Your school has a vision statement - but do you?
Having your own personal vision statement for education can foster resilience, argues Daniel Koch as he explains how to develop one.
Published in the TES, 6 December 2021
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 the day-to-day stuff for what it is and keep your sights on what matters most.
Over the last few decades, many schools have developed their own institutional vision statements in forms derived from business and management thinking. These sorts of statements have certain norms and are valuable for laying down a school’s strategic plan and bringing staff together around a common belief. But what about personal educational vision?
Should teachers be content to say that their own educational vision is to fulfil the greater vision of their school, or is there room for individuals to have their own sense of vision, and if so, how do you find it and articulate it?
Having a personal sense of vision is a major protective factor for teachers. It makes us more resilient. It is something you can turn to when it feels as though you are constantly responding to things that are outside your control. Most of us have one, of sorts, inside us somewhere, but it is rare that we ever need to articulate it. And because it isn’t articulated clearly, it can get lost in the mix when things become busy or overwhelming.
Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People encourages readers to “begin with the end in mind". Covey argues that setting out a personal mission statement is a huge determinant of an individual’s sense of fulfilment and wellbeing and underlies long-term success. To make a personal mission statement, you need to have a vision first – a place to which you want your mission to lead.
So how do you discover yours, and how can you put it in a place where it’s going to be of the most help? Here are a few steps you can take:
1. Ask yourself the question
Imagine you are being interviewed for a job and you are asked: “What is your educational vision?” How would you respond? This is not an unusual question in senior leadership interviews, but I think it is a question that should be asked to teachers and aspiring leaders of all levels. Not because there is a right or a wrong answer, but because being able to identify and spell out a personal vision will make a teacher more effective.
2. Study what makes a good ‘vision statement’
When businesses and organisations write their vision statements, they’re typically looking ahead to a future time (a few years down the road, usually) when a challenging but inspiring goal will be met. McDonald’s for example, sets out its vision of “becom[ing] an even better McDonald’s serving more customers delicious food each day around the world".
It is useful to have a look at some examples of vision statements but articulating your own personal vision statement is very different from writing an institutional or corporate one. It’s only about inspiring yourself and imagining the sort of future that you want your work to contribute to. Be honest with yourself. For most of us educators, one part of our vision is making the world a little bit of a better place. What does that look like to you?
3. Consider other visionaries in education
You don’t need to be the next Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Kurt Hahn, but studying great educational thinkers can be inspiring, and can help you to connect with the kind of idealism that underlies what you’re doing. Seek out people who have something unique and compelling to say about education and what it’s really all about. Whether you agree or disagree with them, it will help you to shape your own vision.
4. Think big
A vision statement is about thinking big. Where do you want the world to be because of what you’re doing? It is different from a “mission statement”, which is more focused on how you will make it happen.
5. Write it down and keep it somewhere visible
This is the crucial bit. For many years I didn’t bother with this. I figured I had it in my head. But taking the time to write it out makes it more tangible. Printing it out or writing it by hand and keeping it on your desk, or somewhere where you’ll see it often, will help you refocus your attention on what really matters when you need it.
To come back to the question of whether having a personal vision of education is necessary – I believe it is. Can you get through your next double Year 10 lesson without one? Certainly. But if you have a bad lesson, an upsetting email, a complaint about your marking, or you find yourself in a rut after a challenging school week (which is an inevitable part of teaching), it is a valuable thing to come back to.
It helps you to remember why you’re in it, and to remember that you, and what you are doing, are bigger than whatever negative things might be going on. Revisiting your vision will help refocus your mind and to keep your eyes on the prize.
Daniel Koch is Vice Master and history teacher at Bedford School