Friday, April 03, 2015

Mission Impossible

My school, like many schools and other organizations, has a mission statement. I can't tell you what it is. This despite the fact that we've had it for just over seven years now and I - along with the entire staff that was here at the time - helped create it. While I haven't done a scientific survey, I feel fairly confident in saying that if you asked five random staff members at my school what our mission statement is, there's a pretty good chance none of them would be able to tell you. And I feel even more confident that if you asked five random students at my school, they wouldn't know either. Which means it's mission impossible.

That doesn't mean I don't generally like what's in our mission statement (and, for that matter, our longer vision statement). You can read them here (pdf). I do want students to achieve their potential, collaborate and be life-long learners, and contribute to society. The problem is that when you have a mission statement that no one knows, and that has generic statements like that, it ends up being pretty meaningless. I've written about this previously, talking about core values and whether students can articulate the vision, but clearly it's still bothering me. I'd like something that's meaningful, and that we can post in each and every classroom so that each day, students and teachers could refer to it. Any student would be able - and expected - to ask, how is what we are learning today going to help fulfill our mission? And if the teacher doesn't have a good answer, then they should stop teaching it. Similarly, every teacher would be able - and expected - to ask the same of what students were doing with their time.

So I was feeling all good and outraged, but then I asked myself, "What's my mission statement?" Uh-oh. I don't have a good answer for that, even though it's something I've thought about. Some of the Language Arts teachers at my school do an activity with students called "What's Your Sentence?," based on an idea in Daniel Pink's Drive. In the past, they've put out an email to staff asking for their sentence that they can share with students, and I always star it in my email and stare at it for a week before feeling guilty and not replying. This will be no surprise to regular readers of this blog, but my problem is that I can't figure out just one sentence that captures it for me.

I usually start with a sentence something like this:
To help those around me become more passionate learners.
But then I start picking at it. Shouldn't I include myself in there? But that makes the sentence awkward.
To help myself, and those around me, become a more passionate learner.
And learner about what? Do I really want them to become a more passionate learner about something that isn't meaningful for them? Say, perhaps, our somewhat arbitrary curriculum? And so I try something like,
To help those around me discover and pursue their passions.
But then that doesn't explicitly mention learning, and becoming a better learner. And it leaves out "myself" again. So then I try something like,
To help myself and those around me discover and pursue their passions by becoming more passionate learners.
or perhaps
To help myself and those around me discover and pursue their passions by becoming better learners.
Yuck. It's about now that I remember why I was better suited to teach mathematics than language arts, and then I dial back my outrage (at least a little) about my school's mission statement. So I try changing the order,
To help myself and those around me become better learners and discover and pursue their passions.
Maybe a little better, but it's awkward with the multiple 'ands', and I still don't quite like the phrase 'better learners.' So then I'm reminded of another post where I reference something David Jakes wrote talking about culture, and I wonder if somehow my mission statement should try to talk about a culture of learning.
To help myself and those around me develop a culture of learning; one where we help each other discover and then pursue our passions.
Getting closer, but I'm still not sure I can really do it in one sentence. But when I start adding sentences, it gets too involved and less clear. So does that mean it's "mission impossible" for me as well? If I can't articulate what I'm trying to accomplish, what my purpose is, does that mean that I'm doomed to fail? Maybe.

What about your school's mission statement? Or your sentence? Do you have something straightforward and meaningful that your school - and you - can rally around? I'm obviously still struggling with my own, but I think for those of us working in schools, it's something important to talk about. And, even if we don't come up with one perfect sentence or one perfect mission statement, I think we should be willing to post what we do have in each and every one of our learning spaces, and ask our students to hold us just as accountable as we hold them.

No comments:

Post a Comment