaboratively operate the boat to maneuver well and go really fast, coaxing its peak performance.
But what does all this mean if you have no destination?
Or worse, what would happen if each of you had a different picture of where you were headed? What would the outcome be then?
In fact, you may only be able to judge how successful you are when you judge it against how well you did getting to a specific destination.
Perhaps a day sail out to the island is a different kind of work than a sail from Maine to the Keys. Maybe sailing to Antarctica is different than sailing to Spain (as Shackleton will tell you!). Maybe sailing the Intercoastal Waterway is different than sailing across the ocean. Destination matters and it defines the specifics of the work you need to do, despite the commonalities of the work. Doing the work isn’t the desired outcome. Getting to the destination is the desired outcome, and the work is how you get there.
Now, you might question my metaphor since sailing is just sometimes about heading out and enjoying the water, but I’d argue that that was a pretty specific destination. And think about how frustrated you would be, if the crew thought that was the destination and you thought you were headed to Vinalhaven Island!?
Schools also need to be on the same page about their destination. A fundamental and critical component for the success of any large-scale school change effort is the thoughtful creation and formal acceptance of a shared vision for that effort. Education for what? Why bother?
A shared vision in not only a description of what you want your desired outcome of school to be, but is one that is held in wide agreement with your administration, staff, students, families, and community.
In spite of the renewed interest in having a shared vision brought on by the proficiency-based learning work going on in Maine districts, I believe this is a piece of work that is overlooked all too often. Sometimes I think schools, districts, and state Departments of Education think their destination (vision) is simply to “do school,” to go through the motions of schooling as we’ve been going through them. It is no wonder that some districts see no reason to change (after all, if the purpose of sailing is simply to see how well you work the rudder and sails, any port will do, won’t it?), or just believe that the purpose of school is obvious and get frustrated with people who don’t and want to spend time on “this touchy feely stuff!”
And thus is the problem with schools and shared visions. Districts, schools, or states can either assume that their existing mission or purpose statements (despite often being created as so much rhetoric) can simply be spread to cover any new effort, or they simply assume that everyone understands that school, or the initiative, “is important” (especially if someone else has said that you have do it, such as implementing the Common Core).
The trouble with the former is that traditional mission or purpose statements are not future-focused enough to be effectively used in support of an large-scale change effort, such as 1to1 tablets or laptops, or Customized Learning. In the latter case, a lack of a fully developed shared vision (because you all just assume “it is important”) will mean that the time will inevitably come when it becomes clear that individual beliefs about what the vision “is” (but remember they don’t know, because they assumed) compete and contradict each other, and disrupt any forward momentum, unraveling (or at least stalling) your initiative.
So what should we do about a shared vision?
There are certainly lots of approaches. Which ever approach you choose, it should meet a couple criteria:
The vision should be both realistic and creative
It should reflect the contexts of both your students and school
It should also reflect what you hope for your students and their futures
The process should involve a broad a group of stakeholders (administration, staff, students, parents, community members)
I’m getting ready to blog (in three steps) one of my favorite approaches to creating a shared vision. Like a lot of my favorite strategies, it is based on lessons learned from MLTI, the first and only state-wide 1to1 learning with laptop initiative, now almost 15 years old. This post, and the next several on building a shared vision, come from materials that were based on the work of Bruce Wellman, and were distributed to educators in the early years of MLTI.