Finding Your Why Before Your Way: Setting Vision and Creating Missions

Hey there, remember me? Honestly, I don’t fully recognize myself right now either. What a marathon we’ve been through. From flipping how we teach and lead, to navigating conversations and learning around racial equity and social justice, there has been a lot to do, a lot to reflect on—and truthfully, more to come. This summer, I really needed a reboot on my leadership.

I found myself questioning what I was doing, what I wasn’t doing. or why I wasn’t doing what I saw others posting/tweeting/blogging about. Due to COVID-19, I don’t think anyone got a summer reset, and many of us are already as stressed, if not more, as when we started all of this in March.

As part of my reset, I have been reading, listening, and taking courses from Michael Hyatt and learning a lot from Megan Hyatt Miller. Within the first 50 pages of Hyatt’s book, The Vision Driven Leader, I saw what I was experiencing in print: “When we’re unclear about our destination, we tend to make short-range decisions, pursuing whatever opportunities that look good in the moment.”

And there it was. I was so focused on what I was supposed to do, I had forgotten why I was doing it. So with that, I created my own vision retreat.

Why Create a Vision? 

If you have time, I would highly encourage you to take Dr. Clay Cook’s course on “Becoming a Resilient Person: The Science of Stress Management and Promoting Wellbeing.” Throughout the modules, he explains the science of stress and shares strategies to help us learn to be resilient in the face of stressors in order to manage and minimize stress so it doesn’t cause negative impacts on our minds, bodies, and behaviors. One key point, Cook writes, is that “when we actually clarify our values and strive to live consistent with them, we are able to enhance our resilience.”

Just by identifying our values and living them out, we can increase our capacity to be resilient people—even in highly stressful times of our lives (hint: our current context).

How to Create a Vision

I wanted to create a vision of how I lead and serve our school from the vantage point of the four stakeholder groups I primarily serve: staff, students, parents, and community. Using Hyatt’s framework, I started writing a “vision script” that describes our school’s future reality (3–5 years) as if it was today.

To help in seeing the vision, I created a “vision wall” using poster paper with each of the stakeholder groups on it. Then I went to work, by carving out time without distraction, to really think about the following questions:

  • Why did I take on this position?
  • What do I want parents/students/staff/community to say about our school?
  • What am I most proud of?
  • What do I want to change?
  • Who are key people that I admire and respect in this community who will be able to give me feedback?
  • Why do I serve in our school?
  • Where do I want our school to be in 3–5 years?
  • What will we be known for?

I set a timer for 10 minutes and I free wrote my responses to the questions from the vantage point of each group. Once I was done, I reviewed it, created a vision script for each stakeholder group, and put it on the wall.

Draft a Mission

If you haven’t Read Ken Williams and Tom Heirck’s book Starting a Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities, this might be the year to do it. Based upon their work, I took the vision of where I saw our school in 3–5 years and started identifying ways to start now to get there. As Williams and Heirck say, “vision is located in the future, and mission is found in the present.”

To add to the clarity of the mission statements, I also took time to identify key books/resources and research that will drive our continued learning in each area.

Find Critical Friends

While you are the leader in your school, district, or classroom and the vision is yours, it is really helpful to find accountability partners in the process. Here is the tough part, finding that critical friend—not the one who says, “this is great,” but the one who says, “have you looked at it this way?” Next week I have a few of those friends coming in. During the visioning process, I also had time to check in with a few key mentors for encouragement, ideas, and problem-solving.

So now that I am on the path to find my why and way, the next step is the how. Stay tuned.

Jessica Cabeen is the principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin, MN.  She was the 2017 Minnesota Nationally Distinguished Principal and a facilitator of the Minnesota Principal Academy offered through the University of Minnesota. She is the coauthor of Balance Like a Pirate (2018) and author of Hacking Early Learning (2018), Lead with Grace (2019), and Unconventional Leadership (2019). She loves to connect with other educators on Instagram, Facebook, Voxer, and Twitter (@JessicaCabeen) and her website (www.jessicacabeen.com).

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