Thursday, December 29, 2011

Building Shared Vision

School Leaders are constantly challenged to confront the reality of dictates and mandates from a variety of external forces, all in the name of political expediency. But the challenge to the true learning organization is to meet the vision that best affects the learning and achievement of our students.
One of the key components of 21st Century School Leaders is the concept of ““shared vision””; the ability to create consensus around a plan to implement change and movement toward an impactful objective.
Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline describes a “shared vision” as "... a force in people's hearts, a force of impressive power....At its simplest level, a “shared vision” is the answer to the question, "What do we want to create?" " A “shared vision” is a picture that everyone in the company carries in their heads and hearts.[1] The “shared vision” serves as a collective objective to move towards in re-creating a school organization.

So what does a “shared vision” do for your school? It converts the school into 'our school'. It creates a sense of commonality and gives coherence to diverse activities. It creates excitement and makes an extraordinary school. It allows everyone to work together. It creates a common identity and a sense of purpose. It encourages new ways of thinking and acting. It gives courage and fosters risk taking and experimentation. Basically without a “shared vision”, that vision you spent time creating is pointless and meaningless. And without a “shared vision” the learning organization/school cannot exist.
The “shared vision” serves several key purposes:
·         It clarifies the general direction for a change and in doing so simplifies the direction of the decisions that must follow
·         It motivates people to move out of their comfort zone, to take the time to develop new skills and work with different levels of resources
·         It coordinates the hundreds of decisions and actions involved in change
So, how does a 21st Century Leader create a “shared vision”? Where does one start?
Step #1: Get the right people on the bus
School organizations are made up of a diverse group of people, and if you had no role in hiring these people, you will be most certainly challenged by the group. But, begin looking through your faculty and staff, and start asking the right questions.
·         Can I work with this person?
·         Will they be adaptable to and collaborative in developing a new vision for the school?
·         How resistant will they be to change?
After you have taken the time to consider the potential each person in your school can offer to the enterprise, start creating a team to work on the vision statement. For the others, start finding a way to get them off the bus- moved out of your building- or developing a plan to reinvigorate their outlook. This may sound heartless, but there is nothing worse than to have an uncooperative, tenured teacher/administrator on your staff.

Step #2: Preparation

Schedule a workday for creating the vision. An off-site location is best, if possible. You want to minimize interruptions, and get people away from their day-to-day environment in order to stimulate creativity.

Consider the use of a neutral "facilitator". That is, someone trained in group process that has no biases or stake in the game. That way, as a leader, you are able sit back and focus on being a participant, and not have to worry about the mechanics of the meeting. Removing yourself as the focal point also helps open up the free flow of open dialog.

Step #3:  Determine appropriate "input" to the vision.

Schedule the meeting far enough ahead of time to allow for preparation. Send out documents to review ahead of time, i.e., relevant research, student achievement data, survey results, or any other information needed to prepare the participants. Establish the expectation that preparation is a must in order to participate, and follow-up to make sure people have done their pre-work. Following up may sound like baby-sitting, but it's also a good excuse to get a feel for where each participant is coming from, plant some seeds, and create a little pre-meeting buzz.

Step #4:  Set the stage.

At the start of the meeting, review the desired outcomes, agenda, process and ground rules. Take extra time here to check for understanding and agreement. Doing this sets the stage for how the rest of the day will flow - you are modeling collaboration and consensus. Going slow here will allow you to go fast for the rest of the day.

Step #5: Create and use a process that ensures full participation, openness, creativity, and efficiency.

A trained facilitator can help you with this, or you can design it yourself. The key is to have a plan and process - you can't just go in and "wing it" like you may be used to doing in a regular meeting. Here's a process that I've used:

- Explain to the team what a vision statement is and why they are important. You might show a few examples.

- Ask the group to imagine what this team, organization, or project could look like 3-5 years from now. What would success look like? What could you achieve? What would they love to achieve? If they were to pick up a newspaper 3-5 years from now, what would the headline say about what this group has accomplished?

- Either individually, in pairs, or in groups of 3-4, have people create those headlines on flip charts. Tell them to include pictures, phrases, or anything else to describe that desired future. Give them about 30 minutes.

- Ask each person or team report out to the larger group. If you are the leader, go last, so you don't bias the rest of the group. This also gives you the opportunity to incorporate other's ideas into your vision.

- The facilitator or leader should be listening for and recording on a flip chart key phrases that describe each vision. This is the time to listen and to ask clarifying questions, but not to evaluate.

- add up up the number of phrases (n), divide by 3, and give everyone that many stickers to "vote" with (n/3). Explain it's not really a decision making vote, it's simply a way to quickly take the temperature of the group and see how much agreement there is.

- Start with phrases that received a lot of vote, discuss, and check for agreement. Do the same thing for phases that received no or few votes, and ask if those items can be crossed off. Work your way to the middle items, using the same process - circle it or cross it off.

- If there are any issues where consensus can't be reached after everyone has had a chance to state their case, then the leader needs to make the final decision.

- You end the meeting with a list of phases that will form the vision statement.

Step # 6:  Do the "grunt-work" off line

Group time should not be wasted creating the vision statement and wordsmithing it to death. The leader can do this off-line, and/or ask for 1-2 volunteers to do it. I've even seen it done during lunch to present back to the team in the afternoon.

Step #7: Talk to the outliers

If there was anyone who disagreed with the output, or who's favorite idea was not incorporated, talk to them privately to make see how they are committed to the vision. Explore ways to make connection of the vision to their interests and needs.

Step #8:  Re-convene the group and review the draft vision statement. 

Step #10:  Review the draft with key extended stakeholders that were not at the meeting.

This is the time to review the vision with other. It's a chance to get input and make it better, and to begin to build a broader coalition of support.

Step #11:  Communicate the vision and begin to make it a reality.
This format is very basic, and there may be other ideas that people have experienced that are much better. But, the main concept is to pursue the development of working through a collaborative process to create that “shared vision”
Here’s hoping that 2012 will be the start of an exciting year to create that “shared vision” and the change you need to enhance learning for your students.

[1] Senge, P.M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.