Feature Article: Use Your `Vision` to Communicate - December 2007

Historic Start Date: 

A principal told us recently how surprised – and disappointed – she was to discover that the communication tool least valued by her staff was the school’s vision statement. A staff survey showed that countless hours and a wide cross section of community input to express the school’s very reason for being seemed to do little to inspire staff behavior.
The principal concluded that writing a vision statement is one thing, that communicating it is quite another matter. Making a school’s vision come alive requires the same deliberative planning that goes into writing down the school’s underlying belief. And it also requires building a high performing team to achieve it. Here are some ways to put your vision statement on the lips of all those you wish to follow it.

1. Tap the symbolism. Time and money are powerful symbols of what we value. Finding and lavishing both to energetically communicate your school’s vision spreads the message to staff and the public that, yes, vision matters. Well-crafted language displayed with attention to color, fonts and layout are key first steps. Then, decide on strategic placement – from the web to the newsletter to the classroom.

2. Connect the dots. Vision statements are, well, visionary; they’re intentionally grand, and intended to set the course for change. But staff and parents live in the real world where practical blurs the big picture. Put communication procedures in place to take notice of small actions that clearly connect to the long term goal. Then praise individual and collective efforts and results for all to see. Show your staff, students and parents that the vision is possible by praising and highlighting actions and activities that can get you there.

3. Live the vision. Leaders who live the vision send the most compelling message about its importance. Those who sit behind a closed office door, have an inflexible schedule, or rule by decree send a powerful message about how the school is run. In turn, active listening, focused actions and laughing at yourself send a message that may more closely align with the school’s vision. Don’t be afraid to show people who you are, what you believe and that you are also a learner.

4. Build the team. A captivating and inspiring vision can help to transform your faculty and staff into a high performing team, focused on achieving a renewed and improved future for your school. According to many strategic planning gurus, high performing teams always share a common vision for the future that galvanizes their work. And high performing teams share something else – ongoing, two-way communication that is open, honest, positive and constructive. Keep the vision on the faculty agenda in order to build understanding and promote teamwork.
-- Revive the vision. At a faculty meeting, have groups create pictures on chart paper that dramatize an aspect of the vision. Share the results, highlighting common themes.
-- Revisit the vision. Periodically open faculty meetings with a vision discussion, asking how the school is or is not progressing.
-- Reflect on the vision. At an end-of-year meeting, discuss the following: What is the evidence that we are moving closer to fulfilling our vision (or not)? What do we need to do next year to accelerate our progress? (Sources for vision-building tips: www.educationworld.com and www.nwrel.org.)

It doesn’t matter what “characteristics of high performing teams” list you find – common vision and effective communication are both on it. So, establish clear and regular channels for communication and make sure everyone on the team, from the school custodian to the guidance counselor, understands the role he or she plays in bringing the vision to reality.

– Meg Carnes, APR
NSPRA Consultant