Monday, January 17, 2011

Aligning your vision and beliefs, part 3: Mission and philosophy

In the previous two parts of this series, I examine vision and beliefs statements.  For this third and final part, I explore mission and philosophy.  I do so  because both mission and philosophy are deeply affected by the alignment of vision and beliefs.  I also discuss mission and philosophy together because I see them as equals based on perspective.  In other words, I view a school’s mission statement as its institutional statement of philosophy articulated by action oriented language.  On the other hand, educational philosophies are generally personal statements made by individual educators that describe their guiding principles concerning the nature of teaching and learning.  It is with these assumptions in place that I offer the following for your reflection.

Mission Statements

As I stated above, I view a school’s mission statement as its statement of philosophy articulated by action oriented language.  Mission statements are written to answer the question, “What is our school’s purpose?”  Unlike the vision statement, mission statements are written in the present as opposed to the future tense.  In other words, the mission is NOT describing your school’s preferred future, but rather it is concerned with why the school exists to begin with and what activities are done at the school to accomplish the school’s stated purpose.

One pitfall that you should be aware of when writing a mission statement is to make sure your claims are able to be followed through with.  Schools should avoid making commitments that they cannot fulfill.  Failure to make good on your mission will lead to lack of trust and credibility.  This is especially important for independent and other private schools.  Given the nature of the role played by families at those schools, lack of trust and credibility can lead to disastrous consequences in terms of enrollment and attrition.

Here are a few items to remember and help you with reflecting on your school’s mission.

  • Mission statements focus on one common purpose.
  • Mission statements must be specific to your school.
  • Mission statements draw upon belief statements.
  • Mission statements are relatively short.

Mission and beliefs need to be attached to your vision, but developing these three components is a waste of time unless they become the basis for action and decision making.

Philosophies of Education

I believe that statements of educational philosophy are greatly individual descriptions of the guiding principles that specific educator uses in his or her approach to teaching and learning.  Certainly, statements of educational philosophy are very specific to the person, but there should be some common elements that identify each philosophy as educationally focused.  Much like the mission statement, philosophies should draw upon your individual beliefs, not necessarily the school’s beliefs.  Generally, when mission and philosophy line up, teachers feel satisfied with their work and schools enjoy the resources a well aligned faculty member brings to the institution.

In writing your statement of philosophy, I offer these eleven questions taken from “What is Your EP: A Test Which Identifies your Educational Philosophy” by Patricia T. Jerson.  As you use these questions, reflect on a one sentence answer to each.

  1. What is the essence of education?
  2. What is the nature of the learner?
  3. How should education provide for the needs of mankind?
  4. What should be the environment of education?
  5. What should be the goal of education?
  6. What should be the concern of school?
  7. What should be the atmosphere of school?
  8. How should appropriate learning occur?
  9. What should be the role of the teacher?
  10. What should the curriculum include?
  11. What should be the preferred teaching method?

I would also add an additional question that is appropriate for schools today.  I add it because I do not think any conversation about learning in the 21st century can take place without having a guiding principle concerning it. 

What should be the role of technology in school?

Bringing it all together

Educational leaders (not just those in formal leadership roles, but ALL who provide leadership in schools) are tasked with creating and promoting an environment in which every student is able to explore interests and learn to the best of his or her ability.  This is not easy.  Often, the “crisis of the hour” can test a leader’s core assumptions about schools and education in general.  Having reflected on and being comfortable with the four cohesive parts of one’s leadership foundation (vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy) is vital to providing the necessary guidance and example to effectively create and promote a student-centered learning environment.

Reference

Patricia T. Jerson, “What is Your EP: A Test Which Identifies Your Educational Philosophy,” Clearing House, 46, pages 274-278, January 1972.

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