Monday, 25 July 2011

Building a Shared Vision

Vision.  What is your reaction to this word?

Is it negative?  Perhaps you have been involved in vision-building activities that never really made a difference in how your organization functioned or in your results.  Perhaps your organization, like many others, failed to live by its vision once it was created.

Effective leaders engage people throughout the organization in building commitment toward the shared vision that becomes the guiding force for all action.  A great example of this is schools that have established a vision of an unyielding commitment to ensure that all students meet local standards.  The vision drives all behaviours and informs all of the school's operations, structures, and allocation of resources.  Another example is schools that envision themselves as providing the best quality instruction, without exception.  Again, the vision shapes what the staff does, including making sure every teacher is supported to learn and carry out best practice and use ongoing analysis of data and results to find out what is working and what needs to be changed. 

Many organizations have vision and mission statements.  Most visions, however, are not shared visions.  They are imposed on others by the head of the organization or a group of people at the top.  These visions are not effective long term because they "command compliance - not commitment" (Senge, 1990).  A shared vision is different.  A shared vision incorporates individual visions, engenders commitment, and focuses energy.  As Senge (1990) says, "When people truly share a vision, they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration.  Shared visions derive their power from a common caring".

Kouzes and Posner (2002) suggest that leaders inspire people to come to a shared vision that is appropriate for them based on carefully considering how future trends will affect them and what reputable people are predicting about their business in the next 10 years.  As leaders, you must look at this future and help to build a shared vision based on that.  Schools that have visions based on old trends and data from prior decades are going to be locked in the past. 

Don't confuse vision and mission.  Vision is knowing where you want to be or what you want to become.  It includes tangibles, as well as intangibles, such as virtues and the culture you that you want to surround you.  Mission is your reason for being and the work you pursue to realize your vision.  Your mission guides your actions to achieve what you envision for yourself and your organization. 

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press


  1. I understand the disconnected feelings that can build within an organization when a vision is imposed on an organization instead of created with the organization. This has been one of my experiences in the past. The vision did not connect to any of my beliefs or values and no one asked me, so I felt overlooked. There are instances where our school vision, already established, is given to us-not created with us. The ideal situation, although not realistic, is to revisit and build the vision with staff each year. A vision requires a timeline so that the process of change can be given the time needed to be successful. So, for example, if a school brings in two or three new staff members a year after they have set their Vision Statement, then to build another vision or add to it may change the course of the shared vision. How do we help the new staff feel that they are an important part of building, establishing and working toward that collective vision? Will the new staff members feel close to and be motivated by the vision set by others. Erica Olsen, in a short yet very effective YouTube clip, describes how to set a vision and discusses the difference between Vision and Mission. Yes, when you are given a vision which you did not help to build or establish, then the motivating factor or ownership is missing. This could possibly slow down the organization's movement toward the vision because there are a few new members who were not part of the building process of the vision. Once we have collaboratively set a vision for our organization/school, how do we invite new staff to feel like they are a part of that goal and ask them to join our mission?
    Watch Erica Olsen describe Vision vs Mission and how to build a Vision Statement. Search "How to Write a Vision Statement That Inspires". (If the link does not work, please go to you tube and search her name)
    Thank you

  2. Athena loopstra25 July 2011 at 06:55

    Daniella brought up our attention the challenge of how to best involve new staff in a vision that has been previously set. Perhaps one way is to authentically ask for the new staff to provide feedback and to engage in a discussion during which the new staff are free to explore and discuss their thoughts and possible concerns with the vision, and how that vision reflects and impacts their own practice.

  3. I agree with Daniella's suggestion that new staff members need to be brought into the vision and engaged in the discussion. I also believe that part of the work of new employees is to seek out the vision and to incorporate it into their daily work. In fact, knowing a school's vision should be something that teachers inquire about and research before applying to the school, much in the way that an employee in the private industry would research a company before applying for a position.
    The leaders of the school do need to keep the vision front and centre and can do so not only at meetings, but also in weekly memos, conversations and by modeling it during interactions with staff, students and parents, When staff members see that the leader is truly authentic in the way s/he holds true to her/his vision, they will have the opportunity to embrace it!

