September might seem a long way off as you get through this last half-term, with exams behind you, school trips and school-leavers ahead of you, but it will come around quickly – it always does.
What will you do on your first day back, with a refreshed team, ready to meet new classes and new parents? If you are thinking about revisiting your vision then you are not alone and September INSET is a great time to do it.
But do you know how to assess if your vision is in good shape to do the job? A powerful vision can inspire and galvanise a team, who will work smart and hard to do everything they can to achieve that vision. Here are five tests you can use to assess how effective your vision is.
Can you remember your vision – right here, right now?
If you are reaching to find your vision and cannot remember what it is, that is the biggest sign that your vision is not working. A great vision is memorable and sadly many visions are not.
A head and deputy were recently telling me how the vision was working in their school. “Great! What is it?” They paused and blushed. They couldn’t remember it.
And memorable does not mean it is rote learnt, because as an educator you know rote-learning is not a high level of learning. When I asked the head and deputy what their vision was, I was not looking for a word-perfect recital (that in itself sounds alarm bells ringing!), I was looking to understand the future they were trying to create and their picture of success.
But don’t fret. The rest of the test will help you to understand what your vision is missing and how you can improve it.
Top tip: Find out how well your vision is known. Ask a few people who represent a cross-section of your team what your school’s vision is. Remember you are not looking for the same statement, but an understanding of the meaning of your vision.
Does it have a clear moral imperative?
You work in a school. Okay, that is obvious. But just by working in a school you must have a moral reason for doing what you do. And I will wager it is more than just to get the pay and holidays.
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Why do you do what you do?
- Why do you work the hours you work?
- Why do you care so much about your children?
I know how hard teaching can be, but I also know how rewarding and fulfilling it is. There is a dent you are trying to make in the universe, what is it? This will live at the heart of your vision.
Top tip: Record yourself answering those questions. You do not have to share it with anyone but it is a great way to get you really thinking about those answers and seeing what you are passionate about.
Can people see it?
A great vision paints a picture in our minds, does yours? Great visionaries have to be great orators to get people on board and they are brilliant at creating pictures in our minds. If you want your vision to strike a chord, you have to be great at communicating what you are striving for. Having a strong moral imperative is the content, but how you deliver this message can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful vision.
A head I know crafted her vision and its communication and delivered it to her governors and got the first round of applause she had ever received from them (they are a bright and demanding group). This buy-in made the following conversations around achieving that vision much easier.
Let people see it and that might mean taking some time to see it for yourself. Use rich description, tell stories, real ones or made up ones that explain what your vision looks like, and create pictures in the minds of your team.
Top tip: Think of something which exemplifies your vision. It might be a student’s story, a teacher who is exceptional, it might be someone else’s story from another school, it might be what you want to happen when you meet your students in the future. Tell that story to show what your vision looks like in concrete terms.
Do you have a head or heart vision?
We are human and we have emotions – and our emotions are our primary drivers. And if emotions drive us your vision needs to stir emotions.
A vision that bounces off someone’s head and doesn’t touch their heart just doesn’t work. When you show your emotional connection to your vision, your team sees how much you truly believe in what you are saying – your own belief and commitment to it.
So, if you want your team to believe in it and to give it everything they’ve got, then they need to know you believe in it. This emotional connection to your vision, coupled with talking good sense, means others will connect with it. Sharing a vision without your emotions can sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown!
I know showing your emotions can be scary, especially if you have been told leaders should be strong, which implies not showing emotions, but we are driven by our emotions and you have them, they are what make you so committed to your job. So embrace your passion, your drive, your dream, the sadness you will feel if you don’t make the difference to the lives of the next generation that you want to.
Top tip: Whatever emotions are stirred within you when you think about your moral imperative make a note of them and share or show them when you talk about your vision.
Is it too wordy?
We want to provide an exceptional, exhilarating and exciting education that equips our children with life-long skills, inspiration and an aspirational future.
Now look away and try to remember that vision. If you can, you must be a memory master because for most of us that just bounces off our heads!
That is because this vision has a high fog factor – this is when there are too many long words in one sentence. Our brains struggle to understand what is being said and that is not good if you want your vision to be remembered.
Top tip: Re-write your vision in the simplest language possible and try to avoid words with more than three syllables.
A vision is a necessary courtesy of leadership: “If you want me to work as hard as I can, to follow you in creating the best education, you need to tell me what that is and get me on board.”
If you don’t do that for your teams, you are denying them the chance to buy in to the future you are trying to create and to let them choose if they are willing to give that vision everything they have got. If they do get on board they are far more likely to support the actions you need to take to deliver exceptional education.
A great, memorable vision doesn’t need to be short. A more effective vision which stirs emotions, creates images and tells stories, works so much better because it taps into what our brains like: pictures and emotions.
Sonia Gill is the founder and director of Heads Up Limited, an education leadership consultancy which specialises in supporting schools to become outstanding.