The De Facto Mission Statement

The De Facto Mission Statement
The De Facto Mission Statement

Board of Trustees

We’ve highlighted how vital your school’s mission statement is to the culture and decision-making processes in your school.

But there’s also another mission statement—the de facto mission statement. The de facto mission comprises well-understood—but rarely codified or written—sets of principles or practices observed throughout the school. If the de facto mission statement exists, it’s often because the institutional mission statement may have become a poor match with actual practice.

The difference between the written and the de facto mission may be without significant consequence. The parents appear satisfied, students appear content, teachers see this as a nonissue, and the Board seems uninterested in the discrepancy.

However, ISM does not recommend allowing this discrepancy to remain. As schools around the world face the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19, ensuring that your mission is delivered is more vital than ever before. If your school’s mission doesn’t match your offerings, there can be serious consequences.

The Implications of Mission Misalignment

For example, suppose your school has long practiced accepting students with various learning differences, while your mission statement is silent on “the students we serve.” Teaching and learning issues therefore abound, as do issues of financial resource allocation, parent education and communication, personnel planning and management, and administrative structure and function.

Perhaps your school has frozen the financial aid budget line, while your mission statement underscores your school’s “diverse student population” and your ability to deliver “affordable excellence.” This budget freeze has reduced or eliminated your capability to use tuition assistance as an enrollment management tool, despite the mission’s explicit diversity language.

These discrepancies, over time, can have a serious impact on your school’s viability.

Task a Committee With Change

If you find that your school has migrated to a de facto mission statement, it’s time to go back to the drawing board to better align your mission statement with your school’s actual practices.

Create an ad hoc committee to review your mission statement, looking for evidence of de facto discrepancies, additions, or both. This should be a School Head (not a Board) committee, since institutional mission statements focus on services to students (i.e., on operations) rather than on structures and governance. (As with any Head’s committee, the Head may request that one or more Board members serve. This does not convert the committee into a “Board committee.”)

This committee will follow a set of steps designed to analyze the differences between your mission and the benefits you offer to students. The hope is to spearhead organizational movement toward the existing mission statement. This is preferred to altering the mission itself, especially if the discrepancies between mission and practice are subtle rather than stark.

Final Steps

Once the committee understands the differences and creates recommendations for delivery change to ensure your school’s offerings meet its mission, use the recommendations created in your school’s future planning sessions.

Tell your school community of the committee’s work, its conclusions, and your intent to integrate the report into upcoming planning sessions. Also ensure that you tell your school’s faculty, staff, and parents of your plan to address the de facto discrepancies and to do so organizationally.

Your mission is what drives your school forward. Ensure you truly deliver what you promise, especially in uncertain times, so your school sends a cohesive and unified message.


Better Boards, Better Schools 

Serving as a Trustee is a privilege that carries a substantial responsibility. Learn how to lead your school with a mission-driven, student-centered approach based on 45 years of ISM research and experience working with private school Boards. Get the first chapter for free.



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