  4. Vision is so important to move forward. I know what it can be like when the vision is "too old" and no one truly knows how to move forward. You keep doing the good things you know to do, but don't move forward. In the idea of the flywheel, it is like everyone pushing/pulling in their own direction. With a common vision you all push/pull towards the same goal and together you can move forward.

    When you come into something new you would want to see what they are already doing and see what the current vision is. I feel then you can work on or tweak the idea to move another step forward.

    K. Ko

  5. A vision is very important to guide the organization and all of a leader's decisions. Ideally it would guide all of the staffs' decisions. Specifically in our Board the vision guides and connects the focus and therefore work of our large organization. What I wonder sometimes, is whether all staff in our schools are truely understanding of our Board vision and how important this is to the making of all decisions. Is it enough to know that there is a Board Vision and are staff committed to this same vision? I was recently thinking about the idea that one goal is to support all of the people in our organization to be leaders in some capacity and for there to be opportunities to share leadership roles. In order for this to happen there needs to be further professional learning and support for understanding not only what we are doing but why we are doing it(our vision). Also the idea of involving all stakeholders in the development of the vision is important but developing it yearly would not be effective in true application, understanding that a vision takes time to achieve. Yearly (SEF)goals to support the vision would need to be set. As a leader it will be important to continuously follow the shared vision for our Board but in addition, it will continue to be important to educate and support a strong understanding of this vision for all parties involved.

  6. I found it interesting how Richard described the difference between a mission and a vision. He helped remind me of how important it is for a leader to not only ensure members of the team are part of the creation of the vision, but that educators continue to feel they are part of the mission (the work) to meet the goals of the vision. This continued effort will require many informal conversations, check ins, and motivational conversations. I would imagine a leader would need to spend time with staff to have planning, and reflective conversations with each staff member. The power of a reflective conversation will ensure staff continue to feel like they are contributing towards the goal.

    I'm wondering.... If the mission is the work and the vision is the goal, are school improvement plans considered a mission or a vision?

  7. I tweeted about this. Thanks for a thoughtful read.

  8. "Effective leaders engage people throughout the organization in building commitment toward the shared vision that becomes the guiding force for all action."
    It would be good to hear about experiences that helped to build the commitment toward a vision. How was it done? What were the little things that made the difference? How were back benchers involved? resistors? What processes were used?
    I was fortunate to be a part of the Direction 99 work from beginning to end in the building of the Board Mission, Vision and Values. Commitment building through inclusive practices was paramount. Leadership functioned more as facilitators than 'leaders' in collaborative processes. There was a real excitement that developed over time and with that, came commitment.
    School Improvement Plans are essential, but tables and charts and nuggets don't inspire me. The language of a vision and a mission needs to transcend the everyday, to connect our heads and hearts in a common purpose.

  9. Looking at an entry plan for an administrator moving into a school with an entrenched staff, you must take the vision into account. Not only the vision of the admin but also the vision of the staff. There are schools where there is not a lot of movement and staff can assume attitudes of attrition. They will outlast the admin because the principal will be moved in 5 years or so. How can a new administrator move into the building and develop a shared vision without it seeming “top-down”?

  10. I liked the practical nature of the Olsen video thanks for posting it Daniella.
    I have been thinking about revisiting the vision at the school that I work at and that was very helpful.
    To be honest, when I envision the meeting where I have staff do this, I can almost see the eyes of certain staff rolling.
    I like the idea of looking at what the future needs of our students will be. Envisioning what their future as learners, adults and employees will look like. I think the idea of working in small groups is also key to encouraging involvement and accountability of all staff to the process. At the school I am at, we participated in a similar exercise within the last 18 months however with the outcome being that this was to help us to determine what knowledge, attitudes and skills would be necessary for 21st century learners. I think that we could take the brainstorming that we had come up with and revisit it (add to it) with the end point this time being a vision statement. This would allow for input from our new staff and would allow us to re affirm our commitment to what we do. I like this because it honors the work that we had done at previous meetings (I think that staff members often feel we just toss aside these efforts and move on) and it allows the new members to participate while at the same time coming together as a staff to focus on our common goals. This is very forward thinking...I think that we have at times gotten so caught up in the how that we lose sight of the goal. Thanks to all of you for your comments, it has really allowed me to get my head around this process in a way that does not have to be cumbersome and which can support what we are already doing. I really think that it is important to have that vision front and centre at all times once it is determined as we need to ensure that all stakeholders not only are aware of it but that they can articulate it as well.
    Thanks for listening to my ramblings as I work through this for the fall.

