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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
--Proverbs

Does your school have a mission or a vision? Does it mean something and inform decision-making? Or is it just something posted on some wall/paper/handbook that you vaguely remember? Do you have a vision for yourself as a teacher, principal, coach, etc.? What do you feel is your mission?

At the end of the year I always find myself mulling over visions because this is what I measure my own work against: how, and in what ways, did I work towards my vision? Fulfill my mission? Some time ago, I created a vision statement for myself. It felt necessary in order for me to do my best work. Here it is:

I coach to heal and transform the world. I coach teachers and leaders to discover ways of working and being that are joyful and rewarding, that bring communities together, and that result in positive outcomes for children. I coach people to find their own power and to empower others so that we can transform our education system, our society, and our world.

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This spring I realized that this is my key strategy to prevent burnout: by having a vision, holding it close, breathing through it, and working from it. I'm lost without my vision. It keeps me anchored. It helps me deal with all the drama, politics, frustrations, and stuff I can't control. It reminds me of who I am and why I'm here. And so at the end of the year, I think about how and in what ways I fulfilled my vision.

One Vision: Restorative Justice

I'd been thinking about this vision thing, and then last week something interesting happened. It started a series of reports were released about the experience of African American males in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) based on the 2010-11 school year. These included data on suspensions, absenteeism, and graduation rates. The reports are grim, as they are for African American males in most school districts across this country. But in OUSD our superintendent is prioritizing reversing these trends and providing African American males with a different experience and outcomes.

Some of the most startling data is on suspension rates. A number of our middle schools have suspended one out of every two African American boys, and almost 40 percent of suspensions were for "defiance or causing a disruption." Our district's leadership is committed to keeping our kids in school and exploring alternatives to suspension.

In response to the reports, press conferences were called and district leaders are speaking up about what they have been doing this year in response to this data. That's when it got interesting. There's one middle school in Oakland -- United for Success Academy -- (UFSA) that has been implementing Restorative Justice practices this year and has seen a dramatic decrease in suspension rates for African American males -- a reduction of 72 percent in one year! And their total suspension numbers have been cut in half!

You can can watch the interview with Elia Bustamante, Principal of UFSA. This is what she says:

Our efforts to reduce disproportionality in terms of student suspension really stemmed from a process that our staff, families and members of our school engaged in in terms of determining what is our vision at United for Success Academy, what is our mission, what is our purpose for existing as a school. We landed on our entire mission for existing here at UFSA is to interrupt the inequities that exist in our communities by ensuring that all of our students are academically and socially prepared for success in high school and beyond.

And with that came a lot of reflection and dialogue about what are the inequities that prevail in our communities and where do we contribute as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution and one of the areas that we landed on was suspensions and how we determined who was suspended and our process that really mirrored the criminal justice system and so when we reflected on that we identified that we were only doing suspensions as a way of consequences because that's what we knew. So zero tolerance was what we had been told, we can been sold on that and when we really stopped and reflected on what we believed in we realized that that's not what we believed in. When we were introduced to the concepts of Restorative Justice we identified that was something that as a school we wanted to take on. We had been talking about it for a little bit and beginning to make some changes, but I think our process in engaging in our revisioning and identifying our mission really pushed us to the point where it was an intentional change with structures and systems in place to support it.

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This statement blew my mind. This is huge. Because what she is saying is that just plunking some program into a school, redesigning a discipline plan, even providing teachers with professional development and support is not the key -- the key is the mission and vision. Without a vision, the people perish -- and the young black men and boys are often pushed out of school.

What is your vision and mission? Please share with us.




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