Vision is an important part of everything we do in schools. Without it, life in education can sometimes feel like a hamster wheel. But with it, you can better see day-to-day things for what they are and stay focused on what matters most.
Over the past decades, many schools have developed their own institutional vision statements in forms derived from business thought and management. These types of statements have certain standards and are useful in establishing a school’s strategic plan and rallying staff around a common belief. But what about the personal educational vision?
Should teachers just say that their own educational vision is to achieve the larger vision of their school, or is there room for individuals to have their own sense of vision, and if so , how to find and articulate it?
Having a personal vision is a major protective factor for teachers. It makes us more resistant. It’s something you can turn to when you feel like you’re constantly responding to things that are beyond your control. Most of us have one, of sorts, within us somewhere, but it’s rare that we ever need to articulate it. And because it’s not clearly articulated, it can get lost in the mix when things get busy or overwhelming.
Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People encourages readers to “start by thinking about the end”. Covey argues that developing a personal mission statement is an important determinant of an individual’s sense of growth and well-being and underpins long-term success. To make a personal mission statement, you first need to have a vision – a place to which you want your mission to lead.
So how do you find yours and how can you put it where it will be most useful to you? Here are some steps you can follow:
1. Ask yourself the question
Imagine that you are interviewed for a job and asked: âWhat is your educational vision? How would you react? This is not an unusual question in senior management interviews, but I think it’s a question that should be asked of teachers and future leaders at all levels. Not because there is a right or wrong answer, but because being able to identify and articulate a personal vision will make a teacher more effective.
2. Study what makes a good “vision statement”
When businesses and organizations write their vision statements, they typically envision a future period (usually a few years later) when an ambitious but inspiring goal will be achieved. McDonald’s, for example, sets out its vision of “becoming[ing] an even better McDonald’s that serves more customers around the world every day.
It’s helpful to take a look at a few sample vision statements, but articulating your own personal vision statement is very different from writing an institutional or corporate statement. It’s just a matter of inspiring yourself and imagining the kind of future you want your work to contribute to. Be honest with yourself. For most of us educators, part of our vision is to make the world a little better. What does it look like to you?
3. Consider other education visionaries
You don’t have to be the next Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Kurt Hahn, but studying great educational thinkers can be inspiring and can help you connect with the type of idealism that underpins what you do. Look for people who have something unique and compelling to say about education and what it really is. Whether or not you agree with them, it will help shape your own vision.
4. Think big
A vision statement is all about thinking big. Where do you want the world to be because of what you are doing? It’s different from a âmission statement,â which is more focused on how you’re going to get there.
5. Write it down and keep it in a visible place.
This is the crucial point. For many years, I didn’t care about this. I thought I had it in my head. But taking the time to write it makes it more tangible. Printing or writing it by hand and keeping it on your desk, or somewhere you’ll see it often, will help you refocus your attention on what really matters when you need it.
Coming back to the question of whether it is necessary to have a personal view of education – I believe it is. Can you pass your next grade 10 double lesson without one? Certainly. But if you have a bad lesson, an upsetting email, a complaint about your grading, or find yourself in a rut after a tough school week (which is an inevitable part of teaching), that’s one thing. precious to come back to.
It helps you remember why you are in it, and remind yourself that you, and what you do, are greater than all the negative things that could be going on. Revisiting your vision will help you refocus your mind and keep your eyes on the prize.
Daniel Koch is vice-master and professor of history at Bedford School