“Being forward-looking—envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future—is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders.”
That’s what Harvard Business Review concluded, after asking thousands of employees around the world about what they look for in a leader. While other qualities—like honesty—matter, what really sets someone apart as a leader, including school leaders focused on school improvement, is their ability to envision the future, plan for it and bring their people along with them.
When you envision your students’ futures, what do they look like? What do your students know and what are they able to do in this rapidly changing society and world of work? What character traits and dispositions do they have? Will the skills they developed at your school lead them to high-opportunity jobs? What roles do stakeholders like industry representatives and community members play in defining these skills and competencies? How do you bring your staff along with you in this vision?
As a school leader, you have the ability—and responsibility—to lead in creating a shared vision of a career-ready graduate that will guide your school in deliberately and strategically improving student outcomes.
It’s OK if you haven’t yet determined this vision. The article from Harvard Business Review cited above found that only 3% of a typical leader’s time is spent vision-setting. But now is the time to get started.
David Bramlett, a senior director at America Achieves and former school principal, reflects on the vision-setting experience he had with his staff.
“This time of year is especially ideal,” he says. “It’s easier to engage your community now in the process of vision setting because they are actively processing and considering what students need and what could be better. Often school leaders wait until summer or the start of the new school year to reflect and vision set with their staffs, but the teams have forgotten the substance of what needed to improve in the school—and by then, it’s generally too late to operationalize your vision in new systems and supports.”
Start with Small, Focused Groups and Give Them Tools to Dream Big
Bramlett suggests that school leaders leverage their grade-level or department teams as a way to engage the entire staff in the process. Starting in smaller, focused groups and then moving into a whole-school conversation helps to cascade the ideas and ensure everyone has a voice.
America Achieves Educator Networks has created several tools to help you get started in setting a vision for what a career-ready graduate looks like and engaging your stakeholders around this vision: a white paper to give you a more in-depth look into what cross-sector competencies are and why they matter, a short video to provide you with an overview and the initial questions to ask and an infographic to guide the process.
It’s time to dream big. What is your school’s vision of a career-ready graduate?