A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

I was recently in a district-level administration meeting where we were planning for the upcoming school year. As is typical in our district, this meeting was relatively casual. Participants freely brainstormed and spitballed ideas for professional learning, campus initiatives, curriculum focus, data points, student progress—you know, the foundational elements of school.

Director after director, principal after principal, pointed to percentages and reports, surveys and scores, calling out goals that would “surely provide a clear vision of where we need to move as a district.”

“Our reading scores could be better. This year we’ll increase 11 percent in standard 3.XYZ.”

“Our survey showed that our parents don’t feel a strong sense of involvement with our campus. We need more PTO involvement. We’ll create a Facebook page that will increase awareness.”

“We want to include STEM opportunities; let’s host an Hour of Code.”

“We want to be sure we’re using our technology; we need to find a program that will track our students’ progress.”

‘Whats’ the Goal?

At first glance, these suggestions do, indeed, provide parameters. A principal or teacher could take any of the above and apply that lens to focus efforts for the school year.

In that way, goals are the “whats”—the efforts, the tasks, the steps, the procedures. Goals take into account a snapshot of the end-product that can occur if the proper steps are taken. While many of us agree that’s a step in the right direction, “whats” typically compartmentalize efforts and building tasks instead of culture.

Education is the business of learning; we are not product-based, but instead, are people-, interest-, and demonstration-driven. As such, we all—regardless of community, economy, demographic, age or any other data point—are compelled by one factor: belief.

We are called to the business of education because we believe in the potential of people.

As professionals, we’re pretty darn good at the “whats.” We know our content standards inside and out; we can quote and demonstrate development theory and brain science, citing the rationale behind pedagogical best practices; we can disaggregate a seemingly jumbled and disconnected series of testing reports and pull a thread of continuity to see where students are struggling, then determine a plan of action to improve their learning experience.

These are no small feats. However, if our “whats” don’t have a “why”—if our processes don’t have a passion—we lack true vision and will, ultimately, fall short. We cannot go through the paces of performing our “whats” every day if we do not truly see the intention behind our work.

(Next page: 4 questions for developing your district’s vision)


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