Effective Practices : Long-range and Strategic Planning

Statements of Vision, Mission and Values
Planning Section 1

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1. Does your school have written statements of its vision, mission, and values? Attach a copy of your school’s statements.
2. Describe the process by which these statements were developed.
3. What person or body in the school is responsible for ensuring that these statements are reviewed and revised as needed to ensure they properly reflect the intentions of the school? How and with what frequency is this review performed?
4. If your school does not have such written statements, why have you chosen not to draft them?
5. In what way are these statements utilized in your school? In which print vehicles are they regularly included (e.g. parent handbook, outreach materials, etc.)?
6. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to statements of vision, mission and values.
7. What is particularly effective in your school’s creation and use of vision, mission and value statements?
8. If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s creation and use of statements of vision, mission and values what would it be and why?

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Does your school have written statements of its vision, mission, and values? Attach a copy of your school’s statements.
Each of the schools included in this study has done work to put its vision (purpose), mission (practices) and values into clear and concise written form. These forms vary in style and approach, but in each case they serve the school by providing a clear set of shared imaginations, practices, and philosophies that underlie all of the important work of the institution.

One interesting finding of this study is the difficulty with vocabulary in this area. Each school has a unique definition for what it calls Statements of Vision, Mission and Values, and these terms are sometimes used interchangeably to mean the same thing. For example what one school calls a Vision another calls a Mission. Similarly, what one school calls a Vision Statement another calls a Ten Year Imagination. Be sure to read the descriptions below carefully; whenever the terms Statements of Vision, Mission or Values are used in this section they will be in accordance with these definitions.

The Vision Statement was described by one school as “a depiction of what the school aspires to be in the future. It’s compelling and easy to visualize, and is the guiding force that the school uses to direct its ongoing decision making.” These Vision statements are generally quite short, typically two or three sentences and 50 words in length.

Often times these Vision Statements are accompanied by a longer document, sometimes referred to as a Ten Year Imagination. The purpose of this Ten Year Imagination document is to describe what the school will look and feel like in all aspects at a point ten years or more in the future. It may include descriptions of the physical plant, explanations of the ways in which the curriculum will be expanded and delivered, and comments about human resource development and community relations. These imaginations do not include timetables or strategies for accomplishing their various aspects. AWSNA has created just such an imagination for the Association. See: Our Imagination for the Future

The Mission Statement is longer than the Vision Statement, usually about 10 to 12 sentences in length. It describes the kinds of activities that take place in the school in an ongoing way to support the school’s work to achieve its Vision. One way of thinking about a Mission Statement is to consider it as a set of open-ended objectives that describe the school’s ongoing activities and areas of focus.

A Values Statement articulates the underlying principles that inform the way the school community agrees to work together. For example, it may mention things like consensus decision making or working out of an understanding of child development as articulated by Rudolf Steiner. Other typical items mentioned in values statements for Waldorf schools include transparency in financial reporting and a commitment to serving students from a variety of economic and social backgrounds.

(See: Definitions of Vision, Mission and Values Statements)

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Describe the process by which these statements were developed.
In many cases the school’s decision to draft statements of Vision, Mission and Values sprang from a desire to engage in long range or strategic planning. Typically it becomes clear quite early in the planning process that a shared understanding of the school’s purpose, its practices and the way in which it chooses to work together is a critical first step in the planning process.

In other cases the need for these statements arises out of a change in the school’s stage of development, typically when the school is moving from the pioneer or developing stage into a period of adolescence and differentiation. In the early years of a school’s biography the school community is quite small, and it is possible for everyone to know implicitly what the school’s vision, mission and values are. This implicit understanding is born out of the high degree of participation by all community members in the life of the school. However, as the workings of the school become more complex and differentiated, and increasingly larger numbers of new members join the school community, it is no longer possible for everyone to know everything about the school. It is at this point that schools often find it necessary to make explicit what was known implicitly in an earlier stage of the school’s biography, and written Statements of Vision, Mission and Values are a result of this need.

Typically the creation of these statements happens through a process directed by a small group, but involving a large section of the greater school community. In some cases the school has named a long range or strategic planning team, and it is this group that manages the process that leads to the drafting of these documents. In other cases the school recognizes the need to make its vision, mission and values more explicit, and creates a hand selected group to lead just this task without the larger question of longer term planning being an additional responsibility.

The schools interviewed repeatedly underscored the importance of the right composition of people and skills in the group charged with managing the creation of these documents. These documents are of the greatest value when a large section of the school community has had an opportunity to be actively engaged in their creation. Therefore the group charged with leading this task is not selected for the knowledge its members have of Waldorf education or of the school’s history, nor are they selected for their writing skills. The group is selected for its ability to develop and implement a participatory process that collects the best thinking of the community as a whole and then identifies others with strong writing skills to serve as editors to create the final documents.