  11. "A shared vision incorporates individual visions, engenders commitment, and focuses energy." I can see how this type of vision would be based on commitment rather than compliance but incorporating individual visions can be challenging. Especially, as some people have discussed, when new staff join the school. I wonder if the process of developing a shared vision begins with a stated vision by the school leader(s) that are based on the future needs of the students? This initial vision can then be shaped by and with the staff -incorporating their individual visions as well - in order to arrive at a shared vision. So often we hear that an effective school leader needs to have a clear vision. At the same time, this should not become the school vision but rather part of the process in developing a school vision.

    I have seen situations where new administrators have come into schools and stated their vision and the manner in which it was done seemed like an imposition of their vision on the staff. Although the staff was happy to hear what the new administrator's vision was - they felt that the work they had been doing for years was now being disregarded. Many of the staff members had difficulty buying into this new vision.

    I also know of administrators who have wanted to develop a shared vision with their staff but were uncertain of how to go about doing this. Some administrators are more comfortable than others with facilitating this type of process. I wonder what supports they can access for this process?

    @Idilworth commented on the rolling of eyes from some staff when the school vision is revisited. I wonder if this comes from past experiences where they engaged in these activities but felt their voices were not heard? Or, could it be that they don't see the importance of having a school vision?

    In the end, I think this discussion about a shared school vision is closely intertwined with the discussion of change. I feel that if we believe change is a process then the process needs to begin with establishing a shared vision. Then, as the reading suggests, the vision can help shape the decisions made and change will begin to take place.

  12. I was lucky enough to be a part of a new staff and "open" a school. My principal recognized the importance of establishing a clear vision (and mission statement) for our school and enlisted the input from all staff. A smaller group of us on the leadership team used this input to generate our school's Vision. Once we had developed what we thought was an accurate representation of the staff's ideas though, we shared it with the staff before posting it to ensure we did in fact get it right. I found this process very rewarding and I know the staff felt the same because they knew their ideas were used. In this way they aren't merely'complying'.
    What is missing though - and I'm pleased to see that a number of others have mentioned it already - is the regular and purposeful re-visiting of the Vision by subsequent staff. While some may feel this task is unrealistic or labour intensive, I think it would be worthwhile. Remembering how empowered I felt in helping create the school Vision, I can imagine the momentum and positive culture that would develop should this become an annual undertaking.
    Like Nadia, I too see the connection between change being a process and developing and maintaining a school's vision being a process too. That being said, I don't feel it is necessary to completely overhaul the Vision each year. But I do think that as school goals change so should the Vision.

  13. I have been in a number of secondary schools in YRDSB over my career to date and have seen as high as a 30% turnover in staff annually. For schools with an avergae of around 100 teacing staff this turnover is very significant when you consider the discussion around keeping everyone feeling part of the mission and having a common understanding of the school vision. It is hard to maintian a common vision if there are 10+ new teachers/staff each year. Often the new staff are too busy trying to learn the ways/culture of the new school and deal with the day to day activites to really focus on the bigger picture. (Can't see the forest for the trees; when you're up to you armpits in aligators, it's hard to remember you were trying to drain the swamp; etc,...) All of this suggests the leaders in the school need to make an extra effort to welcome new staff and help them to understand and become part of the school vision. And, of course, this cannot be a one-time effort - there must be constant, gentle pressure and affirmation to support the on-going work towards the vision.

  14. When I did my reflection, I thought about the times when I taught in class, having students participating in some "visions" and "decision making" processes is a good strategy to engage students and results turned out to be great for most of the time. This concept can also be applied to school management setting. Shared vision could be a motivation strategy for administrators to employ.

    Sometimes the top-down approach may be appropriate, but the shared vision strategy does create more senses of belongings.

  15. When administrators establish the shared-vision, it is also important to explain to staff the rationale behind all these work. People's actions are guided by what they believe and what they know. Even though administrators know "that's the right way to go", some staff may also question "why having us on-board? I am busy enough....". When all staff are ready to make some changes, mutual consent will become catalyst in the entire process.

  16. So what if you are seeing the vision and no one else is? Is your strategy going to be: Everyone will come around, they just don't know it yet; or Drop my vision, let's hear what everyone else has to say.

