This past week we began our leadership development program. It is a program that we offer every two years in the division and is open to our teachers. The significance of the program is twofold. First, with an aging administrative population (in which I am one) and minimal movement from outside the division, it is critical to “grow your own” future leaders. Equally important though is my belief that the required and long overdue transformational change in education will be best accomplished through strong teacher leaders. Teacher leaders challenge their own status quo and as a colleague of mine put it, “are passionate about pedagogy!” But their sphere of influence far exceeds their own classrooms because they also challenge their professional colleagues. And that is a main reason for their necessary involvement in the transformation agenda.
Our first topic was mission, vision and values. I’m honest that it tends to be a dry topic but stress that it is likely the most significant for leaders. Unfortunately, mission, vision and values of organizations have long been thought of a great “wordsmithing” activity where all of us become English majors! This short video had me rolling as I remember my first work with a mission statement and how I, a math and science guy came to think I was an English major too! Some of the greatest accomplishments for school mission statements were that we found someone who could do calligraphy, we framed them and then hung them in our entrances… seldom to ever be read by anyone!
In truth, mission, vision and values are the core of any organization if done properly. Mission articulates the purpose of the organization. It answers the question: Why are we here? Without knowing what our core purpose is we are easily carried by the wind in any direction. A mission statement is a covenant with the people we serve – it is a promise and it is crucial to deliver on that promise. Vision articulates what the organization is like when the purpose of the organization is fulfilled. It answers the question: What should the organization look like when it achieves its purpose five years from now? Vision as it suggests, is always looking into the future. Values are our belief statements and act as bedrock for all of our decisions. They ensure we align our actions with what we say we believe!
The development of these foundational statements and the further review calls every staff member to a standard of performance excellence. In other words, clearly articulated foundational statements guarantees that staff share an understanding of and a commitment to the instructional goals, priorities, assessment procedures, and accountabilities. They hold themselves and each other responsible to the mission, vision and values.
It would be unrealistic to believe that every staff member holds the same commitment to an organization’s mission, vision and values. But, this still needs to be the overall goal and teacher leaders must contribute through their work and sphere of influence. We cannot allow mediocrity to be our baseline when we have foundational statements that call us to the highest level of action. “It is daunting” as one of our participants reflected, but every employee must fully understand why we are here, what is our preferred future and what we value in order to raise the personal and collective commitment.
I’m looking forward to again working with another cohort of teacher leaders. It provides me an opportunity to engage in frank conversations and demonstrate my passion for education, for learning and for leadership. It allows me to challenge the thoughts and practices of the participants and for them to challenge all of mine too! Teacher leaders need to be able to see not only from the dance floor but also from the balcony. And the balcony view always begins with mission, vision and values.