The second critical element in the creation of these documents is the inclusion of a large number of community members, and the two processes described below both rely on a high level of participation throughout the community.

The ideas of community members on each of these documents are collected, preferably at a town hall style meeting (often a weekend-long special event). Large group meetings often begin with a sharing of the school’s biography, a simple way of ensuring that everyone - new community members and old timers alike - have a shared sense of what is honored about the past and how the school has developed its personality and philosophy. These meetings use a combination of small group discussion on the key elements of each document, and then presentation to the larger group. This approach allows each participant at the meeting to feel heard and to actively participate, but also allows everyone to have an experience of the tremendous collective wisdom that lives in the larger circle. The best processes are those that leave the participants with a deeper understanding of the vision, mission and values of the school and a new found appreciation for other members of the school community. This whole-community approach is particularly effective when the need for these documents is recognized out of the school’s transition from a developing to a more mature institution. Often times these transition points are rocky ones in the school’s biography, and the necessity for explicit information is recognized only after the school community has experienced some sort of crisis. At these times it is especially beneficial for the drafting of these documents to be an inclusive healing process.

In other schools the possibility of an extended community meeting did not seem possible. In these cases the committee arranged a series of shorter meetings so that everyone had an opportunity to share in a smaller group their perspectives on the key elements for each document. This approach is more commonly used when the drafting of these documents is a first step in a long term strategic planning process.

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What person or body in the school is responsible for ensuring that these statements are reviewed and revised as needed to ensure they properly reflect the intentions of the school? How and with what frequency is this review performed?
This point of continued consciousness is one of the areas of weakness mentioned by many of the schools interviewed. While they were able to see the tremendous value that the writing of these documents brought to their community, there is often little thought to a regular review of the documents’ continued applicability and appropriateness. In part this is due to the fact these three documents are intended to serve the school for a very long period of time, unlike a strategic plan that may require updating every few years.

In those schools where a formal assignment of responsibility has been made for reviewing these documents, this responsibility lies in one of two realms. In some cases it is the responsibility of the group charged with the cyclical update of the strategic plan that also evaluates the need for any changes to these documents. In other cases this review happens as a by-product of the school’s accreditation process, and is an important part of the school’s self study.

Depending on which body is responsible for reviewing the Statements of Vision, Mission and Values the frequency of review may vary from every three years as part of the strategic planning process to every seven years as part of the accreditation process.

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If your school does not have such written statements, why have you chosen not to draft them?
While the format of the documents varied from school to school, every school surveyed had written documents that expressed the school’s vision, mission and values.

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In what way are these statements utilized in your school? In which print vehicles are they regularly included (e.g. parent handbook, outreach materials, etc.)?
Schools report using the Statements of Vision, Mission and Values in a variety of ways. They are included in the parent handbook, and in excerpted form in various outreach and fundraising materials. They are typically included in full or in part in the annual report and the enrollment information packet. They are also reprinted from time to time in the school’s weekly bulletin, and figure prominently on the school’s web site.

These statements are very helpful, in conjunction with the school’s strategic plan, in the school’s budget deliberations. One school described some recent painful discussions about how to cut their budget due to lower than expected enrollment, and mentioned how the ability to go back to the statements of the school’s vision and values helped keep the discussion focused during a difficult time.

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Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to statements of vision, mission and values.
These statements help to characterize the school as a cohesive individuality. They describe the identity of the school, and help community members to become conscious of the destiny of the being of the school. Mindfulness of the school’s mission, vision and values helps many individuals to work together to incarnate the ego of the school. Values guide the school along the way so that in its development it stays true to itself. These statements need to be in the minds and hearts of the community for the school to become an intentional entity.

For these statements to live, participation in their creation needs to be broad, and they need to be well publicized once written. To be a community-based school we must continually find ways to remind Board, College, faculty, administration and parents of the identity and destiny of the school. These documents can help us to invoke the living spirit of the school.

In the creation of these statements the school desired to meet the needs of the children while using processes that were socially responsible to the school community. Meeting the children’s needs means that we need to plan well, and execute consciously.

Statements like these keep the school healthy, so that we can keep doing the work.

These are communication tools that keep people focused and centered. Or as a wit once observed, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you’ve arrived?”

The vision is essential for a community to move forward in a common direction. It must be compelling and inspiring. It must be something that people can carry with them in their minds so they are easily able to see if a decision is helpful to achieving the vision.

