One area that causes new and aspiring leaders looking to make the move into Assistant Headship, Deputy Headship and Headship the most challenge and angst is that of vision. I’m often asked by these aspiring leaders the following questions:
- How do I know what my vision is?
- What actually is a vision?
- How do I develop a vision?
- How do I articulate my vision?
Vision is one of those things that is difficult to quantify and hard to put your finger on – especially if yours isn’t yet clear. In fact, when starting out in pursuit of leadership roles, it can become an almost mythical quest where people get really hung up on not having a vision or knowing what there’s is. I suppose it’s like anything in life, the more pressure you put on yourself to come up with an answer the harder it is to find the solution. To help aspiring leaders develop a vision I have created the following principles.
Developing the vision – THE GOOD
The first part of creating a vision is to think about what you passionately believe in education. Try to come up with some key drivers that you think will help you achieve outstanding outcomes in your school e.g. collaborative learning, promoting independence, building global links etc. Once you have done this the next step is to think of any inspirational schools you have worked in with leaders who have really sold a vision – try to unpick what made you buy into their vision. I first started teaching at a great school in Uppermill, Saddleworth where there was a truly outstanding Headteacher – his vision was so clear and the way he sold it really motivated me. I have spent many hours unpicking what he did and how he did it – once I did this I built elements of this into my own vision.
If you can, and you have an understanding boss, then try and get out and visit other great schools. Whenever I meet a leader who inspires me I always take the time to pick their brains on what they believe in education, how they have achieved it in their school, the barriers they overcame and (not linked necessarily to vision) their career path (I’m always intrigued by how people have got to where they are). The more great things you see in education the clearer your vision will begin to become.
Developing the vision – THE BAD
Without a doubt the most powerful tool for developing my vision was when I spent a year working at a school that tested all of my core beliefs and principles. I had relocated from Uppermill and took the first job I was offered. When I started at the school I quickly realised it wasn’t what I thought and the vision the school had was a million miles from my own. The longer I spent at the school the more I disliked it and everything it stood for – in my opinion (and it is only my opinion) the school was not child centred – it was staff centred. Expectations of the children were low, behaviour dealt with inconsistently and there was little desire from anyone to innovate or change. I HATED it there. At the time is was an incredibly tough year and when I found promotion after one year I was only too glad to leave. What I couldn’t appreciate at the time was that it was the most powerful learning experience I could ever have had and was as useful and possibly even more useful than working under an outstanding Headteacher. You see, you only really start to know what you believe in and your vision for education when you see the complete opposite. When your beliefs are questioned and challenged. When you see poor practice. It all promotes a powerful response and made me think: ‘When I’m a Headteacher I will never do it like that’. So my advice to you is that if you have ever had the misfortune (or as it will turn out, fortune) to work in a school that tests these principles then harness them and use them towards your vision. My vision and who I am is hugely influenced by that negative experience. If you have never worked at a school that tested out your principles then again my advice is to get out to a range of schools – not just good – and see if there are things in them that help mould your vision.
Developing the vision – THE UGLY
Aspiring and new leaders who lift someone else’s vision and regurgitate are doing themselves no favours. After all, we can all see through a leader who doesn’t have conviction in what they are saying. The easy option when you don’t have a vision is to merely repeat someone else’s but in my experience this is a short term solution. The better option is to look at a range of visions and modfiy them, merge them, add bits and create something you truly believe in. At least this way, when you are challenged on your vision (which you will be at some point), you can speak with passion, belief and conviction for what you feel about education and the direction to move in. Innovating and modifying a vision is different from directly regurgitating one.
The Vision Model
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Articulating Your Vision
So, you are at the point where you have created your vision and are feeling more confident about it. The next step is articulating it to staff, parents, peers and governors – this is not always easy and where people fall down is when they over complicate a process. I have seen leaders create a vision that was summarised in one side of A4. To be frank, I switched off after the first paragraph – there was just too much information. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that to get your vision across it needs to be complicated or overtly wordy. My advice to you is to keep it simple and ensure that you live and breathe it. I have often felt that a simple picture or diagram helps – below is my vision for Park Hill and what I used when I applied for the job. I believe it says all it needs to.
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Be prepared to fight tooth and nail for your vision. Education needs strong leaders who will stand up for what they believe in. You will have doubters – everyone does but make sure you stick to your principles. After all, the children deserve to be in a school that knows where it’s heading!