Evaluating Your School’s Purpose and Goals

A well-known fact is that principals have many tasks to manage on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and there are often competing priorities for their attention. However, one task that is often overlooked is the thorough examination of the school’s mission and vision statements. As a school leader and mentor, I have observed that leaders often get frustrated when discussing the school’s mission and vision. How many of the words in these documents truly reflect the students’ experiences, and how many of the practices actually benefit the students?

Many administrators don’t give much importance to the mission and vision; in some cases, they inherit these documents and never bother to review them.

Missions and visions should not be a mere collection of educational terms that are popular at the time. If these words are not put into action through intentional efforts by the staff and monitored by the school leader, then they are no more valuable than “smart graffiti” on the school walls. They may look nice, but they don’t contribute to the school’s operations and culture.

“Smart graffiti” symbolizes a lack of clarity for the staff. They may follow certain practices without knowing the reason behind them, simply because someone said they should.

When new school leaders start their work, they often prioritize what needs to be done over what is already in place. I once had the responsibility of making changes in a school where “teaching and learning” was the proclaimed focus, but it was not actually the priority.

When my first-year principal coach advised me to work on the mission and vision first, I was more focused on behavior, instruction, and parents. However, my coach was absolutely right; the mission should be the foundation of a productive learning organization. As a mentor, this is where I begin my work with new principals. Without a clear and understood direction outlined in the mission, there will be confusion at best and chaos at worst.

5 Steps to Enhance Mission Statements with Impactful Actions

1. Conduct a comprehensive review of the action words: Often, mission statements are crafted with ambitious educational jargon, but there may be no evidence of these goals or practices being implemented in day-to-day instruction. A leader and their team can analyze each line and identify the most effective practices and objectives. This analysis should help the team examine the school’s practices and evaluate what happens on a daily basis for teachers and students.

2. Form a diverse team of stakeholders: The team should honestly assess whether the mission delivers what it promises for the students. This approach is necessary because educators often rely on context to shield themselves from the reality that things are not as they seem. In my experience, I often take a straightforward approach to what I observe. The data collected from this assessment will provide an honest look at the experiences of students and teachers, as shaped by the school’s instruction and practices.

3. Revise and rebuild: As the team analyzes the collected data, they should decide which areas of the mission need strengthening, adjusting, or removal. It is important to involve the leadership, staff, and students in this process as honesty will build stronger relationships. The results should be shared with the entire school community.

4. Foster collaboration in finding solutions: This sharing of results provides an opportunity for collective action and shared responsibility. Honest reflection on the school’s operations and how they align with the mission and vision can bring the school community together. However, if blame is solely placed on the teaching staff for the mismatch between words and experiences, it can fracture relationships. It requires skill and leadership to take responsibility for not creating the conditions necessary for learning.

5. Create the conditions for change: Once the sharing, identification, and strategizing are complete, it is important to support the development of a new approach to how students learn under your leadership. This requires clarity, clear expectations, and most importantly, building the capacity of every stakeholder to bring these new expectations to life. Nothing extraordinary happens in a school by chance; leaders must actively develop and support these expectations. Simply displaying “smart graffiti” on the walls that tells teachers what they should be doing is not leadership; it leads to confusion.

I always ask principals, who is your ideal student? If students go through their entire educational journey in your ideal learning environment, what kind of learners and citizens would they become? What would they be capable of achieving? What would they be prepared to do after graduation? This is your vision; the mission is the pathway to achieving that vision. As a new principal, it is crucial that before you start “fixing” what you believe is holding your school back, you ensure that the mission truly reflects what the school produces.

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