WHOSE VISION IS IT ANYWAY?
Beyond bonding the school board together for a common cause, framing the picture of the future bonds the entire organization and inspires people to work to make it come true. New superintendents are often asked what their vision is for the future of their school district. Some school boards even ask the question during the final interview process. While a superintendent with a ready-made vision conjures images of the hero leader archetype, in reality it's a cultural artifact mediated through popular leadership literature and social media. Beside the fact that a ready-made vision is unlikely to fit the context of a new district, savvy superintendents know that the time invested in collaborating and developing a shared vision engages the school community, thus building the capacity for sustainable change.
Balancing the demand for swift action to meet urgent needs with developing a shared vision to build the capacity for change is the greatest challenge most superintendents face. In my previous essay, I discussed how superintendents have learned to create a context for change. Creating that context requires superintendents to have mastered the art of operating in the space between urgency and capacity building. It is within this space that superintendents work closely with school boards and stakeholder groups to establish a shared sense of purpose. Among the most important components in the change process, establishing a sense of purpose helps a school board envision the educational future of the community they serve. Beyond bonding the school board together in a common cause, framing the picture of the future bonds the entire organization and inspires people to work to make it come true.
If the strategic planning process is implemented with fidelity it should motivate people to join the campaign to realize the desired vision that drives the plan. Many superintendents have learned the hard way that until a vision is widely shared and accepted it lives only in the mind of the visionary.
To achieve its vision, school boards direct superintendents to initiate a strategic planning process. Superintendents should lead the process too. Strategic planning is much more than developing a set of goals and subsequent actions. It’s a process that occurs in the space superintendents create where ideas emerge, innovation and growth happen, and the capacity for change becomes institutionalized. Strategic thinking, based on an examination of past trends, an honest appraisal of present conditions, and anticipation of what the future could look like, informs the plan. Superintendents conduct the examination and work closely with school boards throughout the process to analyze data and report progress.
Victoria Bernhardt’s conceptual framework is useful as a model for the examination and strategic planning process. The five questions in her model serve as guideposts along the path, analyzing multiple measures of data every step along the way.
School boards support this process by developing and approving policies, formulating budgets, and setting high standards and high expectations for students and staff. High-functioning school boards acknowledge that schools alone can't meet every need of every child, and work tirelessly to promote and facilitate collaboration with public and private agencies, community organizations, and its families.
High functioning superintendents know where their district is and in what direction it should be headed, and more importantly, why. Vision guides their work and influences the work of those around them. Every superintendent does not possess the capability to be a creative visionary. And many are not willing or in a position to take risks, even if it is in pursuit of attaining extraordinary results.
However, superintendents must be able to cling to a vision with such courage and tenacity that everyone around them is influenced by it and inspired to do what it takes to see that vision become a reality.
So, whose vision is it anyway? Well, regardless of where it comes from it should be everyone’s. If it’s not, it’s less likely to serve its purpose as a unifying force to inspire, motivate, and engage people.
Next article in the series: Getting the School Board on board.