Posted by: darcymullin | April 12, 2013

Clear and Compelling Vision…hmmm?

Spring is a funny time of year.  We still have almost 3 full months of school, but inevitably I begin working with one eye toward next year.

Our district has  moved toward inquiry in a big way.  We  no longer have traditional school growth plans, rather school are pursuing individual inquiries.  This year our question revolved around implementation of technology, but due to a number of issues beyond anyone’s control we have come to a bit of  a standstill.  That said, there is still a significant amount of learning going on in our school.

Our teachers are going deeper and interested in learning more about socio-emotional learning, collaborative problem solving, grading and assessment practices and of course there are always a number of staff involved (as leaders) in our which waydistrict’s SMART Learning initiative.  There are staff members interested in all of these areas, but of course some have a more of a vested interest in specific areas of study.

Through inquiry, we can allow teachers to pursue their learning in a way that is meaningful to them and in a way that is going to fit the context of their classroom.  For me, that’s where the rubber hits the road.  How can we apply what we are learning to enhance the learning and experience our kids have at school.  I want teachers (and students for that matter) to have a say in their learning.  I want them to be passionate.   I want them to be able to choose a topic of study that is going to benefit their classwork.

Back to the title of this post.

If we have teachers pursuing a variety of questions through a structured collaborative process do we have a clear and compelling vision in our school?  All of my study and reading on school leadership is clear.  High performing schools that embrace change and put kids first, make decisions through the lens of a clear and compelling vision.


I am struggling with this dichotomy.

By empowering teachers to have choice and allowing our school to pursue multiple inquiries, we give up on one clear and compelling vision.

If we restrict the number of inquiries  we are limiting the opportunities to learn, possibly reducing the engagement of staff, and more importantly not considering the context and specific needs of classrooms.

In the end, a large part of me feels that limiting opportunities for teachers to learn and create better, more supportive classrooms for our students is not the way to go.  It goes against conventional wisdom, but the field of education (after years of stagnation) is changing at an unprecedented speed and going against conventional wisdom may become the new norm.

I would be very interested to hear others thoughts on this question.



  1. Sounds like a false dichotomy to me, on a couple of levels. First of all, to try to distill even a few of the many important things you’re trying to do in the school down to ONE clear and compelling vision sounds impossible and foolhardy. On the other hand, “empowering teachers to have choice and allowing our school to pursue multiple inquiries” could certainly form the basis of real change, and sounds pretty compelling — if you had to choose one, you could do worse than that one.

  2. Hey Pal,

    The way we tackled this in our school was to create a set of 15 action steps that defined the core behaviors that we believed were important for developing the kinds of classrooms we believed in — things like, “Teachers will find ways to incorporate performance assessment in to their work” and “Teachers will separate work behaviors from academics in their grading.”

    Teachers and teams choose two statements to work on per year and then are expected to be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned to others. They are also expected to select new statements when they feel like they’ve worked one to completion.

    The statements are broad enough to allow plenty of avenues for the kind of inquiry that you talk about, but because teachers have to choose from the list, we create some of the focus that you’re talking about here. While it’s possible for teams and teachers to be working on different action steps — and to be polishing different solutions to the same problem — we know that they are working in a shared direction because they are polishing the core behaviors we defined in advance.

    Here’s a post about it:

    Hope this helps,

  3. I think both comments above are very helpful. This post sent me right back to my first exposure to Staff Development when I was doing my Master’s. The idea of professional teacher autonomy was sacred to me, but the evidence for the effectiveness of a common vision and goals was pretty overwhelming. I think the “umbrella” vision works well — as Bill outlines above, having an agreement on the basic vision (Tech, Math, Reading, all of which GHS has done and mostly done very well) and then letting staff pursue what they need to in order to improve their kids’ learning. One of the key principles of inquiry is that the question the inquirer is working on has to be directly meaningful and applicable to their work. I think teaching is so multifaceted that, if the staff works together on a common vision, each teacher should be able to find a question within that vision. Luckily, I think GHS already understands that very well.

  4. Hey buddy – one word keeps coming to my mind and that is focus. It is so hard to do everything well so I think focusing on a few key things and doing them well (as people have stated) may be the answer. Maybe it does not need to be OR – maybe it needs to be AND. By coming up with a clear vision, can staff choose paths that fall under this vision? I also think there needs to be some team/collab here so staff members are not inquiring on their own and will have the support of each other.

    This is just one, albeit key, aspect of professional learning but I think there needs to be some autonomy and alignment with a vision that staff are part of. Focus on this as a school and a staff. I know it is is so easy for me to swayed into a different direction (pick an area of education and I have likely bounced over to that area of reading) but in the end, I rarely get to a deeper level of learning. I look forward to teaming with staff to focus my learning so we can engage in deeper conversations as a learning community.

    Thanks for putting this out there… I don’t have many answers at this point (always a dilemma) but has been on my mind a lot.

  5. Hi Darcy
    Love the tension that you have articulated here. My take on this tension is that the vision has to be broad and engaging enough to allow for local autonomy and personalization. Once that has been accepted and shared, it is essential that the we, from time to time, test our actions to against the vision. For example, if our vision articulates “educating the whole child” – it is essential that our (teacher & school) specific actions and systems match the vision.
    Thanks for sharing and causing me to think about this again

  6. Thanks to all for taking the time to comment. Good advice all around. I’m still not sure where I sit. I’ll take some time and process your thoughts.

  7. It does seem like a bit of a dilemma. I have a foot in either camp too. Part of me recognizes the need for individualism and choice in order to foster something creative and motivational. Take for example, the heralded approach Google has taken in the past with allowing skunkworks projects (and maybe they still do this). Another part of me sees the importance of overall goals, objectives and mission statements. Dozens of individual success doesn’t necessarily mean the (or “a” goal) is achieved. Vision and direction are needed, especially in large institutions.

    I think the answer lies in the crafting of the goal and vision. If the year goal is super specific, such as “improve literacy through individual planning around students with learning disabilities” then staff will be shoehorned into some type of PD plan. On the other hand, a year goal that is more open ended and that can be approached on many levels would be “improve interactions with parents.” Staff could accomplish this in many ways: grading and reporting methodologies, communication methods, new classroom strategies that are written about and sent to parents, classroom web and access technology, reading programs that involve parents, etc. In other words, just about any kind of PD can fit into the year goal. It just needs to be stated, reflected upon and possibly tweaked to reach towards the desired end result.

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