The vision statement must be very focused on describing the school’s reason to exist. It describes what sets us apart from other educational institutions. If the statement is something that you could write for any school then it isn’t a well done vision statement.

These statements allow both the individuals currently involved in your school and those who are looking for your school to know who you are and where you’re going. They also allow people who are not in alignment to make a conscious choice to stay and be supportive or choose to leave. They allow the community to unite towards a common purpose.

Schools are encouraged to do this work early on, and to revisit the documents as time goes by so that they remain living documents enabling conscious evolution.

The mission, vision and values should be made visible in any material that goes out from the school.

Be sure you can stand behind what is written, that everyone agrees to it, and that the school reflects it.

When creating these kinds of statements it is helpful for a school to go back to the picture of the developing human being and the pedagogy and to understand what it is we are trying to offer young people. This understanding is the basis that will inform all of these documents.

You want the entire community to support your vision, mission and values statements, so it’s important to invite participation by a wide cross section of the community early on.

When working to create these kinds of documents it is vitally important to get a process expert (or at least some one who can lead the process). It’s important to have a process, or many valuable hours can be wasted and volunteer energy depleted.

The working group must include educators, particularly in writing the vision, mission and values statements. But the work is enriched if there are more people than just educators involved in writing the core documents.

Lots of people have done the work to create these kinds of documents. Get advice and look at samples from other schools and enterprises. Use experienced people to help manage your process.

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What is particularly effective in your school’s creation and use of vision, mission and value statements?
These statements are particularly helpful when reaching out to people who don’t know our school and don’t know about Waldorf education.

Looking at the work done by other organizations (not just schools) was helpful to the committee in its work to frame the vision statements. The committee agreed early on about what a vision statement was and on the hallmarks of a good vision statement.

The use of community questionnaires and the town hall meetings was critically important. Although the response rate wasn’t huge, the people that did respond were caring, had important points of view, and responded with much good information. There was a great deal of consistency in the responses, with only a few observations and perspectives different from those commonly mentioned. This consistency allowed the work to move ahead easily.

The committee sent a preliminary draft to the faculty for feedback/approval, and received very few changes.

In the year since their creation these statements have kept the school centered during some very difficult times.

The school is hoping that by clearly laying out its vision, mission and values it will lead the school community to increase its financial support for the school and promote more donations from outside the school community. The statements are being used quite consciously in development and outreach materials, but it is too soon to measure their impact.

These statements help like-minded individuals find us. They make explicit our previously implicit understanding of who we are, where we’re going, and how we act.

The creation process itself brings people together, helping them move past many of the conflicts of the moment to work toward the future. It builds community. This work is very positive because it allows a community to work together to describe its dreams.

Getting involved with groups to create these documents is enlivening and extremely reaffirming. It awakens consciousness of what one is a part of, what one is laboring for.

These statements allow us to come back to our parent body and faculty from time to time and show how we’ve done based on our intention, particularly because the school’s vision statement is supported with a ten year imagination. This kind of work strengthens our ability to articulate the school’s identity and goals in our fund development work with parents and friends of the school.

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If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s creation and use of statements of vision, mission and values what would it be and why?
It It would have been great to have created the school logo out of this process rather than developing it before the planning work began.

It would be great to make these statements more visible and articulate them in an artistic way that goes beyond words - turn them into an illustrated brochure, posters for the wall, a mural in the office entrance, etc. It would be best to make them living images.

The Waldorf school’s use of a “collective headmaster” (College of Teachers) with shifting leadership can make establishing the discipline and accountability for realizing mission, vision and values difficult. These elements clarify and characterize a school’s identity and are most effective when they are held in consciousness in a school’s leadership, and are central to the dialogue between the Board of Trustees and the College of Teachers.

Mission, vision and values work is central to identifying the unifying ideal which is needed to focus many heads, hearts, and hands on what is essentially a collaborative work. We strive, as individuals, to develop the necessary consciousness soul activity for this kind of group work, which is difficult. We need to forgive ourselves for being less than fully developed in this realm, and continue striving.

We have recently realized that a key piece is missing from our values statements-how we work together and treat each other. The current values statement focuses on how the school chooses to work but does not address interpersonal workings among faculty, staff, Board, parents, etc. We plan to start developing these additional core values before the end of this school year.

There should have been a more conscious selection process for the committee. In addition to being committed community members, ideal members would be passionate about the need for a vision, have some experience with the visioning process, and represent the various voices of the community.

It is important for someone to “hold” the vision after its creation to ensure it is not allowed to go stale.

Some activities took place over the summer which made availability difficult at times. It would be better if the whole process could have been started earlier in the school year so that it could be completed before the summer recess.

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