School Mission Statements: Where Is Your School Going?
"I think it is important for a faculty to have a common set of beliefs," teacher Jean Etheridge tells Education World. "Sometimes teachers get so wrapped up in the little stuff that we need to be reminded of where we are going."
At schools like Mountain Gap Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama, where Etheridge teaches seventh grade, philosophies and mission statements are expected. They are one of the regional accreditation requirements. Mountain Gap's mission statement (see sidebar) was revised. The school faculty voted to accept the changes, ensuring that the educators are aware of the statement and agree with the beliefs it enumerates.
"I do believe what our mission statement says," says Etheridge. "Perhaps it is just a reminder of what I am about when I feel daily frustrations and disappointments have caused me to stray from my course. Maybe having a hand in writing the mission statement increases my sense of ownership."
MISSION IS A REFERENCE POINT, A REMINDER
Mountain Gap Middle School isn't alone in placing importance on the development and implementation of a mission statement. Administrators and faculty across the country are making an effort to design a creed that identifies the goals, policies, and aspirations their school communities seek to achieve.
The mission statement of Freeport (Maine) Middle School (see sidebar) was established by a subcommittee of the faculty many years before Chris Toy became the school's principal. The faculty felt that a clear mission statement would facilitate making decisions that supported middle level students. The statement is reviewed and revised periodically.
"We do refer to the mission and belief statements when we are discussing or debating programs and decisions," says Toy. "Our school organization tends to reflect our mission and belief statements. I have it posted in my office to remind me of the context for the many issues and decisions I work through each day."
Toy adds, "I think the mission is a useful template from which to work. It's probably an ideal, but not a reality, for many of us."
MISSION STATEMENT IN PRACTICE
"There was I time when I would inwardly groan when faced with the prospect of constructing yet another mission statement. I saw such a task as too much time spent on something that would soon be tucked away and forgotten," explains Jean Byl, a media specialist at Waverly-Shell Rock (Iowa) Junior High School. "However, because we actually use the statement and remind students and discuss with students our mission statement, I now see it as a useful means of communication with the kids."
Dick Jensen, principal at Waverly-Shell Rock, has reported that 80 percent of the discipline problems he deals with somehow relate to a lack of respect or responsibility. The mission statement of the school targets that concern. It states, "We will respect ourselves and one another, appreciate individual differences, and encourage one another to reach our potential."
"We realized that we needed a framework to express to students (and parents) who and what we would like our students and school to be -- that is, an environment that fosters respectful and responsible students," states Byl.
Each morning, the eighth grade-speech students give the morning announcements and also read the mission statement at the junior high. The mission is also printed on the school stationery and the students' agenda (planner) books.
Though it is difficult for Byl to assess the impact the mission statement has had on the school community, she has found "teachable moments" in which the mission statement has provided a springboard for discussion. Faculty members at the school emphasize the mission statement at the beginning of the year as a means of clarifying expectations. The statement is also used in disciplinary conferences. The school is now considering having students write personal mission statements.
"I like our mission statement because I think it's so pertinent for the junior high student," Byl says. "It addresses what we hope they will strive to be as people. We all know the trials and tribulations of adolescence. [Students] are seeking to define themselves and to find their niche. The mission statement gives focus to some characteristics that are keys to happy young people who are in healthy relationships with other people."
PUTTING VISION INTO THE MISSION
Hayes Mizell, the director of the Program for Student Achievement of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, agrees with the idea of incorporating the mission statement in the daily activities of a school.
Many mission statements have little practical meaning, Mizell tells Education World. They are posted on walls and in the student handbook or scheduler, but they rarely guide or challenge the school. They are too safe and too easily forgotten. Even in the best of circumstances, Mizell suggests, mission statements are often one more good intention pushed to the background.
"I think a major problem with most mission statements is that they are static," Mizell tells Education World. "They seem to say, at best, 'This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what we value.' But if one believes, as I do, that most schools need to improve, such a statement merely affirms what the school is rather than what it should be."
Mizell encourages schools to develop a vision statement rather than a mission statement.
"Of course, if either a mission or a vision statement is just so many words, then it is largely useless," says Mizell. "That does not have to be the case. As in other areas of education, a school will get out of its vision statement, or even a mission statement, exactly what it puts into it. However, in my view the statement should also be a tool the school can use to push itself forward."
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR
MISSION OR VISION STATEMENT
A school's mission, or vision, statement is a living document, says Hayes Mizell. Below, Mizell shares his thoughts about how school leaders can keep the vision alive.
Establish Your Own Vision Statement
"See the Lakeview High School Mission Statement for an example. A school should develop its own vision statement. What is the school striving to become? What does it want to achieve? To what extent will it hold itself accountable for progressing toward fulfilling its vision?"
Revisit the Vision Statement During the School Year
"Several times during the school year, the principal may use the vision statement as the opening for faculty meetings. Make sure each faculty member has a copy in his or her hand, then read the statement, and then allow 15 or 20 minutes for open discussion about how the school is or is not progressing toward fulfilling its vision. With this kind of prompt, there could be some very interesting and lively discussions, and the vision statement will be a living document. The vision statement could also be used this way for each meeting of the school site council or school leadership team."
Reflect on the Statement at Year End
"Probably once a year, perhaps at the end of school, a school could use its vision statement for an hour-long reflective discussion about progress or setbacks that occurred during the school year in relation to the vision statement. What progress did we make? Where did we drop the ball? What is the evidence that we are moving closer to fulfilling our vision or not? What do we need to do next year to accelerate our progress toward fulfilling our vision?"
LINKS TO ADDITIONAL RESOURCE
Create Your Personal Mission Statement
This online exercise will help you design a personal mission statement based on the values you most cherish.
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