The Cobbler’s Children — What’s in a vision statement?


We’ve probably all participated in some sort of “visioning” activity. Frequently, the experience itself is what we remember – a highly engaging process that allows people to think outside their boxes in a way that is both refreshing and motivating. The shared experience leads to a consensus about where we are headed and, more often than not, a consensus about the statement designed to communicate the dream.

Recently, our small team gathered for our annual winter retreat. Among other agenda items, we reviewed the successes and challenges of the prior year, identified our opportunities and threats, and crafted our SMART goals for the year ahead. We also engaged in lively discussions about the meaning of our mission: “Working together to build capacity for student-centered, goal-directed learning.” We concluded that this statement of purpose continues to describe perfectly what we do and why we exist.

Then we turned to the vision statement that we created when we started SMART Learning Systems. We recalled talking about the vision but no one could remember what it was. Wasn’t it supposed to be inspiring and unforgettable? Some of us could recall the “theory” of where we were headed; some of us could recall the values upon which the vision statement was created; none of us could remember the actual statement.

But wait – it was on our website, as you would expect. So, we punched in our home page and read the vision statement. Hmmm. Yes, it was a vision statement. But where was the excitement? It was obvious that it needed some work. As we struggled to come up with just the right words, Terry asked the illuminating questions: “What will be happening when we have been wildly successful in fulfilling our mission? Won’t all students be achieving their goals?” Eureka!


All students achieving their goals!

There was an immediate and audible reaction – “YES!” How simple. How profound. That vision is what gets us out of bed every morning and keeps us going all year. It’s why we do what we do. But what took us so long? After all, don’t we teach this visioning stuff? (See the Handbook for SMART School Teams, 2nd Edition, pages 239 – 244.)

Though the idea expressed in our vision is simple, getting there is not. A vision really isn’t a dream. It’s a desired end result that is only attainable because of our efforts. We are excited because we believe – no, we know – that it is possible. But are we really designed to deliver on that promise? Every organization needs to ask itself this question. For us, the answer was another resounding “YES – it’s what we do!”

All is a critical word in our vision statement. Our vision can only be realized when educators align their professional learning toward common goals aimed at all students achieving their own learning goals. We’re not talking about educators setting goals on behalf of their students; we are talking about educators supporting and teaching students to set, monitor, and adjust their learning based on their own goals, personal visions, and aspirations. (See More Than a SMART Goal: Staying Focused on Student Learning, “Creating Student-Centric Classrooms,” pages 66-76.)


Evolving through the work with our client districts

Our vision is reflected in the work we do with client districts, work that has evolved over the past couple of years. We have been so busy helping others make it happen that we couldn’t see that we were without shoes until we paused to reflect during our retreat.

We look forward to sharing some amazing success stories in future posts. Until then, don’t be too busy to check out your school or district’s vision. Is it worthy of a big “YES!”? If so, is it student-centered and focused on learning? Does it apply to ALL learners – adults and students? Is your organization designed to make it happen? Do you have a way of knowing that you’re getting there? We hope you can answer yes to all of these questions, but if not, have faith – we are proof that the cobbler’s children can have magnificent shoes.


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