Monthly Archives: August 2013

Vision for Learning

When I was preparing to be a school leader during my coursework, we were told how important it was to have a vision as a leader, one that highlighted collaborative leadership and demonstrated a commitment to student learning.  In my program, I matriculated through with a cohort of individuals, and we were charged, as a theoretical leadership team of a school to articulate a collective vision.  It was great to revisit it and see that although many of the mandates have changed since this was written almost 15 years ago (Yikes!), I still have a moral center or compass (as Sergiovanni would say) that strongly resembles the leader I had hoped to become.  Here’s the collective vision below:

Our vision for knowledge begins with knowledge of self.  With this as a foundation, we can develop knowledge of social, political, and economic developments within a diverse community.  By using inquiry skills, students will be able to construct higher-level learning.  We envision all stakeholders as learners.

We are all committed to the vision that students will achieve to their highest potential through effective instruction that is research-based and emphasizes individual goals in a variety of settings (school, community) and methodology.  Teachers will constantly strive to acquire more extensive knowledge through educational research and collaboration.

The members of the learning community will establish core values to create a positive, nurturing environment by making collaborative decisions about teaching based on the understanding of child development and a shared vision for teaching and learning. The members of the learning community will collaboratively develop a learning environment where no member will experience unnecessary pain, separation, and helplessness.  This will be accomplished through effective professional development, appropriate class sizes, and flexible organizational structures that allow teachers to interact with students on a more personal level. The role of the students is to develop the skills to be a life-long learner.

Teachers in our school advocate for student needs, expect high achievement from all, build upon students’ strengths through authentic teaching, and provide individual support for students.  In addition, teachers communicate and collaborate with families and other community groups to demonstrate the district’s commitment to our students. Finally, all teachers and staff will participate in shared decision making to implement what is best for each student in our school.

We believe that the number one priority in the role of curriculum development is authentic learning that is built on student interests and real-world experiences.  Teachers will be empowered to develop a curriculum that is challenging, integrative, exploratory, and inclusive. We will implement instructional materials through direct instruction and discovery learning that will provide students with real-world experiences while meeting standards.  Authentic assessment will be measured through portfolios and demonstrations. It  will be an on-going process culminating in the student’s proof of mastery.  Assessment of students and program will determine future curriculum.  In addition, Instructional Support Systems will be available to everyone within the learning community.

Through all of these areas, we will have students emerge as responsible citizens that will positively contribute to their community.

After writing this with my colleagues during that course, I recognized to a degree the importance of having a collective vision that would drive every action and reaction of the school leaders.  However, I think I underestimated the a) value of articulating something like this often to my faculty, 2) tremendous hard work it took to match every action/reaction with the vision, and 3) to continue to grow the vision so that it still would be a representation of all the good accomplishments all school employees wanted for students to experience.  Prior to serving as a school leader, I don’t think I was fully prepared to understand the nuances associated with creating the ideal school as listed above in the vision.  So many times as an administrator I heard from teachers that the administrators needed to be more focused on the vision and needed to explain how initiatives were contributors to achieving the vision, not just an add-on.  Articulating and revisiting the vision is probably one of the most thoughtful, difficult, but ultimately necessary tasks of a school leader.

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Why Lead? #SAVMP

Another thing I was unprepared for entering a school leadership role was being asked continuously why I had chosen to come to a particular school and assume an administrative position.  In my school leadership program (the one that I now oversee), I can’t recall having the opportunity to practice this answer.  Nor did I have an awesome new program like School Admin Virtual Mentoring Program (#SAVMP) to provide me with opportunities to articulate this concept.  To someone who always likes to be super prepared when I speak on a particular topic, questions like this in casual conversation, as a nervous new admin, always felt daunting and important.  However, being able to articulate why one leads (and act in accordance and consistency with that vision) is vital to building relationships and trust among members of the school community.

What I learned over time, though, was when asked this question, I just needed to speak from the heart.  I thought back to Thomas Sergiovanni’s book, Strengthening the Heartbeat, during which he outlines the importance of tapping into the lifeworld of oneself and the community as opposed to an organization being solely led by what he called the systemsworld.   In reflecting on Sergiovanni’s work, I recognized that I somehow had grown the abilities to build trust, which is the first and foremost needed element among a learning community.  After relational trust exists, everyone within the community can work towards a common goal: providing each child with the skills needed to succeed in whatever he or she chooses to do as a productive member of society.

Leading in schools, especially right now, can seem like a thankless task.  Those of us who choose these roles in school have many reasons for doing so.  Knowing that I had the ability to work with faculty to create a culture of relational trust among faculty, staff and students, plus a broad understanding of student learning, data analysis, organizational change and behavior,  and curriculum development made it feel as though the decision were out of my hands, that I were “called” to do this work.  It felt to be my duty, one that I relished, to serve students and a school community in that way.  Seeing students grow into responsible and productive adults (even some that I perhaps thought were at risk of not making it) and seeing faculty continue to grow as educators and leaders fueled me as a leader.  Getting to watching the continued growth of the students and faculty members I worked with was why I served as a leader in schools.

 

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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