The Vision, the Story, the Action

vision

I recently read The Need for Vision in Schools, a blog post by @gregmiller68. The post resonates well with me but it is the final statement “and then ACTION it!” that is the vital component. This is also highlighted in the comments by @E_Sheninger who says:

“Vision is important, but only so much so as the resulting plan for action that has to be implemented to support that vision.” Eric then extends upon this: It is also extremely important to establish a clear focus that is consistently monitored if the desire is sustainable change resulting in transformation.”

In my career, I have experienced schools who have a ‘clear’ vision and those that do not. It may be the case that some schools have a strong vision, a definite idea of what they want to achieve, i.e. what they are aiming for but the clarity is missing. Clarity in a vision comes, first of all, from the unpacking of a vision. This has to be done with the consultation and input of all members of the school community and it comes in stages. Many schools already have a mission statement and that is a significant step in understanding what is required in order to achieve a vision.

A mission statement is only the beginning of achieving more clarity, however. That in itself is not enough. There is so much more as Eric Sheninger indicates in his comments. A ‘plan of action’ is a much larger undertaking, yet without it, how can teachers and students know what is expected of them on a day-to-day level? A plan has to involve further distillation of the mission statement in order to create objectives. By having objectives, a school then has something achievable and measurable.

I had the privilege of being in the audience for a presentation by @martinwestwell recently, in which his message was that a school needs to ask itself “What is our story?” He talked about how increasing pressure exists in the education system to be data driven. Martin provided many examples to illustrate the point that data can be interpreted in many ways and depends upon context. The crux of the presentation was that every school needs to know what it’s story is, in other words, what the school stands for, what it is expecting from its students, what its objectives are. Only after answering those questions can a school look to what data can be used to analyse progress towards meeting these objectives.

Objectives clearly provide schools with a lot of leverage. They allow all those involved in the school to not only see what is expected of them but what the school is committing to in order to be able to tell its story. In laymen’s terms, the proverbial cards are on the table. However, there remain several other imperatives. These fall under the issue of ‘monitoring’ according to Eric Sheninger, where there has to be a continual process of ensuring the objectives are being met, voiced to those in the school community and all developments in the school align with these objectives:

  • Consideration for implementation. How will objectives be met?
  • Time planning. When are certain milestones expected to be achieved?
  • Flexibility. What scope is there for making changes? Can a school’s plans cope with change?

To see an example of the processes described in this post applied to developing a Digital Learning Strategy in a university, UniSA’s recent publications: http://www.unisa.edu.au/About-UniSA/University-of-South-Australias-Digital-Learning-Strategy-2015—2020/ are well worth a look. The video gives a clear insight into the project from leadership in the university. Their clear objectives can be seen here and all the materials on the pages of their website regarding the Digital Learning Strategy provide a real story around these developments.

The UniSA example is extensive and such an undertaking is no mean feat but that in itself is important to realise for all schools who wish to improve themselves, make changes and strive for clear goals they have envisioned.

image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/riot/871282869

10 thoughts on “The Vision, the Story, the Action

  1. Not much here with which to contend Nick; set the vision, plan and deliver the strategy, monitor progress towards stated objectives. There are a couple of things I’d like to throw into the hat though.
    Is it possible in a school environment to have a common understanding of a shared vision, when the the teachers therein are intelligent, independent, free-thinking individuals with a wide range of perspectives? In other words, how likely (realistic) is it to be able to achieve a ‘shared’ vision?
    Secondly, clearly “consultation and input from all members of the school community” are so important and whilst it might be possible to generate an over-arching, collective vision, when that begins to trickle down to the nitty-gritty of implementation, the eclectic views of the community then begin to generate tension and things start to unravel.
    [Does thread unravel when it’s under tension?! #mixedmetaphors?]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8 might be nice idea, but does it reflect reality?

    • Let me have a go at your questions Ian. I think I have a view on all of them.

      Firstly, “how likely (realistic) is it to be able to achieve a ‘shared’ vision?” – This is without doubt hard work. It is a buy-in situation but I say this quite often in my role, there comes a point where an organisation (school or otherwise) has to plant it’s flag pole and say this is where we are and what we are about. Furthermore, it has to say where it intends to go. All of this comes from the vision, the mission and unpacking of these. Regardless of where you work or who you are, I doubt you are going to like everything or agree with everything in the organisation you work for. As long as you can see the need for it, where it fits in, why things exist as they are, it is the choice of individuals (in this case teachers) to stay or go, to accept the school’s stance and be part of achieving goals or to look for alternatives.

      Sometimes, I think education and educators somehow see that such thinking does not apply to them. In other words, education is special, it’s different. Well, in this regard it most certainly IS NOT! We are, as teachers, accountable for our actions and for furthering the advancement of the establishment we work in. Just because the goal is not profit does not remove the responsibility.

      Secondly, regarding, “whilst it might be possible to generate an over-arching, collective vision, when that begins to trickle down to the nitty-gritty of implementation, the eclectic views of the community then begin to generate tension and things start to unravel”, certainly this requires strong leadership, a team effort, commitment to honesty, information, promotional techniques, etc, etc. Why? Because, it is the responsibility of the school and it’s leaders to drive implementation of a vision. The implementation brings with it a responsibility to ensure all parties involved have the information they need to see the vision/mission/objectives, understand these, the reason why they are being stated, what they intend to achieve. There are tensions of course and some are quite unique to education, in my opinion. For example, most parents will have experienced sitting in rows in a classroom being told what to do, being provided information to revise and recite in an assessment. If we are to attempt to change that model of education in a school for their children then there may be a need to provide explanations, evidence, clarification, etc etc to that audience in order that they might share the vision/mission/objectives.

