So, I’m not the kind of gal who has a five year plan…I have things that I want to accomplish, but they’re more like a list of things rather than a timeline.  While I was on the plane today I read an interview with Katie Couric where she said that everyone should have a 5-10 year plan for their careers and personal lives…so I guess I’m behind the 8-ball already!  Or at least according to Katie C.!

But this got me thinking about a client visit that I recently had.  It seemed like we were stalled in the work – everything was getting “done” but it seemed like it was one big checklist.  Did you publish the pacing plans?  CHECK.  Did you hold the PLCs weekly?  CHECK.  Did you meet to discuss the data since our last visit?  CHECK. It was all there, but….

I realized about halfway through the visit with the staff, that what was happening is that everything was getting done in checklist style, but there was no future-building, no vision.  They had no purpose for doing the “checklist”. When I asked the staff “WHY are you doing these things?” their response was, “Because the district says we have to.”  Not the answer I’d hoped to hear.

Now I will be the first to say that I’m a skeptic when it comes to creating vision statements and all that – I oftentimes see the reverse of no vision and that’s we-have-a-vision-statement-but-we-forgot-that-we-have-to-do-something-about-it syndrome.  And that’s equally as deadly in my book!

Even though I’m a skeptic about formalized vision-making processes, I realized that I needed to give my client some structure in SEEING the future – they were accomplishing the tasks, but didn’t see how school life could be different and better than it was now!  Vision, to me, is having a clear picture in my head about what the future is going to look like so that when I have to put in the tough, ugly work I can remind myself that it’s temporary and, even though it’s costly and time-consuming, can get to me to where I want to be.  The onus is on me to keep the future in mind.

I did some work on what it takes to have vision – I think some of it can be prescribed but most of it has to come from within.  Here’s what I came up with:

To have vision I have to know that what I’m trying to accomplish is possible

With my vision-less client, I asked the principal to get me a bunch of index cards.  When I met with the staff, I had them write “The Vision” on one side of the card and to list in one sentence what the vision for the district is.  On the other side I had them list (on a scale from 1-5) how possible that vision was to accomplish.  (5 being ‘highly possible’, 1 being ‘not possible at all’).

What we found was that the group as a whole thought the vision of the district was to implement the reading program with fidelity.  Period.

While implementing their reading program was a STEP in accomplishing the vision, the vision really was more along the lines of getting a 90% kids to benchmark in reading by the end of third grade.  So the staff was confused on this!

The average score of “possible” in relation to the vision was a ‘2’.  They just didn’t think it was possible.

When I talked with the leadership about this, they said “We have talked and talked about our expectations, but we’ve not talked about vision…we are in trouble.”  Well, they weren’t in trouble, but they had some work to do to talk with the staff about what it would LOOK LIKE when everything was implemented well and that the finished product WAS POSSIBLE.  They decided to share data from other districts just like theirs who had achieved the results that they were envisioning.

To have vision I have to equip myself with the skills necessary to accomplish it

I asked our client this one question: “What are the most important skills that your district needs to have in accomplishing your goals?” They listed them.

Then I asked them to rate from 1-3 (‘1’ being poor/nonexistent to ‘3’ being strong skills) how they stacked up against the skills necessary to accomplish the goals and achieve their vision.

We then planned a monthly goal related to the skills that were missing.  For example, one of the missing skills that they identified was “Able to brainstorm possible solutions to roadblocks and prioritize solutions and create a ‘next step'”. They focused on that in big and small tasks for the next month or so.

To have vision I have to have the can-do mindset

There are reasons why some people accomplish their goals and some people don’t – and I have seen that it has a whole lot to do with how we THINK and TALK about the vision.  Some places I visit, when I propose something new they’ll immediately say, “Oh, you don’t know OUR kids…that won’t happen!”.  Other places I go, they say, “Bring it on!  Show us what we need to do…we might be overwhelmed, but we won’t be deterred!”

Can you guess which staff gets better results?  In both cases they’ve got me there to help build their skills, but one will soar while the others complain.

With one staff, we played a game called “What Would Happen If” – and we brainstormed every conceiveable good and bad thing that would come from accomplishing their goals/reaching their vision point.  And there were negatives (like we will lose Special Ed staff because we will have fewer SpEd kids), but they were so far outweighed by the positives it was undeniable – the work to achieve the vision had to be done.  And done immediately.

So, what’ll it be for you?

If you are a teacher…what is your vision for your students this year?

If you are a coach…what is your vision for your staff this year?

If you are a leader…what is your vision for your district or school this year?