After reading several comments about the challenges of creating and implementing a shared vision in a school, I saw the need to provide some very specific steps that could assist those who want to do this. First, you must have leadership that supports and models what your vision espouses. Many vision statements make a reference to “love of learning” and then fail to see the inconsistencies of access to school especially for secondary students. Years ago when I was a part of starting the Phoenix Program, a school within a school that emphasized technology focused project-based learning, I discovered that when students are supported in their love of learning the school doors need to be open much more than what a normal school allows: 8:00 – 5:00. As Principal, I had to figure out how to allow students access to the school during evening hours, weekends, and school breaks. I quickly learned that staff, students, and parents who truly loved learning could readily address this issue in a way that complied with school requirements for supervision, needs of custodians, and the reality that dedicated teachers must have time out of school. Parent volunteers gladly stepped up to provide support so students could access the school at all hours, any day, while students naturally assumed a higher level of responsibility. Students understand that demonstrating independent responsible behavior leads to more unfettered access and opportunity. Getting student buy-in and ownership comes quickly when leadership supports love of learning and the desire for more opportunity will naturally come from students.
I’m sure some educators would read this and think that it is a bit idealistic and might only work with the highest achieving students and schools with the largest budgets. However, if the leadership in the school as well as the teaching staff work to create a learning environment where each student is valued, virtually all students will aspire to take part in learning. What does it look like when the leadership and the teaching staff value each student? (A fellow educator recently reminded me of the essential first step. Thanks, Nick Parmentier.)
You first learn student names.
Of course, this isn’t too difficult in a small school with enrollment under 200. In a bigger school, I had to resort to studying the school yearbook. As a high school principal, I studied the pictures and names from the middle school yearbooks.
In addition, the Principal needs to spend as much time as possible in the halls, on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in classrooms.
Students appreciate being recognized. It was always fun responding to the student who asked, “How do you know my name?” The best response was, “I always try to know the important people.”
An effective leader applies the same principles to the adults in the school. Learning the names of the staff is not the issue; learning what they do and do well takes time. Walking in and out of classrooms may seem to be disruptive, but that is not the case. Teachers instinctively know the difference between snooper vision, walking around in an effort to find fault, and genuine interest in discovering the good things that are happening on a daily basis in the classroom and throughout the school.
The vast number of teachers who work hard to create positive learning environments enjoy having the Principal sit-in on their classes and love getting specific feedback regarding their instruction, organization, and interactions with students. Many teachers are not accustomed to administrators taking the time to see what is taking place on a regular basis. Paying attention to staff in this fashion accelerates the effort to create or support a system that values each individual.
People who have worked with me will often comment how good I am at remembering names. What they don’t know is that I am not good at remembering names, but I am very good at working at remembering names. In addition, what they don’t know is that I am a strong introvert. In one school, I often taught students how to use some personality inventories. When I showed them my profile, they could not believe that my strongest trait was that of an introvert. Being an introvert is no excuse for not learning the names of students and for not interacting with students in all parts of the school throughout the day.
I’ve included a sample vision statement with specific metrics for implementing a vision. Staff needs to further refine the metrics as to how they demonstrate effective implementation of these statements. Please note at the bottom of the vision statement you see a simple listing of Levels of Commitment. The listing is meant to be simple, but it is very important. Effective educators are those who have a high degree of commitment to each of these aspects of professionalism.
Another painful lesson I have learned is that too much time is spent trying to convince an uncommitted teacher how important it is to engage in activities to increase their involvement with professional growth in each of these aspects of the job.
It will drain you.
Spend your time with those professionals who want to grow.
Let me close with a simple tool for measuring leadership and commitment to valuing each person in your school. Visit the cafeteria look to see if the leader eats last. Pay attention to the number of educators who take time to interact with students at the lunch table. I always chuckle at the school administrator who butts in line because he or she is so busy and so important. Well everyone should be important and is important. A true leader goes to the end of the line.
At School each student will achieve excellence in academics, citizenship, and community life by recognizing and developing the unique potential each child possesses.
To make this happen:
- Each child is provided daily academic and personal interactions with staff members. All staff members share in the responsibility to assist students at any time during the school day and at all school sponsored events.
- The learning environment is adjusted to reflect the individual strengths and needs of each student. This is evident in the different assignments students receive and the additional assistance provided to students outside normal classroom hours.
- Staff will provide multiple opportunities for students to make independent decisions based on the student’s ability, commitment, and willingness to accept responsibility. Interactions between students and staff are based on mutual respect, trust, a sense of belonging, and individual worth.
- The multicultural composition of our school is reflected in the daily instructional activities, events, and individual expectations. Special emphasis is placed on the culture and heritage of our host country.
LEVELS OF COMMITMENT:
- to the school
- to the profession
- to the work
- to the work group