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Educational vision is not enough (D2)

[This is a second draft following thought provoking feedback from Will Richardson on the original version (thanks Will) - key changes include a revised version of the 'key relationships' diagram and subsequent explanatory text]

We know that having a shared educational vision is important because it enables us all to travel in the same direction. “Vision is a key part of ending up someplace on purpose” (Hill 2010 p.28). However, that begs the question, what should the purpose of schools be and what is the relationship between purpose and vision?

There are many purposes of schooling, many of which are nothing to do with learning. For example, schools provide custodial care for children, freeing up parents to do other things (e.g. earn a living). This was brought home to me when I was a primary school teacher back in the early 1990s during a period of industrial action: if the head kept the children in the hall watching videos then the parents were supportive of the strike action, but if the school was closed the parents became hostile to the striking teachers.

Schools also provide a socially acceptable mechanism for categorising children and signalling to employers which candidates are most likely to be good employees: “Education is now the way the adult world measures the promise of youth. Scholastic failure doesn’t merely reveal a lack of talent and drive; it signals deviance” (Caplan 2018 p.288).

Historically, schooling in ‘developed countries’ was “created to prepare mass numbers of citizens to engage in basic industrial work (or, later, basic office work) – in other words, for the exact jobs that are now declining in number at precipitous rates” (McLeod & Shareski 2018 p.13). The focus was on providing “a standardized, predictable, and reliable, product” (Smith 1998 p.47) to meet the needs of the industrial age.

Today, most would agree that the educational purpose of schools should reflect both the needs of the individual and society, now and in the future. An important aspect of this is preparing young people to lead fulfilling lives, which historically has meant equipping them for future employment. This educational purpose should be succinctly encapsulated in your educational vision.

I have been lucky enough to carry out research in a wide range of schools – and with one notable exception, the head teachers enthusiastically explained the school’s vision. I categorised these visions along the following dimension:

Category Explanation
None The head/principal couldn’t articulate the school’s vision.
Technology The vision was clearly technology driven,

e.g. To have a computer lab in every classroom; For every student to have their own mobile device.

Apple pie The vision was aspirational but so fluffy as to be unhelpful in knowing what the school strategies should be.

e.g. Every child will reach their full potential.

21st Century The vision was about preparing students to be 21st Century citizens and/or developing 21st Century skills.
Educational A clearly educational vision, that was sufficiently specific to provide some guidance re appropriate educational strategies.

e.g. Developing literate, creative, culturally aware and socially conscious young adults and ready global citizens

The last category (Educational) aligned with the view that your vision should “be a roadmap to help guide us in making decisions, promoting us to think through things” (Hill 2010 p.29).

However, when it came to thinking about my own vision for education I ended up with ‘Individual fulfilment and Universal wellbeing’. This fits in the category of Apple pie visions, which fall short of providing much in the way of guidance about what you might do to implement them.

The problem, which seems a common one in education, was that my categorisation of educational visions was confusing vision, mission, strategies and intended outcomes (goals). The diagram below tries to unravel their relationships to each other and to key underpinning theories, beliefs and assumptions.

Diagram showing the relationships between theories, beliefs and values, and purpose/mission, vision, strategies and goals
Key relationships

Thus, your vision is a statement of where you want to get to. It needs to be informed by your purpose (or mission) and complemented by a mission and strategies (including policies, approaches and tools), and supplemented by goals that enable you to see how well you are doing at achieving your vision. All of which are underpinned by your theoretical understandings (e.g. of learning), beliefs (e.g. about what is important) and assumptions (e.g. about what the future might be like).

This begs the questions ‘what are your underlying theories, beliefs and assumptions?’, and ‘how do these translate into a mission and strategies?’. Those are questions for other blog posts!

Postscript: see the following posts for my:

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