Thursday, December 19, 2013

If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else

In this time of dizzying change, I think this quote from Laurence J.Peter gets right to the heart of what we as teachers need to do TOGETHER.  There are piles of different ideas about what a Good School is in the Information Age, and even bigger piles of opinions about how to get there.  My personal belief is that, while school change should certainly be data-driven and evidence-based, there is no one right way for a school to innovate and adapt to the shifting realities.

This brings me to what I believe is the very cornerstone for any school - heck, any organization, period - that wants to be dynamic and successful.  A school needs a SHARED VISION.  That shared vision can be different for every school out there, but the faculty, administration - AND the students and parents! - in every school needs to know where they're going, or they'll "probably end up somewhere else."  For more on this, check out Peter Senge's book "Schools that Learn."

The shared vision is the map.  Do you turn left, right or continue on straight ahead?  That depends on where you as a faculty have decided you want to go.  Designing a new unit - maybe with the help of a PLC?  How does it fit with the shared vision?  Crafting a new school policy?  Does it move the school toward the shared vision?

A shared vision also creates unity.  We're in this together and we know what we're working toward.  This is who we are as a learning community.

Developing the shared vision - that can be the hard part.  At Vermont Commons School we've tried a couple of different things - the most successful of which was a weekend retreat in the late winter of 2012 that brought together teachers, students, parents, trustees and alum.  We used an appreciative inquiry process to pull out the aspects of the school that we value most.  We also asked ourselves what we wanted the school to grow into.  It was powerful weekend - and most of us walked away with a great feeling  - but on Monday it was back to the day-to-day, and we haven't heard much about the gleanings of that day since.

That's pretty typical for schools, I would guess.  If developing the shared vision is hard, then putting it into action is even harder.

So at the beginning of this year I decided to try it again - smaller scale and with a very specific focus. I posed a handful of questions to the faculty, who chatted about them in groups of 5-6.  The questions were open-ended ones like: "A school should teach . . . ," "A good classroom is one which . . . ," and so on.  Even if there's little consensus at first, it's a great thing for teachers just to think about these kinds of questions that get so lost in our day-to-day hustle.  In our case, there was incredible consistency in what teachers said, and when we were done I took all the feedback from my colleagues and made this Wordle:

I have to admit, I get goosebumps very time I look at it!

The specific focus?  To make sure this doesn't become just another feel-good activity that gets done and then forgotten, my plan is to print this piece of art as a giant poster to hang on the wall in the room where we have Faculty Meetings, Department Chair Meetings, and Professional Learning time. And I plan to encourage us to refer to it as we make decisions and discuss everything from the mundane to the big picture.  We should measure our actions, programs, policies and structures against it.  It's our compass and our map.

I'll reflect on how that's going in a later post.

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