Towards a strategy: mission, vision and data

This term I am starting my National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) and last Saturday travelled to Beijing to attend the first face to face session on succeeding in senior leadership.

The pre-session activities had been focussed on culture, mission and vision statements. Prior to this, I had thought of these statements as being nebulous and having no real bearing on the real business of schools. To be fair in the majority of the schools I have worked in, these are not things that have been referenced or referred to in the daily working of teachers. In fact, it is only in one school which I was involved in setting up where I can remember a meeting discussing these things. We were asked, in a meeting, to suggest ideas for our mission and vision statements and then we never referred to them again. I can remember one close friend being frustrated because no one he was working with seemed to understand what the mission and vision statements of a school were for or how they might be used. Looking back, I question whether any of the leaders I had worked for in the past really new what these things were.

The session reading began to shine a new light on these ideas for me and I summarise my notes on what I read at the end of this blog post.

In essence, a vision statement should be future orientated and formulate what the community is working towards in the long-term. I write community because whilst a school will have a vision statement, I think it is important they groups within and above the level of the whole school should also pay attention to what their vision is. If this is right I should think about what the vision is for KS5 and this vision should be linked to my schools vision as well. Vision statements should be reviewed on a regular basis in consultation with the people who work within those communities.

Mission statements are focussed on the present and the action that a community is taking to bring about that vision. Like a vision statement this mission statement will need to be reviewed regularly with input from all community members.

Both the mission and the vision of the community should influence decisions that are made in the daily “workground” and should be a lens through which policy is produced, disseminated and questioned. One of the colleagues I met had started as HOD for in a new department. They had placed a board up with titles of areas that they didn’t know about and asked their team members to write down things that they thought the HOD needed to know. From this they formulated a vision and mission for the department which is the lens by which they examine actions in department meetings.

These statements need to carefully formulated so that they can be used and communicated appropriately. Aside from their uses as described above we need to think about how they are communicated with the parental community and how they can be used to work with the parental community. There was the suggestion that we can interview parents when students are interviewed to carefully explain our vision and values in one to one situations.

When vision, mission and value statements are combined with data analysis they can be the backbone for creating a strategic plan to allow the school or community to move forward. Senior leadership has a focus on vision creating. Compared to middle leadership who have a specific team focus, and will be implementing that vision, senior leaders need to think broadly.

At this stage I think that identifying my moral purpose and the vision for my area is absolutely paramount. Both on an individual level and for the IB DP at my school. My thesis and the schools thesis need to be synthesised together for the IBDP and the UGO office.

Pre-Reading Notes

Moral Purpose – Michael Fullan

Five attributes of leadership; moral purpose, understanding change process, strong relationships, knowledge adding and coherence among multiple priorities. Moral purpose is both ends and means but we have mixed motives and that is fine. Moral purpose doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It interacts with the other components of leadership. Two case studies illustrate this: the national literacy and numeracy strategy in England and Monsanto. For leadership to be effective it must have 1. An explicit making a difference purpose. 2. Use strategies that mobilise many people to tackle tough problems 3 be held accountable by measured indicators of success 4 mobilise others sense of moral purpose Acting with moral purpose in a complex world can have insidious consequences. coherence making can be guided by moral purpose. Moral purpose must contend with diversity. Difference in morality from different cultures

Moral leadership by John West Burnham

Behaviour which is consistent with personal and organisational values which in turn are derived from a coherent ethical system. Decisions in education are naturally ethical decisions so leaders need to be ethically literate. The trad vs progressive debate. Professions have ethical purpose. Communities have a consensus over the values that they think are important. Leadership needs to secure this agreement. Culture is the expression of and reinforcement of the ethics of a community. Leaders exemplify what that society and community most value. Moral leadership can be taught through engagement with the meta narratives of ethical classics, reflection in action, coaching and networking.

Vision, strategy and planning in education by Mark Brundrett

To be effective agents of change, leaders in schools need a clear idea of some end goal. Vision is focussed on some goal to be achieved in the future. Leaders need to conceptualise and articulate a vision to influence followers through five mechanisms: 1 giving direction and purpose 2 organise action around future goals 3 provides a sense of identity and meaning 4 provides a common framework 5 vision may develop organisational norms. Personal visions possibly arise from a variety of different causes. Vision must be both individual and collective. Visions in schools and organisations will only succeed if they are bought into by the staff at all levels. Vision and strategy need to be linked at the outset and on an ongoing basis. If strategy is about achieving goals then it is inseparable from vision. Good strategy involves the organisation as a whole just like the vision. Strategies must encourage the involvement of as many people as possible so that they have a sense of ownership. Strategy must take account of long-term intentions and aspirations, the external environment, the internal strengths of the organisation, the prevailing organisational culture, expectations of stakeholders, future resources. Priorities change in education so it can be difficult to plot a straight line approach to strategy and planning. Four abcd approach to translating strategy into action: articulate, build (images metaphors experience) create (dialogues cognitive) define (formal plans)
Targets can help move things forward. School leaders need to have a vision of the school they wish to create. This will be personal but will accord with the aspirations of the wider community. Vision needs shared ownership.

What makes a school a learning organisation – OECD report

The model focuses on:

  • Developing a vision centered on the learning of the students
  • Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for staff
  • Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff
  • Establishing a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration
  • Embedding systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning
  • Learning with and from the external environment and larger system
  • Modelling and growing learning leadership

Trust time technology and thinking are the four T’s that underpin the above elements. Developing a shared vision is the result of a process that involves all stakeholders. We need integrate all including those on the margins of society as alienation poses a threat to democracy. The vision needs to aim to enhance the lives of all learners. Excellence and equity are not mutually exclusive goals. Some countries have managed to successfully improve outcomes of the most disadvantaged. (Disadvantaged is often implicitly financial but also language as in EAL learners in a globalised society.)

