Tips for Discovering the Mission and Vision of Your School

Principals, whether new or experienced, are often tasked with either affirming their school’s existing mission and vision statements or working with stakeholders to revise them. In some cases, these statements incorporate and represent the beliefs, values, ideals, and goals of the entire district.

During my early years as a principal, I struggled with understanding and utilizing mission and vision statements. Despite any knowledge I may have gained in my training, the daily challenges of the job left me feeling overwhelmed. As a result, the existing statements developed by the previous administration and displayed throughout the school held little meaning for me.

However, my perspective changed when a parent, whose child had a disability, posed a thought-provoking question: “Why does this school exist?” This parent had previously engaged in conversations with me, but I was curious about the motivation behind her question. Our discussion about the purpose of our school and our aspirations for all students allowed both of us to form a more profound understanding of mission and vision.

We determined that our school’s mission was centered around teaching.

Our vision, on the other hand, represented our shared beliefs, values, and specific goals. It encompassed the desired outcomes we wanted to achieve, along with the strategic plans to attain them.

Billy’s mother eloquently expressed her three expectations for the school: “First, I want my son to learn the basic skills that he will need to get a job someday.” She also emphasized the importance of him developing appropriate social skills to be a good neighbor in the future. Lastly, she wanted him to appreciate the finer things in life to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Her vision for her son resonated with any parent’s aspirations for their child.

Missions and visions

From my reflections then and now, I believe that the universal mission of every school is to teach. This includes academics, social skills, critical thinking, healthy living, and more. While we can use elaborate language to describe academic achievements, personal growth, virtues, or transformations, the core of it all remains teaching. I preferred concise, memorable, and personalized wording for our mission, shaped by the input of Billy’s mom.

When conveying the mission to my staff, we united around the core focus of teaching – academics, behaviors, social skills, and aspirations – in ways that were individualized and effective for each student. I encouraged my staff to reflect on their practices and question the purpose behind them. If an activity or approach didn’t contribute to teaching, we examined its value.

For principals, regardless of the wording of their mission statements, it is crucial to understand these two fundamental concepts:

Your mission is why your school exists.

Your vision is how you achieve your goals.

While mission and vision statements are often used interchangeably, they can drive the focus of your school community when they are well-conceived and meaningful. However, many statements fall short of being truly effective.

At my school, after establishing our mission of teaching, we turned our attention to fulfilling the expectations set by Billy’s mom in our vision. These goals remained consistent for every student, regardless of their starting point.

We personalized academics by incorporating rigor and teaching the concept of grit. Developing a schoolwide code of conduct focused on quality work, respect, safety, and kindness led to more effective and individualized approaches to teaching social skills and positive behaviors. Additionally, we infused the arts and extracurricular activities into all aspects of the school to ensure that no student became a couch potato, while also teaching the value and meaning behind these experiences.

I am forever grateful to Billy’s mom for helping us solidify our mission and vision. She enabled my staff and me to conceptualize our purpose, personalize our approach, and define our “why.” Parents joined us in rallying around these three expectations, which were concise, clear, and unforgettable.

I hope that every principal has the opportunity to encounter someone like Billy’s mom. When you do, make sure to listen, collaborate closely, and learn. Together, you’ll develop a profound understanding of your purpose.

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