“Without a vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs)
Sometimes people think defining a school’s vision and mission are relatively unimportant, and can be done quickly. Wrong!
Developing the school’s vision and mission are two of the most important steps toward creating a successful program. Done well, they give clarity and direction for a school. A muddy vision or mission can help lead to continuing conflicts, and a school that has difficulty identifying priorities.
In this section, we examine:
- Developing a vision statement (including samples)
- Developing a mission statement (including samples)
If your school is extremely successful over the next three- five years, how will people describe your school? Think about the answer as you begin to develop the vision. Here are some samples:
- Our vision is to create a nationally known inner city elementary school that produces major gains in student achievement, and helps make the neighborhood in which it is located a much more pleasant place in which to live and work
- Our vision is to create one of the state’s most effective schools helping secondary student who have not succeeded in traditional schools, prepare for, and be accepted into, post-secondary education
- Our vision is to create an extremely effective k-8 rural school that not only produces very high levels of student achievement, but also helps train the next generation of rural teachers.
- Our vision is to create a k-12 school that is highly regarded for its academic excellence, and for its contribution in actively serving and improving the community in which it operates.
A vision is more than broad, flowery statements. The vision helps people understand how you hope others will view you, and describes some of your highest priorities.
This is how you would describe your school to others. The Northwest Regional Laboratory suggests that Charter Mission Statements might want to answer three questions:
a. Whom do you seek to serve?
b. What do you seek to accomplish?
c. How will you proceed (what methods will you use).
This means that a mission statement should include:
- Ages and other characteristics of students you intend serve,
- Curriculum philosophy and instructional approaches you intend to use
- An overall goal or two of the school.
- One or two special features of the school.
Here are some sample missions:
- Our mission is to help urban students who have not succeeded in traditional secondary schools prepare for work, active citizenship, and post-secondary, using a combination of classroom work and community internships
- Our mission is to help inner city k-6 students develop higher order thinking skills, peacemaking skills and leadership abilities in an environment of shared values of nonviolence, equality and unity, by using a combination of the Core Knowledge Curriculum and Direct Instruction
- Our mission is to partner effectively with the YMCA so that we help prepare middle school students to be responsible citizens, good workers and faithful family members
- Our school strives to be a racially and culturally diverse community of students, parents and staff, dedicated to creating a peaceful environment in each person is treated with unconditional positive regard and acceptance. Within such an environment, each student, k-12, will be empowered and inspired to reach his or her full academic, emotional, physical and spiritual potential (part of the Community of Peace mission)
- The LeCrescent Montessori Academy’s mission is to empower preschool through seventh grade children to unfold their potential as whole and unique persons, and through them create a peaceful world community.
Charter founders sometimes have found it challenging to decide who to involve, and how long to take, in developing vision and mission statements. Our general advice is that charter developers:
- Do some initial research in the community to identify unmet needs and wants, before drafting vision and mission statements. For example, if a relatively small community already has one or more Montessori elementary schools, it may not make much sense to propose creating another one. On the other hand, if a community has a number of families sending children to Montessori nursery schools, but there is no Montessori elementary school, such a school may well be viable. If a community has a significant number of students who are not graduating, this may well be a major unmet need that a charter could meet. Include interviews with key community leaders to get a sense of what needs they see as unmet.
- Based on your research and your own personal priorities, write a draft mission and vision, possibly with one or two other people who share your ideas.
- Include at least a handful of other people in reviewing, commenting and refining a draft vision and mission that one or two people develop.
- Establish a time line for developing the original proposal, including a time by which the vision and mission are completed. (Allowing a vision/mission discussion to go on too long can mean that other vital activities are not completed.)
It is not enough for a small group of people to create a vision and mission. Students, faculty and families need to understand a school’s vision and mission. The school’s faculty and board of directors should periodically review both the vision and mission statements. It may be that the school wants to alter one or both. For example, the highly successful Twin Cities Academy in St. Paul began by serving 6-8th grade students. Based on strong encouragement from families and students, TCA is opening a new high school in the fall of 2004. Some schools start off serving elementary students, and later conclude that they also want to enroll secondary students. Schools may also change their central curriculum or philosophy. If this happens, the school community might well want to change at least the mission, if not the vision.
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory’s Charter Starters, Leadership Training Workbook 1: Start-up, nwrel.org/charter/Workbook/cs_workbook1.pdf offers some sample mission statements and includes some discussion of how to create vision and mission statements.