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Articulating a Philosophy for Learning

STRATEGY: Create a clear and concise vision and philosophy for student learning within the school.

For a school or district leader, the vision for the school or district allows the leader to articulate the long-term impact of the work and the reason that impact is essential. A well-articulated vision can be a powerful lever for a variety of reasons, such as attracting and keeping talent. Once a leader is clear on the vision of teaching and learning, it is much easier to put a strategic plan in place and get the community (constituents) to support and work toward it.

While a clear vision is the leader’s responsibility, other school community members play an important role in developing and implementing it. In setting a vision for the district or school, it’s vital that these voices be brought together to share their ideas, not only to create the vision but also to build a culture for what comes next—its implementation.

Most importantly, a vision of an education system or school must be bold, progressive, and forward looking. Without this kind of vision, the work of a school or district has no underpinning and may flounder.


Vision can be defined as the long-term end goal of an organization based on its values and beliefs. What a school leader and the school community constituents envision as success for every student will drive how a vision statement is articulated and used to drive improvement and change. As an example, a sample vision statement might say, “Central High School’s vision is to be one of the state’s most effective schools, helping high school students who have not succeeded in previous schools prepare for and be successful in postsecondary learning opportunities for college and a career.” The policies and practices of the school or district will emerge from and be aligned with the vision; all efforts must lead to it and be easily evident to all. Therefore, if successful preparedness for postsecondary learning is the vision for all students, then access to and support in programs that are aligned to postsecondary success must be evident in each student’s course of study and the initiatives that support all students in accessing those opportunities.

First Steps to Consider

When developing a vision, include the staff, students, and parents early on in discussions about what they hope for—for teaching and learning, for each school community, and for the larger community. Share samples of vision statements from high-performing schools and systems. The school community can begin to identify and articulate the needs of the school, the community, the workplace, and the larger society. It is helpful to have an idea of the internal dialogues that school or district community members will be having before, during, and after the development of the new vision. What will the new vision expect of, for example, the teacher, the parent, the local business leader? How will the world change for that person because of the new vision? When developing a vision, be short and sweet. It can be more powerful and is easier to remember

Complexities & Pitfalls

Setting a vision is not a simple task. Leaders must consider their own values and beliefs, as well as those of any other group that engages with this work. That kind of self-assessment is critical to any first step when developing a vision, and it must happen in a manner that is transparent, collaborative, and far-reaching. Few schools and districts take that kind of time and energy before composing the first draft of a vision. Furthermore, existing policies and resource allocation might limit vision setting. A true, bold vision should be based not on what is immediately apparent but on what can be dreamed and imagined. Lastly, diverse community values and beliefs, along with differentiated needs of students, can result in cacophony when developing a vision. While all of these issues must be apparent when creating a vision, no single issue should derail the leader’s ability to reach consensus. Common pitfalls

  • Being hasty—not taking the time to put a good process in place.
  • Being shy about change.
  • Ignoring meaningful constituent (stakeholder) engagement.
  • Having inadequate information about needs within the system, the local community, and the postsecondary pathways that students may take.
  • Thinking too narrowly about what schools can and should do.
  • Worrying too much about capacity and resources.

Guiding Questions

What is the school’s or district’s basic beliefs about teaching and learning? What are good models of leadership, and how has a solid vision aided the effectiveness of that leader? Who are the key constituents to be involved in this process? How will these groups be engaged? What process will be used to come to consensus? Is the help of an expert facilitator needed? What data sets and information will be needed to fully understand the needs now and in the future?