    The problem is, sometimes leaders think they're right, due to the fact that they have the title of leader. But a true leader is only a follower of the people he/she leads. It is possible that a leader has certain goals or a vision he/she wants to accomplish. The way to accomplish those goals is to present them to the people he/she leads in a persuasive manner with facts, details, arguments etc. It is for the people to judge whether or not this is a vision they will collectively espouse.

  17. I liked Jamie's anecdotal story of creating a shared vision with staff. Jamie also commented on the importance of revisiting that vision over the years, as staff changes in a building. I wonder if revisiting can also mean revamping? I think that the world is in a constant state of flux, things change all the time, so why can't a vision? Thougths?

  18. Looking back at the high school scenario with a staff 3 to 4 times as large as most elementary schools I feel the process of revisiting the school vision is still important but how you go about accomplishing that obviously would take on a different approach. I'm thinking perhaps giving each staff a copy of the vision prior to the first staff meeting, along with any pertinent info/data that informed its creation - or that will lead to its subsequent revamping. That way, staff new and old have a reference for guiding their decisions around the vision's strength or need for change. Whether that change means a simple "tweek" or an entire revamp depends on a number of things such as staff, student population/demographic, scores/data etc. As Safina mentioned, the world is constantly changing (and do our schools change along with it)so should the vision.

  19. I am very fortunate because a strong vision does exist at my school. I attribute this to the very strong and intentional leadership of my principal. It is also a shared vision - at least 90% of the teachers, if not more, would be able to articulate that focussed, intentional literacy instruction is the core of our "business" (Reeves: 90%implementation). Parents and students know this to be so too. There is nothing extraneous to this vision introduced to the school, no initiatives taken on, that do not build on our instructional core. This focus does indeed "drive all behaviours and informs all of the school's operations". It becomes easy to decide whether or not to do something differently or to incorporate something new. One asks the question, "Does this improve and/or inform our (literacy) instruction?", and if the answer is "no", the idea is ditched. Zero interruptions to the literacy block, zero interruptions to instruction (e.g., no "holiday" celebrations/recognition) timetabled literacy coaches, common preps and one period per week (staggered across the school) for moderfated marking
    or CASL, very close monitoring and school-wide support for students who are identified or who are at risk - all this contributes to a strong and shared vision. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to observe and be a small part of this vision. It has clarified and consolidated my own vision - to continue and build upon it in order to best serve students and teachers.

  20. Interesting to read all the comments! While I understand the need for a "shared" vision, I also wonder how it would be possible for staff to not commit to the Board vision and therefore to a school vision that supports that. Surely
    the vision of all educators must be to improve student achievement? So, while I do see the need to not "impose" a vision, I also think that there are times when a leader must take a stand and, strong in the knowledge that his/her own vision either incorporates or extends the vision of the organisation, conduct business according to that vision. I hope that makes sense and I'd love to see my colleagues thoughts in response.

  21. @Lynne,
    I agree with you that there are times a leader needs to take a stand. I've seen scenarios where an administrator is assigned to a school that seems to lack a vision - either it's fragmented or everyone has their own vision but a shared one has not been developed. In these cases, the administrators did take a stand and articulated a vision that supported the Board's vision regarding student achievement and literacy. At first there was some resistance from the staff - but when they saw the admnistrator was unyielding in his vision and beliefs, was willing to listen to them, and was willing to engage in conversations that would lead to a shared vision - they came around. Consequently, a strong, shared school vision was developed over time that provided the school with a focus and direction and unified the staff, students and community. I think the key in these cases was open communication, transparency, a willingness to listen and collaborate while at the same time having high expectations of both teachers and students.

  22. Strong and shared vision is vital. I totally agree. Perhaps this is why there seems to have been more formalized "leadership teams" in schools being developed. The greater the number of staff that appear united to the others, the greater the sense amongst an entire staff that this vision is worth investing in.

  23. Athena Loopstra29 July 2011 at 09:56

    Nadia asks how it would be possible for staff NOT to share a vision of student achievement, and I agree that I would think and hope that educators would all support this goal. If the focus and conversation is always directed at improving student well-being and achievement, then the debate is not about the vision, but may involve discussion about how to best implement the vision. When discussion starts to stray from being student focussed, my experience is that staff are actually expressing fear and uncertainty, rather than opposition to the vision. Sometimes a good leader needs to carfully listen to what staff are saying and glean their real, deep-rooted message is, rather than what may be said on the surface level.

