Developing a School Vision: What Utensils Do You Use?

By: Dru Tomlin


Many people have a misconception that administrators are the only definitive leaders in a school, and while they do hold degrees in leadership, they do not hold sole possession of the trait itself. Rather, in effective middle level schools, everyone is a leader. This is also true for successful restaurants. While there is either a licensed chef or head cook in the kitchen, an effective restaurant has sustained growth when the sous chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, servers, hostesses, and patrons are part of the process of advancement and change.

Similarly, when properly supported and encouraged, every teacher, student, parent or guardian, and stakeholder has the capacity to sharpen their leadership skills and acumen in order to contribute to the creation of a great school.

Relying on the perspectives of a few may make it easier and quicker to create solutions and take action, yet more thoughtful decisions and actions are likely to result when we involve all members of the school community.

How does your middle level school define leadership? How does it identify and support future leaders? How does it ensure that leaders are a reflection of the school's learning community?

In the critical middle grades, effective leadership is a dynamic endeavor built and experienced by a collaborative of people. That is why—according to This We Believe—an amazing middle level school is propelled by "a shared vision developed by all stakeholders [that] guides every decision" (p. 27).

For this particular characteristic, the culinary connection is grounded in food science. Laughlin and Miodownik (2012), scientists at University College London, found that food tastes different depending on the kind of utensil one uses. They revealed that eating with spoons made of different metals (e.g., silver, tin, copper, zinc) affects how people experience and taste food.

They contend this happens because every metal has an "electrode potential" that reacts uniquely in the mouth. This discovery amounts to some pretty tasty research, but how does it relate to our work in the critical middle level?

As a middle school teacher and administrator, I have worked in schools that had vision statements mounted on plaques in the main office and laminated on posters in the hallways. However, these documents were typically crafted by selected leaders for the school to give direction to students and stakeholders instead of being developed "by all."

There is a tremendous difference between a vision statement written for all and a vision statement developed by all. Just as Laughlin and Miodownik's finding that a utensil's metal affects the taste of food, a school's vision that is developed by all takes into consideration the ideas and educational palates of every stakeholder. Otherwise, we run the risk of merely posting laminated signs containing the ideals created by a few, which may leave an empty or bad taste in the mouths of many stakeholders. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table and a voice in the process of vision development.

Here are some questions to consider when developing, revising, or revisiting your school vision statement:

  1. Why are you revisiting your school's vision statement? What are the goals?
  2. How and when are you involving all stakeholders in the vision process?
  3. How will the vision process you use give equal access, voice, and weight to all stakeholders?
  4. How will the revised vision statement be celebrated in the entire learning community?
  5. Are there other school programs and initiatives that need their own vision statements?

Dru Tomlin, Ph.D., is director of middle level services for AMLE.
dtomlin@amle.org

Published in AMLE Magazine, April 2017.

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