The following post was shared anonymously by a LANALP’s Cohort 2 alumni, who wished to remain anonymous.
Although I have always been aware of my school site’s Vision, I understood neither the importance of collaborative development of the Vision nor the power of the Vision in adding to the cohesion of the school community until participating in the LANALP CPSEL 1 session, and subsequently superimposing my learning upon the reality at my school site.
I have been employed at an elementary school for almost two decades. The majority of this time I have served as a Categorical Programs Coordinator and for the last two years have served additionally as the Assistant Principal. I share this background to illustrate that although I feel as if I have a great deal of influence on the school culture and climate, I am not the “final decision maker” at my site.
Our vision reads: “Our Vision is to provide a safe, respectful and nurturing learning environment where all stakeholders work collaboratively to ensure that students reach their maximum potential and become confident and productive members of society.” This statement was developed 8 years ago at a meeting held before the first day of school, attended by Classified and Certificated staff, based on process facilitated by a previous Principal. To be frank, I do not remember the process that we undertook to come to this statement; other than we considered the lyrics of a Foo Fighters song before sharing our opinions. Given the fact that most details of the meeting are now lost to me, I believe that the process was not necessarily defining for me personally.
Prior to my learning at the LANALP session where we delved into CPSEL 1, I do not remember any discomfort with the vision-setting process. Our site had a Vision, it was posted atop the Weekly Bulletin and on most official documents. We were “compliant” with District mandates as they related to defining a Vision, and most staff were afforded the opportunity to share their input.
LANALP Session 1 taught me, however, that the Vision was to be more than a placeholder statement. This Vision, if developed correctly and bought into by stakeholders, possessed the ability to frame collaborative action by helping to shape strategy development and guide courses of future action. The Vision can serve to unite stakeholder action by helping us to collaboratively define that which we hope to become. I realized that at my site, the Vision did not serve this purpose.
I sought to change this….to the degree that I was able given my position as Assistant Principal. I understood that I would not be able to undertake the process of developing a new Vision with stakeholders, but that I could develop strategies to make the Vision in place more meaningful to members of the school community.
I facilitated a series of meetings with various stakeholder groups. Each initial meeting utilized discussion framed by a Circle Map. Phrases from the Vision were placed in the interior circle of the map and with discussion completing the outer portion.
The parent meeting was conducted bilingually as the majority of our parents are Spanish speaking. The power of the Vision to shape future action within an organization, and our Vision statement were shared with parents. The group was then asked what does it mean to be a “confident and productive member of society?” I selected this phrase from the Vision as I felt that it most closely aligned with the parents’ stake in the education process; parents want their children to develop into productive adults.
Parents initially had difficulty answering the question—perhaps because I had not offered sufficient background information or, perhaps, because they had previously not been invited to participate in the development of Vision in this way. Initial responses included “respectful” and “academic vocabulary.” There was a lull in conversation. My Principal stepped in, and offered that he would hope that our future citizens would be “technologically proficient” in order to be able to be well employed and to interact with other organizations in society, as much of our interaction within agencies now occurs electronically. I appreciated his input, as it allowed parents to better understand their role as participants in the process and additionally presented the activity as emanating from both he and I, as co-administrators. Parents continued to add input: “responsibility”, “belief in one self”, “self advocate”, “ability to communicate effectively”, “problem solving skills”, “independent”, “ability to read and write effectively.” I left this initial meeting feeling as if parents had been offered a greater voice than they previously had.
A subsequent meeting was held with staff. At this meeting the words in the center of the Circle Map read “safe, respectful and nurturing learning environment.” Staff proved to have a better understanding of the process, and were able to participate without the modeling required for parents. Responses included “free from bullying”, “requires a cohesive behavioral management plan”, “differentiated instruction in classrooms”, “more inclusion of special education students”, and “more yard supervision.”
Discussion at this meeting made it clear that staff felt as if we, as administrators, could do more to support them in the area of discipline. As such, our principal and I developed a system, which we shared with teachers, in which we would push-in to classrooms given a teacher request for support. This proved beneficial on several fronts: students were not missing classroom instruction based on behavioral issues, teachers felt more supported, and our willingness to immediately modify a process based on teacher input helped to develop a more collaborative culture. I should add that this modification in procedure is more of an aside in the process and not the central point of the narrative, but does illustrate a benefit from the process.
Subsequent to the first series of meetings, I facilitated a second series of meetings later in the school year as we were in our School Plan Writing Cycle. At these meetings we compared the descriptors offered by parent and staff at initial meetings to our present school reality. As a concrete example, we compared the parent descriptor of “able to read and write effectively” to data sets that indicated where our students were performing academically in the area of reading and writing, and the descriptor of “technologically proficient” with our indicators regarding use of educational technology on the school site. Note that both parent and staff descriptors were shared with all populations. These meetings allowed us to reflectively view our present state of functioning with the ideal, to highlight areas in which we were working toward alignment with what we wanted to be based on our Vision as well as areas where the gaps were great and there was great improvement to be made.
Based on these meeting, we emerged with a number of foci:
Each of these foci were developed into goal statements, with supporting strategies, in the School Plan:
Notable here is that these modifications emanated from a discussion of Vision—our reflections upon what we wanted to offer to our students and our evaluation of where we were in that process. I should share, too, that our school community is now more aware of the Vision statement; it presently does serve to guide our action and is more than just a series of words a page.