Most school districts want to be seen as “innovative.” To some, that means deploying the latest and greatest technology tool or initiative, such as tablets, makerspaces or one-to-one computing programs. To others, it means implementing a new schedule – such as flexible periods, common times, or “20% time” – that supports a different way to provide instruction. And still others will embark down a road of instructional shifts, such as differentiation, project-based learning, inquiry learning, portfolio assessment, or a myriad of other activities designed to improve educational delivery. We refer affectionately to all of these as “shiny objects.”
All of these are potentially good activities, but districts need to ask themselves two questions before initiating these types of programs: “What are we?” and “What do our students need us to be?” These questions are the guiding pieces to establishing a vision for the future and a subsequent mission.
If your school district doesn’t have a clear vision for what it is and what it needs to be, all the above mentioned activities, no matter how “innovative” they seem, will not help to move it forward. Sure, there may be some great discussion and perhaps even some implementation of worthwhile initiatives. But without a vision to clarify and justify the purpose of the initiatives, they all become disparate activities.
When creating the mission for the future, we must ask ourselves “By the time our students finish with their time at _______ [insert school, district, county, state], what do we want them to know and be able to do?” The answer to that question will help inform decisions on curriculum, instruction and assessment practices. Mission drives activities.
When the vision and the mission are clear, there is a path to success. Without a clear vision, everything just looks shiny.
Barry Bachenheimer, Ed.D, is the director of curriculum, instruction, & assessment for the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in Montvale, NJ. With over 22 years in education, Bachenheimer was recognized by the National School Board’s Association as one of the “20 to Watch” Award winners in 2014 and is the author of several books and periodical articles on the subject of educational technology and curriculum. He is also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University.
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