Many principals and other school leaders believe it’s their duty to create a vision for their institution and to relay that vision to their staff. Many work extremely hard to craft meaningful and engaging goals for their community. Yet without a collective vision, one that is created and shared by both administration and staff, school leaders are likely to have difficulty moving the faculty in the desired direction.
When I taught High School I can remember sitting through a series of faculty meetings where our head of school led us through an examination and revision of our school's goals. For months we worked collectively to revise our mission statement. Throughout the process we discussed who we are and what we wanted to become. In doing so, we looked carefully at our students and our classrooms and we considered what we expected students to be able to do and the type of people we wanted them to become. Most of these faculty meetings were in the evening and they ran over two hours long. I can remember many a time when I was eager to get out of that room. At other times I was simply frustrated with what appeared to be wrangling over a simple adjective or a turn of phrase.
Yet, over time we gained a collective sense of what we wanted to become as a community. More specifically, we decided that we needed to become more sensitive and responsive to diversity issues. So, the next full-faculty professional development day was all about diversity. It might not have been everyone's first choice for PD, but there was a shared understanding that diversity was an most important issue for us to address as a faculty. As a result, even before that PD actually began, I understood its importance and knew that I had a say in choosing the topic. I could also sense “buy in” from my colleagues since we all had an opportunity to determine our school’s priorities.
At many schools I visit, the faculty have little or no input into the school's goals. Many school goals and initiatives are simply top-down directives. At these institutions, teachers are often unaware of their school mission (let alone embrace it). Building consensus around a mission is hard work for school leaders and it does take time. But, as Chris Lehman points out in Building School 2.0, “Without a clear philosophy of practice … any school will not know why they are doing what they are doing, and they will not know whether they are doing it well.” And if you don't know where you’re going, you’ll never know if you’ve arrived.