School Visions: Superfluous or Helpful?

Vol. 14 No. 5

heads eletter Vol.14 No.5 vision copy

Here at ISM, a lot of our theory and best-practice advice comes from our focus on a school’s mission. We consider the school’s mission a statement of why the institution exists, a “filter” through which every decision must be run. Everything from scheduling to facility expansion to financial aid comes from how a school interprets its mission.

But many organizations have a “vision,” in addition to its mission. When a school already has its mission—its core focus and primary compass pointing the community toward the “ideal” learning environment—a vision feels superfluous, at least initially. Done correctly, however, a school’s vision articulates how a school will fulfill its root mission, making it an interesting (albeit optional) part of the school’s strategic plan and marketing strategy.

All school Boards of Trustees should develop strategic plan and a corresponding strategic financial plan. These plans tell the school stakeholders what the school’s immediate, five-year goals are and how the school will achieve those goals. These plans are rooted in the school’s mission.

For a simplified example, let’s say the Board believes that the school should focus on developing the portion of its mission that states that the school will teach its students to become “citizens of the world.” To do this, the Board would then describe exactly how it plans to develop that element of the mission.

Perhaps the Board plans to hire on three more foreign language teachers over the next five years, facilitate study-abroad opportunities, and extend additional accident insurance to international students so as to encourage greater enrollment. The plan would further discuss how to fund these increased expenditures, possible impacts on staffing and facilities, and other minutiae useful to you as the School Head—the person responsible for implementing the plan at a school-level—and fellow administrators.

The school’s vision would then come from this strategic plan, which is grounded in the mission. So, after our hypothetical school’s mission statement, a vision statement might include a summary of the various ways in which the school encourages “world citizenship” through study abroad, diverse faculty, and international student enrollment.

So a school’s vision might be broken into various sections for better detail, following the structure of the school’s mission. Schools can also opt for vision statements that follow broad categories like “Faculty,” “Facilities,” “Academic Programming,” “Athletics”—all of which would reflect how the school will use and shape each of these sections to further the school’s mission.

Notice that the school’s vision essentially comes from the mission, but is never crafted to replace the mission. Schools can have missions without a vision statement, but cannot have vision statements without a single, strong mission. If your school Board is tempted to use a crafted vision statement in place of the current mission, it should look first to strengthening its core mission statement rather than replacing it.

In other words, a mission is the school’s reason for existing; a vision is how the school will achieve that reason.

Finally, a school’s vision should be relevant to the community. For example, the vision of a school whose focus lies within classical education methods might not include incorporating excessive quantities of technology, unless such a vision directly increases the effectiveness of the core mission doctrine. (Again, a vision should not try to replace or revise the school’s mission!)

So take a look at your school’s current vision—or suggest to your Board of Trustees to create one—and see how you can use that vision to better serve your school’s central mission.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 10 No. 6 Does Your Mission Need Review?
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 10 School Spotlight: St. Margaret's Lives Its Mission Through edX MOOCs
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 12 No. 3 Your Financial Aid Formula: Does It Match Your School's Mission?

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 29 No. 8 Mission and Leadership: A Primer in Mission-Oriented Change Problems
I&P Vol. 30 No. 4 Managing Complex Change in Private-Independent Schools

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