  24. A strong and united leadership team is important in moving the school vision forward. The challenge is how to ensure that everyone feels they are a part of the leadership team in some way so that you don't end up with an 'us' and 'them' mentality on staff. This came up in our previous discussion where some people commented on how some staff are selected for all of the learning opportunities and eventually the others don't volunteer any longer and/or lose interest. If the vision is shared by all staff members then it may be the leadership team that makes decisions based on this but everyone is welcome to be part of that decision-making process so that the shared vision doesn't become something remote for the rest of the staff. If everyone owns the vision then everyone needs to be part of the work to move it forward - it may be that those on the leadership team lead the way but everyone feels they are part of the work that is happening.

  25. athena loopstra29 July 2011 at 10:00

    For those of you who are already in the P role at a school, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the relationship between establishing, implementing, and maintaining a vision and school focus and the fact that principals are moved frequently. From my perspective, I wonder if it is frustrating to leave a school after 4-5 years, or if you find this enough time to cocreate and implement and school focus.

  26. @Dave Williams referred to a situation that is real for me at my school. The staff is entrenched and there are few, if any, new staff members. Anyone who is new is usually and LTO and are considered not to count in terms of forming a vision and planning the mission! You are so right to note the challenge faced by leaders who walk into a school where the staff is always going to outlast the administrator and they just ride it out until the next leader is assigned to that school. I find that this creates apathy and stunts growth. Everyone is comfortable and sees no reason to make any changes. It is a very tough situation! It's a good point that you raise, Dave, and the best idea would be to re-visit the current plan and request an analysis of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the current plan! It can generate a new energy if the plan can be re-vamped or refreshed using the ideas of staff! A fresh vision - not necessarily changed- fresh, could motivate the mission!

  27. I just re-read the original posting. I can't see anywhere in the posting that it is the leader's vision being spoken about. In fact, it seems that the posting is speaking about how the leader supports the cooperative building of a shared vision and then supports the actions that come out of it.

    Many thanks to all of you for your comments. They encouraged me to re-examine the original posting and see it in a very different light.

  28. @anonymous, I also went back to re-read the original post and realized that I did not comment on the idea of embedding current education trends in the shared vision. When reading the posts for reflection, I tend to connect to a certain piece and reflect on that. I now see how the original post explained the importance of a shared vision that includes the current education trends and the facilitation of those trends through actions that make the vision attainable and effective.
    Considering this, the shared vision may be a little more challenging to build because the education trends in question need to be understood, supported and practiced by those who build the vision and implement the mission. A level of comfort and confidence in the understanding and implementation of the important education trends is important if the vision can reflect the ideas of the leader. Therefore, the leader's important task is to analyze education trends and identify what is most current and most effective in education and to inspire staff to also see the benefits of including these trends into the school's vision.
    Inspiring others to understand and support a vision that can benefit all stake holders in education trends, virtues and to understand a be a part of the culture is a leader's task.

  29. Claire Hainstock1 August 2011 at 14:25

    I found it interesting to see how many contributions reflected on the vision vis a vis the mission. Often we find the leadership requiring a shared approach to the “work you pursue to realize your vision.” However, this can be counter-productive. Teachers often feel most protective of their individuality and can resent the homogenization process.

  30. I wonder if some staff members are not truely understanding of the need for a vision and mission. Perhaps this is percieved to be the work of the administrator and when asked to comment and contribute to the update or creation, they are wondering if this is yet another added item of work that does not connect to their classroom roles. I think a first step for leaders is to clearly present the why and how to all stakeholders and then to work to truely engage the team to work together to this common goal. The clear revisiting of the vision in all decisions within the school for all stakeholders is key. Sometimes I have noticed that the work of setting the school plans to support the vision is scheduled at busy times with rushed agendas and the importance of this key work is being somewhat diminished. Overwhelmed teachers are rolling their eyes because they are clearly not seeing the importance of the vision in connection to all that they are doing. Perhaps it is time for the leader to do some small group(divisional) or individual discussions. The groundwork in having a common understanding and buy in for most staff will support and facilitate all that the leader will plan to acheive in a collaborative environment.