Since 2013, I’ve served as the assistant principal at Milford Junior/Senior High School and have grown as an educational leader through graduate studies and countless professional development opportunities. Each time I think about school leadership, I find myself going back to the seven principles of outstanding leadership that Pat Williams, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, shared in his book, Leadership Excellence. Those principles are vision, communication, people skills, character, competence, boldness, and a servant’s heart. What strikes me is that the very first topic he addresses is “vision.”
As educators, we’ve all worked on developing vision and mission statements. We know that these statements are important as they chart a map to the future and assert the goals that you have as a leader. Countless studies, like the research reported by the Wallace Foundation, support the importance of developing a schoolwide vision for the success of our schools. I like how author and pastor Bill Hybels puts it: “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.” If there is no vision, the folks around you will never develop the passion for achieving their goals as an organization.
But just having a vision for a school is not enough. A vision and mission need systems in place to support them; otherwise, they become just a collection of words on a piece of paper. We can inspire others with words, but it is the system that helps us utilize those words to motivate others and achieve our goals. Our job as school leaders is to make the vision and mission a reality. How can school leaders think systematically to support their vision and mission to see them ultimately come to fruition?
At Milford Public Schools, our vision states, “Everyone has a story…make yours worth telling.” All that we do and strive to be as a district revolves around the idea that we are helping our students write better stories for themselves. As a leadership team, we constantly utilize our district’s vision to focus our activities, programs, and how we choose to educate the students in our community.
Our mission statement paints a more detailed picture, complete with belief statements of what that looks like and how we are going to help our students write the best story they can during their time at Milford Public Schools. Our mission statement is “Milford Public Schools will prepare all students to be successful citizens. Our mission is fulfilled when all students: read with comprehension, speak and write clearly, compute accurately, reason logically, understand and appreciate the fine arts, apply suitable strategies and habits of mind to solve problems, utilize technology to communicate and to understand information, behave morally, and compete honorably.”
Vision and Mission Accountability
At Milford Public Schools we have a school board in place that asks questions and also wants to be informed throughout the decision-making process so that they can understand what we are trying to accomplish as an administrative team. To thoughtfully present our ideas and plans, our administration must be prepared to answer board members’ questions while remaining organized throughout the decision-making process. This system holds us accountable to our vision and mission as a district and has proven to be a valuable part of how we lead so that we know the students are getting the best we can give them. We utilize the four guiding questions developed by Richard DuFour and the professional learning community model to evaluate almost all decisions that affect our students and their learning experience in our district. Those questions are: What do we expect our students to know? How will we know that they have learned it? How will we respond when they don’t learn it? How will we respond if they already know it?
Decision Making Through Our Eagle Pride Model
Once we can have the discussion about how an idea fits into our vision and is visible within our mission statement and we can justify the decisions being made through the four guiding questions, we utilize our Eagle Pride model to work through any other details in the decision-making processes. You can find more information about Eagle Pride here. Eagle Pride is still our discipline model, but it has also shaped the experience that we want to offer our students.
Staff Support for Our Vision and Mission
Engaging staff in our systematic approach to support the district’s vision is a critical component addressed in our professional development plan. Our professional development plan engages staff in numerous ways. Staff reflect on current practice, develop new ideas, share with one another, and assist the administration in the decision-making processes. The staff at Milford Public Schools works tirelessly to ensure that our vision is supported and ultimately achieved.
Mission (and Vision) Accomplished
Schools can see their vision and mission realized when administrators provide systematic thinking to support their goals. Having a robust system in place for decision making is vital in guiding an organization’s vision. Bold leadership teams must be willing to hold each other and staff accountable to the vision and the decision-making process. At Milford Public Schools, our superintendent and director of learning are persistent in making sure that the building level leadership is leading in a way that is supportive of our district’s vision.
What are some systems that you have in place to ensure that you are meeting the vision and mission of your school district?
Cameron Soester is the assistant principal of Milford Jr/Sr High in Milford, NE. He was the 2016 Nebraska Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @csoester.