Building a Shared Vision Part 1: Where To Begin?

Destination Matters.

This is true with schools, too. Our destination should be more than just the work we do: taking attendance, direct instruction, providing practice, reviewing and assessing work, providing feedback, etc. Why are we bothering to do this work? For that matter, how do we know this is the right work to do?

We can answer those questions if we work with our staff, students, families, and community to create a shared vision. A vision tells us what our desire outcome is and a shared vision has a lot of buy-in, because a large cross section of people connected to the school were involved in creating it.

A Vision Building Process That Works
This post describes the beginning of a process I like enormously. I like it because it is quick and dirty: it can be accomplished in one or two afternoon or evening meetings. And I like it because it gets right to the crux of the matter: what is our preferred future for the children we care about and what do they need to be doing right now so they can get there?

This is the same process that was introduced early in the implementation of MLTI.

In the spring of 2002, eighteen regional meetings were held around Maine in support of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). Each school sent a shared leadership team (a teacher leader, building principal, and technology coordinator). Hosted by the nine Exploration Schools of the MLTI, these meetings were designed and facilitated by Bette Manchester, Distinguished Educator at the Maine Department of Education, and members of her Design Team for Curriculum and Professional Development (I was involved in a couple of those, and have used this process with diverse groups since). Educators from all of the 239 MLTI schools attended the meetings.

Out of these meetings came both a statewide vision for the future of Maine’s students, including defining the role of technology in that vision, and a replicable process for building a shared visioning back at their own schools.

Who To Invite
The place to start, of course, is to think about who to invite.

It is important to have as many people as you can physically accommodate, and to have as broad a cross section of participants as you can. At a minimum, you should have representatives from administration, the staff, students, parents, and other community members. And don't just invite the historically “supportive” people. A shared vision is a powerful tool precisely because it is shared, because it has broad approval. And when people of all perspectives are represented in that work, it is a very strong document.

The process will involve individual, small group, and large group interaction, so I'd recommend a venue with tables for small groups, rather than rows of chairs, or “theater seating.” You will need name tags, individual writing materials (pens or pencils, and scratch paper should be fine), chart paper, masking tape, and markers.

You should think about who will be attending and how you might want them grouped. At the MLTI meetings, participants were broken into groups of 6, including complete teams (Teacher Leaders, Principals, & Technology Coordinators) in the same group; we wanted the local shared leadership teams working together.

Once you have everyone at the meeting, the first half of the process is called, “Where will they be?” and focuses on the preferred future we have for students we care about. This will be the focus of the next post…