Vision, Pictures, and Stories - Steve Barkley

Vision, Pictures, and Stories

I had several recent opportunities to examine leaders’ roles in creating and communicating a school’s or district’s vision, while facilitating conversations among building level administrators who are examining their instructional leadership role in maximizing student achievement.

The Maryland State Department website, School Improvement,  states that:

The school principal is key in leading the process of creating the shared vision for the school.  The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) states, “A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by the school community.”

“A school that can identify its core beliefs and values has created an empowering framework for monitoring how well the school is doing and whether individual strategies and activities are aligned with the core values”. 

I facilitated a session at the ECIS Leadership Conference in Seville, Spain this week for heads of international schools. I was asked to organize their discussion of what it meant for a school to be mission driven. Here are a few of the slides I prepared to initiate a dialogue.

Signs of Your Mission/Vision/Beliefs

Which elements are easy to spot and confirm their presence?

Which elements are below the surface and require investigation to confirm their presence?

Considering Our Mission, Vision, and Beliefs

If I observed for days in your school, where would I see your message in action?

What might I observe that could be considered incongruent with your vision?

Where Do Gaps Exist?

Current Status –> Gap –> Vision

“Students and faculty learn what is truly valued in a school by observing what school leaders pay attention to.” (MD, School Improvement)  The stories leaders tell and the pictures they create are keys to the motivation of staff.

In an education week blog, Leadership 360, Become Storytelling Leaders,

Jill Berkowicz and Ann Meyers point out:

We need storytelling leaders to communicate what is happening in education. We need storytellers who can bring together the hopes of parents and the dreams of their children and the gifts of learning and joys of friendship into the experience of schooling.  We need generous storytellers who can let the success story in my school become the story of your school also. We need storytellers who can create a vision of the jobs that will be here in twenty years and excite our little ones about how to prepare for them. We need storytelling leaders who speak from the heart and soul of the work we have been called to do.

Over the last three years I have been working with the administrators, coaches, and teachers in Bismarck Public Schools  in North Dakota. Here are their mission and vision statements.

Mission: “All students will have the academic, social, and personal skills to be career, college, and community ready.”

Vision: “Together, we inspire a passion for learning, discovery, and excellence.”

Superintendent, Tamara Uselman,  gave a short presentation to two groups of staff, setting the stage for work we were about to do. Here are a few of the images she painted for staff to understand the mission and vision:


 –speak about their school as a good place. Students express that they are needed at school and they can cite the name of at least one adult who they are sure will connect with them on a personal level each day. They have the same mentor / leader / homeroom guide 6-8 and 9-12.

-eat healthy food, in healthy amounts, and have a personal fitness plan which they execute daily.

-demonstrate respect for self, others, and tools. Students have pride in their workplace and show care for it.

-demonstrate respect for authority and know appropriate guidelines for dealing with those who abuse their authority

-make positive interpersonal decisions and are taught to apply interpersonal skills by working in a collaborative setting. Students know their individual achievement supports preparation for collaboration. Students receive feedback on their individual achievement and on their collaborative contribution and both “count”

-voices heard and choices made when they do not know they are being observed show that our students like and respect themselves.

– express joy in school work and passion about their projects.

If you were a principal or instructional coach in her district how would you use Tamara’s images in your leadership work with teachers? Are the images and stories of your school’s vision available for conversations with staff, motivating where focus or changes are needed?

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