The Mission and Vision as Invitation and Declaration

Does your school or school district have a mission and vision statement?  Easy question, right?  I'm guessing the answer is yes.

How important are they?  Could you recite both?  Are they used daily to direct, guide, develop and create learning opportunities for kids?  Given that too many mission and vision statements are written for Web sites, and are completely predictable, what value do they have? Are they really that important? 

The answer:  yes, they absolutely critical.

The first step in understanding why is understanding the difference between the two.  The mission statement is timeless, and it describes what your organization wants to accomplish.  For schools, a simple mission could be to promote the development of literate and participatory citizens.  It's that simple, boom.  Nothing more, no "4C's" or independent learner, or worse, the mention of developing workers.  A school's mission is just that, it's the reason for existing, it's the foundation, it was true 20 years ago and will be true 20 years from now.  It's the organizations north star.

The vision, on the other hand, represents how the mission is actualized.  It's what you do right now to realize the mission.  It shifts, it changes in response to the conditions of the world.  While the mission is bedrock, the vision is fluid.  It's necessarily agile and responsive.

An example will help.  When I starting teaching biology in 1986, my mission was to develop students that could pick up a Sunday newspaper and be able to understand the biology and science in what they were reading. When I left the classroom 15 years later, the mission was the same.  However, how I went about achieving that was very different.  My vision changed as the result of gaining teaching experience, new lab techniques that had emerged, opportunities connected to learning beyond school that were now available, and the influence of technology and access to the Web, among other things.  I could do different things, so could my students, and how we proceeded towards fulfilling the mission took a different path.

It's my opinion that a vision statement shouldn't actually be a statement, but a declaration of the student experience required to achieve the mission.  It's actually a set of statements that describe the range of conditions and opportunities that students can expect to experience as a learner.  For example:

  • In our school, students have choice in how they represent their knowledge and understanding.
  • In our school, students experience a variety of learning environments from individual to collaborative, from academic to social, and from analog to digital.
  • Our school is a centering location for learning and students can expect to participate in learning opportunities beyond school that engage them in the limitless opportunities that the world offers.

And the list goes on...

It's been my experience over the past several years that very few schools have a vision that is portrayed in this manner.  In fact, very few schools can produce a description of the student learning experience that is guaranteed by the school for every child.  And they're schools!

When I ask for a description of the student learning experience, I typically get handed a curriculum manual.  Ah, that's not what I was looking for...

So, back to my statement about mission/vision being critical.   Your mission represents why you exist and what you believe in.  When engaging in the work of school, the following question must be asked:  "Does this reflect who we are, relative to our mission?  If yes, good.  If not, then why do it?  

For the vision, a representation of specific beliefs and behaviors that focus on what students will experience as learners and as people nuances the mission into actions that can be lived everyday and in every classroom.  Those statements provide a framework for what happens on a day-to-day experience and provides teachers with the necessary focus and direction to create learning experiences that support the manifestation of the mission.

Considered together, the mission and the vision are an invitation into learning.  They are a both a declaration of the intent of the institution and a celebration of what will take place at school.  Together, they provide the timeless direction and a responsive pathway for schools and for learning.