Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Vision Thing

I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie anchor.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Why do we do what we do?
This is a question I keep asking myself as principal (and teacher). The answer, I believe, is rooted in our stated vision (and mission and values). It provides the road map for our school structures, policies, and how we engage in teaching and learning with our students.
A Definition
An organizational/school vision is based on possibilities - a desire for a preferred future. In the Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge writes,” A vision is a view of a desired future which is grounded in the past and present and is widely shared and accepted.” (Senge, 1990).
While many practitioners and researchers bestow the belief that, for leaders or organizations to be effective they must possess a shared and accepted vision, there are some who look at the “vision thing” (as quoted by President George H. W. Bush) with great skepticism and ridicule.
One reason for this is that many see vision statements as “pie in the sky” or cliche statements that have no personal meaning or understanding (usually formulated at a weekend retreat).  For many schools,  these documents become dust collectors - pulled out for the school inspections or accreditation. 
Perhaps we must be careful not to reduce strategic planning and visioning to a one-time fix-all solution to organizational/school challenges. I would argue that “visions” and strategic plans are evolutionary in nature and thus take time. Like Michael Fullan has suggested, 
...visions must not be formulated prematurely or they run the risk of becoming meaningless.  Visions die prematurely when they are mere paper products produced by leadership teams, when they are static or even wrong, and when they attempt to impose a false consensus suppressing rather than enabling personal visions to flourish” (Fullan). 
Indeed the most effective organisational visions align personal visions with those of the organization/school. As Peter Senge writes:
Today, vision is a familiar concept in corporate leadership. But when you look carefully you find that most visions are one person’s (or one group’s) vision imposed on an organisation. Such visions, at best, command compliance – not commitment.
Towards a shared vision
The idea of a "shared vision" has always been a powerful one.  As Peter Senge writes, 
A shared vision is a vision that many people are truly committed to, because it reflects their own personal vision (Senge, 1990).
The Role of Principal and Teacher
It is my belief that, regardless of who creates the vision, the principal has a critical role of initiator, promoter, and guardian. 
The role of teachers is equally important.  Teachers ultimately "translate abstract ideas into practical classroom application, and they can do this better when they are actively involved in developing the vision” (Lashway).
Animating our Vision
This year we have embarked on the process of animating our school’s vision by asking all staff to reflect on aspects of our vision (mission and values as well)  and how those values translate in to our everyday practices and assumptions.

This process becomes increasingly important as our school (and school system) chooses to  respond and adapt to the Ministry of Education’s proposed new “personalized learning” initiative. 

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