Setting direction vision and values

Generating culture is a high priority for leaders and the concept has a synergy with vision and value statements. Values statements are concerned with behaviour. It can be used as a lens to view decision-making and the formulation of policy. Mission statement are concerned with the present and present actions. It is about what the organisation does or is attempting to do. The vision statement is about the future and linked to ideas about future goals. These statements need to be actualised and this is achieved through culture as shown in Scheins model (see picture). Culture will make or break a school and changing culture is time-consuming. All of the statements above, like all good plans, should be time limited. Changing culture involved conjoining content and process. They are always a work in progress. Various models can be used to implement culture change. This eight step model suggests:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. Don’t change the culture if the arguments for changing it have not been convincing.
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision. Instead of the presentation use listening and questioning during conversations to broker by in. (Turning statements into questions could be a good way to build relationships with peeps)
  5. Empowering others
    Coaching here through conversation is paramount
  6. Planning for short-term wins
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing more change
  8. Institutionalising new approaches

Reflections: first term in senior leadership

In August 2018 I started a new position as the IBDP Coordinator at a school that had recently adopted the IBDP to replace its A Level program. This was my first time in a senior leadership position and I want to take sometime to reflect on that first term.

Prior to this role I had worked as part of the founding team of a secondary school. During that time we took the school through IB MYP and DP authorization, CIS accreditation, where I planned resourcing of the science department, as well as planned and developed the university and careers program. It was a busy time, and I learned a lot about things that I would not have got exposure to if I had stayed at my previous school. Through observation, I spent a lot of time watching and reflecting on the actions of various senior leaders.

So, naturally, entering into senior leadership for the first time, I felt that I had some ideas of do’s and dont’s of leadership, to help guide me in my initial steps. I also felt that I knew some of my natural weaknesses that I needed to work on. Looking back I think the biggest lesson I learned at my previous work was an echo of a prior lesson that I learned in my first year of teaching: It is ok to not have all the answers. It is ok to admit to knowledge gaps.

Starting in a new school always brings new challenges, and this term was no exception. It was odd, being new, being in leadership, and feeling like I was expected to have answers in the first week about processes and systems that I was still just getting my own head around. In addition to picking up new classes (I am still in the classroom 10 hours a week) one of which was a Y13 biology class, and having to learn the ropes of IT systems I hadn’t used before as well as the expectations of policy and procedure, I was implicitly and explicitly asked by staff about various points of procedure which I just didn’t know how the school did it. I had my own ideas of how things should be done, but I certainly did not want to impose those from the start.

In my first week, I was, figuratively, thrown under the bus being required to present to the whole primary and secondary school about priorities for KS5 and the rest of the secondary school. I also was front and center, leading multiple sessions during the staff inset. During all of these sessions I was careful to thank those who had put the work in before my arrival and show humility in the way I talked about the DP and my ideas. I was also happy to admit that this was my first DP Coordinator post. I think that this went some way to helping me build relationships with staff members.

On top of planning and marking (It was the first time I was teaching IGCSE biology in 4 years) during that first term my time was consumed mostly by:

  • Managing teachers
  • Developing policy
  • Developing exams processes and procedures
  • Developing the DP options process

Before becoming a senior leader I thought that most of my time would be taken up with managing student behaviour across the board but this term I was surprised to find just how much time is taken up by teachers! 🙂 Not all of this is good or bad, much of it is healthy relationship building, and I had already clocked in my last job that this was an area I needed to work on: relationship building.

I like to work on my own, not surrounded by other colleagues to talk to or distract me. I find planning and prioritisation hard when my time is broken up, and I like long chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on my work. In my last job I had already told myself that I needed to get into the staff room more but this term this has been an imperative. Why send an email if I can have a conversation? I have come to understand that this is so important for a senior leader and as I write I am reminded of an old Head who always used to admonish me to come and see her and not send emails. However, I currently believe that this is a responsibility of senior leadership not teachers. At the time I was teaching four classes of biology, two classes of TOK, running the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and setting up the careers program. I didn’t have time to try and find people (in fact a lot of that year I spent in tears). This Head should have been coming to find me, instead of showing a profound lack of understanding about what I was doing with my time.

As DP Coordinator I need to be aware of the pressures my teachers are under and get out there to support them. However, when issues between staff arise, this can take up a huge amount of temporal and emotional space as I learned this year. I have also seen how destructive certain habits can be for individuals.

Developing policy has been a key focus for the term. As the DP program is quite young, there are a lot of policies and procedures that need attention. Initially we have been focussed on developing academic honesty policy and I wrote about that here and here.

Since October, my time has mostly been absorbed by planning the administration of the mock exams to be held in January (getting the dates in place is another story) and developing a process for the DP options/subject choices procedure for year 11.

I also had the importance underscored, more than ever, of working in a team and holding the party line. When decisions are made as a leadership team that might be unpopular and that you are either personally neutral to or don’t really agree with, it is really important to support the party line. Not doing so, can serve to undermine the effectiveness and efficiency of that team. While it may be tempting to admit privately that you disagree with a decision or that the decision wasn’t yours, the result of doing so will not be positive.