PROCESS POST: Mission, Vision, Strategies, Tactics, and Logistics

“We are a house of exceptional height whose purpose is to keep its inhabitants safe and dry.”

“We will raise this house so that it is impregnable from flood waters.”

“We will utilize beam and tie jacks to increase and enhance the height of this abode and build a more formidable foundation.”

Mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. These words – these objectives and means – spur a great deal of thought from me. To be most honest, I am working to discern the important differences in these words – these means and objectives. I am convinced that a school must continually strive to ensure that its people have shared understanding and shared values around these words – that when someone talks of a school’s mission, or when someone speaks of strategy and tactics, we are operating from a deep sense of mutual understanding. It’s not just semantics. Shared meaning of this language – mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics – ensures that members of a school community work together more harmoniously as a team, with less negative friction at the points of movement and change.

House Raised 2013-08-03 06.57.59

On many mornings, as Lucy (my dog) and I are walking, we venture past this house that is being raised. The house is in an area of Atlanta that floods fairly often, and I can certainly understand the homeowners investing in a different foundation system. A number of other houses in the neighborhood have done the same.

Because of my work for the past decade (in school innovation and transformation), I feel I am constantly trying to get a better handle, a better grip, on “mission, vision, strategy, tactics, and logistics.” This house – as a metaphor – is helping me do so.

As I walk past this house, I imagine what the mission and vision of the homeowners might be. Perhaps that mission or vision is represented in the quotes that opened this post. Perhaps not. I try to imagine the conversations and planning that certainly occurred among the homeowners and the experts who are lifting that house with those beams and ties. I can hear them talking strategy and tactics and logistics, and I can hear them working out a shared understanding of those means and objectives. I think how critical it must be for the workers on this project to have a shared sense of the strategies, tactics, and logistics!

Then, I begin to wonder if the owner of the lifting company talks of the mission of his/her company. I become curious if the lifting company’s mission and vision is actually more of a strategy or tactic in the view of the homeowner. I ponder how confusion over these things might result in a less than optimal house transformation. Or worse – a house toppling.

If you’re still with me, God bless you! If you’re wondering what in the world I am writing about, then I would challenge you to listen more intentionally to conversations and meetings at your school. Listen as people talk about mission, vision, and strategy. Consider how faculty and admin are approaching the tactics and logistics to achieve the strategies that will ensure success of the mission and vision. Perhaps your school’s mission is only written in aspirational terms, loose and general terms, that make strategic design a significant challenge for teachers, parents, and students. Simply listen for the words “strategy” and “strategic” and note if different people speak of the very same actions being different rungs of the strategy, tactics, and logistics ladder.

Listen as teachers talk of lesson plans and classroom activities. Listen as students respond to questions about what they are learning and why. Listen as parents discuss where the school is headed and how it plans to get to such a destination.

Try to discern when people are talking with clear, shared understanding around mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. For a school to strive for common language around these means and objectives – such effort could have significant consequences on the trajectory on which a school intends to be. Such effort around common language and shared understanding could be a real difference maker in the “if and when” a school will accomplish its mission and achieve its vision.

What’s your school’s mission? Your vision? Your strategies? Your tactics? Your logistics? In what ways are these ends, means, and objectives aligned and misaligned? When students, parents, alums, faculty, staff, surrounding community members and administrators talk of the change you are undertaking at your school, do they speak with common language and shared understanding?

Goal Keepers, Part 2 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

Recently, after completing our 2010 SACS-SAIS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Southern Association of Independent Schools) self-study, and during engagement with our ongoing strategic planning as a school, a faculty-administration committee drafted our new vision statement, Learning for Life. In late Spring of 2011, the Westminster board, administration, and faculty overwhelmingly endorsed the new vision statement. A copy of the document can be accessed below via Scribd, and you can read a recent Westminster Magazine article about the vision here (see President’s Remarks on pages 2-3 and Cover Story on pages 6-11 of the pdf).

In a nutshell, I am thrilled about the Learning for Life vision statement! In 2011-12, I will be excited to pursue deeper understanding and implementation of such pedagogical practices as project-based learning and problem-based learning (PBL), integrated studies, and balanced assessment. I am charged up, full of creative tension, to explore schedules and spaces that promote deep learning; to work with my colleagues, students, and parents in learning teams; and to connect globally with the countless “teachers” who can help us achieve our vision.

On the ground, with sleeves rolled up, how are we going to achieve our vision, Learning for Life? Among a multitude of efforts aimed to make our vision our new current reality, I believe a community full of creative tension lies at the center. All of the people I work with want to do our best to enhance learning – what a great trait to possess at the outset and all along the way! To close the gap between our existing current reality and our new vision, we at Westminster have our developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan to help structure our paths, our undertakings, and our desire to improve and enhance learning. The plan has five, integrated and interwoven parts:

  • Goals and Self-Assessment
  • Peer Visits and Observations
  • Administrative Observations
  • Student Course Feedback
  • Feedback from Duties “Outside the Classroom”

During the development of our FAAR plan, a colleague and I made the following video to help explain the philosophical underpinnings of our professional learning framework.

In essence, our FAAR Plan encourages us, as faculty and administration – WE, not “us” and “them” – to set goals that are going to help us learn how to educate in increasingly enhanced ways while pursuing our collective vision as a school. The other four component pieces of the FAAR Plan are supposed to work as a system, in conjunction with our goals and self-assessment, to provide us with feedback (like that reflective mirror and our biological feedback systems mentioned in “Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3″) which helps us see if our creative tension is steering us to reaching and achieving our goals and vision. From the feedback, if we realize our actions are not steering us closer to our vision, we can adjust course and re-direct our paths.

