I imagine that most of the school leaders reading this will have achieved their position because they had a vision and were able to articulate it clearly at interview.
A clear vision is for me the number one component of good leadership, providing a school with a consistent philosophy and direction. Why, then, can it so easily be left sitting on the home page of a website or posted on a few walls and given only a cursory glance by a few?
It should be the beating heart of a school, influencing every facet of daily life and ensuring constancy of ethos and practice throughout. Achieve this and your school community will reap the rewards.
A good place to start is to take a step back, be honest with yourself and examine your school vision by asking a few questions. Firstly, do you believe in the importance of a vision?
Not one of the schools I’ve led would have achieved the same level of success had there not been a strong vision in place based on a secure set of related principles, values and beliefs.
It sets a challenge for all of us; something to aim for. If the vision is owned by both staff and students, it can serve as a motivator, especially if progress towards it is jointly planned and monitored.
Secondly, is your vision worthwhile? Does it encompass everything your school can do for its students, staff and wider community? How will the school look?
How will staff and pupils act? How will your vision manifest itself in terms of success and achievement? If you can’t answer these questions, you need to have a rethink with your whole staff body.
Do you have a rationale for your vision, a set of principles, values and beliefs that underpin it? If you’re to give staff and students a sense of ownership, then they should be given the opportunity to explore these with you and hopefully challenge you along the way.
People will look for cracks in your rationale and that can sometimes be a good thing. It gives you the means to not only respond to questions that arise regarding your direction and practices, but also reduce the chance of questions arising in the first place.
Following on from that, are the principles, values and beliefs consistent with practice? Leave your vision or the principles that underpin it to languish, and a ‘pick ’n mix’ approach to practices or initiative ‘grabbing’, will develop.
Successful schools stay true to their vision, while a lack of consistency leads to a lack of clarity.
Is the vision and its rationale fully understood by staff and students? So far, I’ve mostly referred to the school vision as your vision, but if you’ve been able to answer ‘yes’ to the questions above, then I would hope you now see the vision as being shared: one that staff, students, governors and parents have collaborated upon to varying degrees.
There’s a fine balance between showing you’re clear about the values and principles that are held dear to you (staff expect that of a leader) and showing that you’re willing to listen and take on new ideas. Exploring values and principles and returning to them frequently is a sure way to ensure your staff know and understand the vision fully.
With this in mind, map out your vision, tying it into every aspect of the school and forming it into a long-term strategic plan. A framework that breaks the vision down into components (e.g. the ‘What?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’) will ensure consistency of practice and ethos.
Measure progress towards your vision – your quality assurance processes, performance reviews and school improvement plan should all inform the extent to which you are working towards your vision, keeping it alive in the minds of the staff.
Finally, regularly evaluate the relevance of your vision. Circumstances change, so you should reassess the relevance or appropriateness of the vision with staff and students. This will ensure the school continues to head in the right direction with all staff onboard.
If there is a resounding ‘yes’ to all the above questions, then you will have a silent partner, guide and resource there to back up your actions and lead the school forwards consistently and effectively.
A school vision may always appear to be just over the brow of the hill and never quite reachable, but don’t lose patience or try to cut corners. It’s the road towards achieving that vision that transforms a school.
Armando Di-Finizio has led three of the country’s lowest-performing schools to achieving outcomes well above expectations.