George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Where there is no vision, the people perish.

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.

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.

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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tfreema6's picture

Without a vision people perish, I love this concept. A vision statement is the key in formulating and maintaining a school for with a purpose. Just as you mention the school's vision was, "ensure that all students are academically and socially prepared for success in high school and beyond." The young black men who were being suspended are a part of that all. There had to be some changes made. I agree with the statement that the key is the mission and vision of the school.
Thanks for sharing.

Kelly Jordan's picture
Kelly Jordan
Certified New York State Elementary Teacher, currently substitute teaching

I agree that the mission of vision is very important. It is what reminds educators of why they started teaching and what their goal they need to achieve everyday. I am currently in graduate school and we had a week devoted to developing a mission statement. As a young professional, I never really thought about what my mission as a teacher is and never realized how important it is. Teaching is a difficult but rewarding profession. I believe teachers need a goal to strive for to keep them going and also as a reminder of why they are there. With this mission statement in the teachers mind at all times, they will work harder for students no matter what. With teachers working harder for their students this will lead to better things for the students. Teachers should write their mission or vision down and display it somewhere in their classroom to remind them, this is why they are there and to keep them going when times are tough.

Halie Clay's picture

I loved the idea of having a personal mission statement to help avoid teacher burnout. Although our school has a vision, we don't directly discuss it with student and often times teachers do not promote it in their own classrooms. Having a mission statement and sharing that mission statement with students is one way to connect with your "classroom family." Letting students know that you are also setting goals for yourself will encourage them to set their own. I plan on creating a mission statment for my own classroom and sharing it with my students in the fall. Thanks for sharing!

Amber's picture

I have to admit that my mission and vision is drastically changing with my mood, the events of the day, and new aspects of teaching I learn. Simply put though, the base of my mission is based on spirituality. Spirituality is living what you believe. For a catholic person, specifically a catholic teacher, our mission is about being a role model for others, every day, all day. No breaks. Like a good actor who stays in character while learning a part, the more we stay in character, the more we become the part of the Catholic role model, someone who is an example of the faith we are called to live and share with others. Spirituality for me is first about finding out what God wants me to do, and then doing it.
As Jesus did, I hope to inspire my students not only academically, but also spiritually. By helping them to achieve success in their classes academically I hope that the doors of career opportunities will be opened to them, so that I might be part of a team that supports the future generation of doctors, teachers, nurses and other careers where people live a life of service. Even if they might not engage in a career of service, I would hope to help them to understand God's message of love, where they might have the financial means and time to volunteer and give generously to greater world community. Perhaps they might even end up as political leaders, where change can be made on a larger scale. Jesus was like the stone cast into the pool, the cause, and his influence through his life story, the Gospels, is like the ripples, extending to affect millions of people throughout the past two millennia. I wish to be a stone, like Jesus was, sharing his teachings with my students, and to make ripples of influence. If I can positively inspire a group of students, who then in turn inspire their friends and families, which then extends to the greater community, then the growth becomes exponential. Perhaps I may not be as influential as Jesus, but I can sure try my best to be like him.

GoldenRam1's picture
Health and Physical Education teacher from Fitzgerald, Georgia

Many successful companies start off with a mission statement to provide a detailed focus on the direction they should be moving at all times. As educators, it is of the most importance that we maintain focus inside and outside of our classrooms. As a thirteen year veteran of education, I recently created a mission statement and posted it in my office, gym, and my wallet. I have a new vigor and excitement for teaching due to the expectations that this statement creates. Every teacher should definitely consider a mission in education as an individualized focus for professional efficacy and improvement.

Ashley's picture
PreK 3 teacher from Baltimore, Maryland

The statement "without vision, the people perish" is full of such truth. Vision is that thing that drives, compels, and fills you with determination even in the most adverse, overwhelming, or stressful circumstances. It is that deeper sense of purpose that fills every moment with meaning and worth. Currently, I am a preK 3 teacher at a small, private day care center. While my ultimate goal is to teach elementary school and work with older children, I have decided to do and be the very best I can for these precious children during my season of teaching them. My vision, my mission as their teacher is to provide the children with engaging, hands-on learning opportunities that will enable each child to experience abundant growth in every area of their development. It is my desire for my classroom to be a place where they encounter unconditional love and experience the joy of learning and discovering new things about themselves and their world. Recently, this mission has been a great source of strength for me in the midst of frustration and stress as I deal with miscommunication, implementing a curriculum I do not feel is developmentally appropriate, and a lack of resources. It has enabled me to refocus mentally and continue to do what I know is best for the children within my care.
However, while I am driven by a personal sense of vision as an educator, the staff at the center where I work do not share any sense of vision. The staff shares very cordial interpersonal relationships and will often collaborate to plan or share ideas and resources, but there is no sense of a shared or unified purpose. This greatly concerns me as an educator, as I am beginning to realize that so much more could be accomplished for the students and parents of the center if the staff were driven by a unified sense of purpose for the school. How do you approach the idea of a shared sense of vision to a staff that, though cordial, continues to work independently of one another or is resistant to change? How long will the process be to develop and put into place a shared vision? How do you deal with opposition in the form of complacency, or a lack of passion for the work being done in the school? How can a new vision inspire already severely burned-out teachers?
Thank you for your post, and for the much needed reminder of the importance of sharing a vision!

David Jensen's picture
David Jensen
World History teacher

Vision, Mission and Values are commonly discussed in the corporate world and are easily applicable (and recommended) to teaching. Whether for the school, classroom, or an individual teacher, they become the compass that guides us. For more, see my blog on this topic at

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