Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence

This post is the second in a series for the #IMMOOC book study on Katie Martin’s book, Learner Centered Innovation.

Most districts have a vision statement, but few know what it is or use it to guide their work.
— #LCInnovation p. 97

I remember a couple of years ago, our Superintendent formed a committee and hired some consultants to help formulate both a Mission and Vision Statement for our school. At the time I was aware of both. Since that time, I had forgotten the Mission Statement, however, I am daily reminded of the Vision Statement: “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence.” See this picutre? That’s the classroom I use everyday. I do love the classroom; the wall of windows is amazing.

 Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

We also have a district Mission Statement. I’ll be honest, I had to look it up on the school website:

Mission Statement:

To educate, empower, and engage all students to become caring and responsible citizens who will succeed in an ever-changing world.

Do the decisions made at district, building, or classroom levels align with our mission and vision statements? Or have they just become words that look nice painted on a wall in the new addition of the school?

I really don’t think there is anything wrong with the statements themselves. They were developed in a very collaborative process which included students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. They set a purpose and include goals of what we want for our students when they leave the school after 13+ years of education. However, I don’t feel we live up to these standards we set for ourselves. I’m certain that Milaca isn’t the only district not to live up to these standards, so while I might be directly discussing my school, this shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of Milaca alone.

In her book, Learner Centered Innovation, Katie Martin discusses 3 common themes for why districts don’t fully live out the visions they create: No Buy-In, Multiple Visions, and a misalignment of Accountability Focus.

The first is a lack of buy-in. Either decision makers (includes: administrator and teachers) don’t know what the vision or mission statements are, or they have no connection to them. Either way, the vision will not be seen in the decisions made which impact student learning. The fact I had to look up what the mission statement was is a testament to the fact that there is little buy-in. I’m certain I am not the only member of our staff who would struggle with that one. Also, even though the words of the Vision Statement are painted for all to see everyday, how much thought has really been given to what the words mean, let alone, pondering how we can create opportunities to put these visions into practice?

compliance-does-not-foster-innovation.jpg

The second problem faced has to do with having multiple and competing visions. I don’t feel having both a Mission and a Vision Statement is causing identity issues for Milaca. I think what has failed to happen however, is what Katie suggests must take place: “Each school, team, and department should take time to define what the vision means for them and how their work is guided by it.” In Milaca, there is not clear consensus exists on what “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence” means. I fear the decisions we are making, and the actions we are taking, are instead “Instilling Compliance and Achieving Conformity.” Each month we have a High School Staff Council meeting that turns into a place for others to air their grievances, and it’s not even Festivus (see the Seinfeld reference there).

  • Do students need a make-up slip when they were absent?
  • What about cell phones?
  • Should kids be allowed to wear hats?
  • Can kids carry backpacks? - By the way, the handbook says “no” to backpacks. My response to kids is to tell teachers it’s a purse; they’re not banned by the handbook.

The message each of these sends could have something to do with Pride - if the message was delivered correctly, but the message which is received being received by students is about compliance. We could engage kids in conversations about signs of respect and that wearing a hat in a building is a sign of disrespect, but instead what we do is yell at kids to “Take that off!” - hardly a prideful response.

The third problem schools face when aligning decisions to their mission and vision statements has to do with accountability. Schools put admirable and desirable goals into their statements, but then hold people accountable in ways that don’t align with the intended mission or vision. Our Mission in Milaca includes empowering students to be caring and responsible students who will succeed in the world of the future. I really like this part of the statement. However, there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Students are prepared for passing state mandated tests, using curriculum designed to give them the skills to pass the test. Teachers hold fast to countless standards prescribed by the state of Minnesota as benchmarks they cover. Very little is being done to empower teachers, and as a result, even less is being done to empower students.

As I said above, I like our Vision and Mission Statements. I don’t think the problem lies in what they say or the goals we should strive for. Where we fail is in the implementation and application of those in driving the decisions that are made. Not only can we do better, but we MUST do better. As a classroom teacher, I should be asking myself with each lesson, if this is something that will educate, empower, and engage my students. If I am honest and answer no, they I must adapt the lesson to align with the Mission, or I must scrap it and replace it with something that does. #ChaseCuriosity. As a Technology Integration Coach, am I locating and providing the tools which will help teachers accelerate the learning of students? If not, what sort of help or assistance can I provide to empower teachers? If I were a principal and running a staff council meeting that is turning into a gripe (replace this word if you wish) session, I must redirect the group and remind them of our vision, so that the focus shifts to those ideas that will Instill Pride and Achieve Excellence. #LearningMattersMost

The question I keep coming back to is this:

Are your systems designed for people to comply and implement your programs and policies, or are your systems designed to empower people to learn, improve, and innovate?
— #LCInnovate p. 57

This isn’t a unique struggle to Milaca, it is one that permeates our educational system. I know it can’t be fixed overnight, but beginning to move our decision-making into alignment with our Mission and Vision is a step we can all take in the right direction.