      At times, leadership particularly around change management issues feels like herding cats to me but I come armed with the ‘nip’ for soothing moments 🙂

  2. Thanks for the inspiring post Nick! I’m currently working on developing a strategic direction at work and the sources used in this post I hadn’t seen before. Action is an area that you and I are on exactly the same page. It often bewilders me why schools spend so much time on some strategic documents and never really kick it into gear. It’s like spending six months planning the destination of a trip and never really going on it. Setting a vision is a really difficult thing to do especially in the digital landscape so I admire the work that the University of South Australia have done.

    The vision and action need also to be part of a strong change management model. Kotter’s 8 step change management model involves the following eight phases and each are pivotal for successful and sustainable change. You can find more on Kotter’s model here (http://www.kotterinternational.com/the-8-step-process-for-leading-change/). The eight steps are as follows:

    1. Create a Sense of Urgency –
    2. Build a Guiding Coalition
    3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives
    4. Enlist a Volunteer Army
    5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers
    6. Generate Short-Term Wins
    7. Sustain Acceleration
    8. Institute Change

    These steps are helping to guide change at my school as it provides a clear framework to keep momentum up. Kotter also talks about 80/20 being required for sustainable change. You need 80% on board for it to become the way you operate. For those of us who are developing strategic plans at work, I wonder what your percentage of buy in is like at the moment. Currently I think we are 60/40. On our way but still plenty of room to move and grow.

    • Cheers Steve.

      I was involved at the beginning of the UniSA work on this in my last role and I admire their bravery especially in publicly stating how they will support the work in this field. They have already started to offer stipends for academics to gain Masters in Teaching with Technology or something similar I believe. A financial commitment. Money where their mouth is and all that!!

      I love your travel plans analogy. It reminds me of informal consultations I have had with many senior students and a few fellow employees where they say things like, “I am thinking of going travelling next year”. My answer is always, “Ok, but stop thinking about it, just do it. You can spend a life time thinking about it and many do or have moments where they do, but travelling involves actually doing it”. Such a response sounds harsh but I find it very quickly hits home to those who say it the difference between daydreaming, romancing such an idea and planning it with a strong intent to make it reality.

      Kotter’s model looks interesting. I will explore that further. However, the requirement of 80% on board scares me. I wonder how he measured that.

      • 80% is indeed scary, but probably about right. Perhaps confirmed by Rogers Diffusion of Innovations where around 80% buy-in includes the ‘late majority’ leaving only the ‘laggards?’ Once you have the innovators, early adopters and early majority, they’ll be taking some of the strain in driving things forward, so perhaps Steve, you’re in the right place?

  3. 20% for early adopters, 60% for the “sit and see” crowd or “swinging voters” and 20% for those resistance to change. The interesting thing about those percentages is that you have one fifth of the population (possibly) pulling in the opposite direction. I wonder what figure you would consider to be the tipping point as Malcolm Gladwell calls it for successful change?

    • Would that have to be a question of time rather than numbers Steve? In other words the tipping point comes within a time period, after a series of actions that see concepts and ideas put into place. In the UniSA model above, to my mind, they are far from the time where they will have achieved tipping point. They will have to go through review processes,adapt their model as it is implemented in Phase four and with the right leadership, be guided to having a strong Digital Learning Strategy.

    • Research seems to lead towards 10% for the tipping point Steve! http://phys.org/news/2011-07-minority-scientists-ideas.html Only 10%?!
      Although the remaining 20% we mentioned probably aren’t pulling in the opposite direction, the net effect of them not moving forward is the same. The question is, and this is the tricky bit, dhow much effort should be expended in moving them forward? Is it necessary for the whole population to have adopted the change in order for it to be deemed successful?
      Like Nick, the question of time also seems of significance to me, yet it doesn’t appear to figure as a variable in any of the models I’m familiar with. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter when the change process is complete (within reason); what matters is how successful it’s been in terms of degree of adoption?

      • I think time is a great yardstick for change measurement and like you said Ian, not anywhere in any model (that I am familiar with) as a measure. Time vs personnel on board, which would you prefer? Sustainability through the years (with possibly only a small % on board) or a larger % of the cohort on board? 10% seems such a small figure but I suppose it is a ripple effect. Thanks for the article Ian, really interesting read. It does make the required 80% then really challenging if it only takes 10% to shift the path.

  4. I suppose if one is looking for a swing of opinion, a change of peoples’ attitude, for people within an organisation to change their practice then considering time is not relevant and the amount of people ‘on-board’ is as a measure of success. Time is, however, relevant in terms of measuring sustainability. I liken this issue to a sports team being considered successful or not. Does success come from dominating over a period of time or can it come from a team that just wins something one year? In both cases, there is success and there is a tipping point with the people concerned both there is clearly a factor of time for judgement for dominance. Therefore, time can not be ignored surely.

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