If you are a reader from Westminster’s faculty and administration, I hope you will carefully reflect during your self-assessment process and establish a primary goal which will motivate you, and all of us, to strive for and achieve the elements of our Learning for Life vision. What’s more, I hope you will utilize your feedback pieces as a whole system to collect and analyze the data which can come back to you from self and others in order to signal how “on target” our efforts and actions are to achieving our vision. Engaging with the FAAR Plan can be so much more than “jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” Engaging with the FAAR Plan can systematize and coordinate our individual efforts into collaborative actions that result in a realized vision – a vision for the best learning that we can provide for ourselves and our student learners.

What matters most is the mindset with which we take on this challenge! What is your mindset going to be? Will you employ a growth mindset? Will you engage with our professional learning plan in such ways that you are energized with creative tension? Will you collaborate with others so that we can work as a team to take on this exciting and invigorating journey as educators and as learners?

I hope you will! I hope you will help me stay focused as both a leader and as a participant team member. It’s about what’s best for our students! It’s about learning!

Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

For much of my life, I played soccer. I was a goal keeper. Growing up, being a goal keeper was a major component of my identity. For whatever reason, I never really liked the term “goalie.” I far prefer “goal keeper.” I do wonder sometimes if my strong self-concept as a goal keeper has anything to do now with my strong feelings about keeping goals.

What are you goals? Do you practice the habit of setting goals and establishing action steps to achieve those goals? Do you enlist support from a circle of friends – a team – to help you reach your goals, or do you tend to go it alone? Do you choose your goals carefully and thoughtfully so that you feel the energy to achieve your goals – an energy referred to as creative tension?

In Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Senge explained the concept of “creative tension.”

But the gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there was no gap, there would be no need for any action to move toward the vision. Indeed, the gap is the source of creative energy. We call this gap creative tension (Amazon Kindle App location 2430 of 7726).

In fact, we often take for granted how goal-oriented we actually are – closing the gap between a current reality and a vision confronts us countless times everyday in simple, as well as complex ways. Consider just a few of the simple cases:

  • When we look in the mirror in the morning to comb our hair or apply makeup, we are comparing our current reality to a vision we have for our appearance. We attempt to close the gap by grooming and primping. Feedback from our reflection in the mirror becomes critical.
  • When we run or bike, we have a current location, or current reality, and we seek to change our location to achieve our goal, or vision, destination. Some of the best runners and cyclists in the world choose hundreds of intermediate goal or vision locations along the way – “I can make it to that next telephone pole or tree in x seconds.” Feedback from our biology (breathing, muscle ache, etc.), and from our will power, becomes critical as we strive to reach our goal.

Of course, our professional learning takes on similar paradigms, albeit in more complex ways, as we attempt to alter our current reality to reach and achieve our goal or vision. Perhaps we have been practicing assessment plans that are more summative in nature – we have developed habits of testing at the ends of units to record a grade in a grade book. Maybe we want to utilize more formative assessment in our strategies to assess student learning, so we set goals about learning more about balanced assessment systems. We may establish action steps to achieve our goal, like reading about formative assessment and practicing more formative assessment strategies with our colleagues and with our student learners.

As we work to achieve our goals, the gap between our current reality and our vision becomes the source of learning – it is in the gap that we can explore creative ways to stretch ourselves toward our set vision. Again, in The Fifth Discipline, Senge reasoned:

Imagine a rubber band, stretched between your vision and current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension, representing the tension between vision and current reality. What does tension seek? Resolution or release. There are only two possible ways for the tension to resolve itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which occurs will depend on whether we hold steady to the vision.

The principle of creative tension is the central principle of personal mastery, integrating all elements of the discipline. Yet, it is easily misunderstood. For example, the very term “tension” suggests anxiety or stress. But creative tension doesn’t feel any particular way. It is the force that comes into play at the moment when we acknowledge a vision that is at odds with current reality (Amazon Kindle App location 2440 of 7726).

Often times, if not EVERY time, a first stage of dealing with creative tension is just trying something new. In the following, short TED talk by Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days, Cutts encourages us to shrink the change (a la the Heath brothers in Switch) by running a 30-day experiment in which we change our current reality by striving toward a new vision for ourselves.

But are there points of advice for becoming successful in striving for and reaching our goals and new visions? Of course! The points of advice can be found in myriad, countless sources, and they are virtually innumerable. One of the best sets of advice, in my opinion, comes from Richard St. John in another short TED talk, Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success:

In part 2 of this three-part series on goal keeping, I will post Westminster’s new vision statement, Learning for Life. Additionally, I will remind or reveal to readers the developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan, which is designed at its core to help us reach our vision as individual and interdependent professionals…and as a school. I am hopeful that other education professionals, as well as student and parent readers, may share their thoughts on our vision, FAAR plan, and my professional goals. Also, I am hopeful that other educators and professionals may share their systems for goal setting and vision accomplishment. To make our current reality snap toward our vision, we must all be goal setters, goal strivers, and goal keepers.

It’s about closing the gap between our current reality and our vision. It’s about exercising our creative tension. It’s about a growth mindset. It’s about learning.

Works Cited:

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency-Doubleday: Random House, 1990, 2006. Accessed via Amazon Kindle App.