Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Middle leaders act as the conduit between teachers and the school leadership team. In their roles they communicate the values and the strategic vision of the school to teachers and support them to enact curriculum and pedagogical change. However, middle leaders in many schools often rise into their positions without necessarily being trained and developed to be effective in their roles. Their actions then mostly reflect their unexamined beliefs about leading teams and what they have previously seen in the school. If schools are committed to developing effective middle leaders who strategically lead their teams to accomplish school goals and embed an empowering school culture then there are certain structures that can support them.

Over the next few blogs we will be exploring elements of how middle leaders can plan to lead their team effectively. Today’s blog is about designing vision statements.


Vision Statements

The vision statement in your middle leadership position has two parts.

  1. We are deeply passionate about …
  2. What we want to be known for …

The first part describes the visionary outcome for students. It describes what your team is aiming to produce in the students. It is a product.  It expresses the outcomes you desire for the students from interacting with your team. It is a short statement that captures the essence of what you team is particularly passionate about

The second part expresses the HOW. It describes the particular qualities and aspects that your team will focus on to deliver what you are deeply passionate about. It is again a short statement that captures the key elements of what your team will be focusing on.

The best approach to generating these statements is to brainstorm your answers as a team to each of the two parts. From the words and ideas created during the brainstorms work together to come up with short statements that captures the intent and vision of the team. The final statement is reached when the team can say “that statement captures what I am passionate about and want to be known for”.

  • Note: be careful not to get hooked by having the exact right words otherwise you will spend a lot of time generating these statements. The statement should capture the sentiment of the team and can be refined over time. The vision statement will be used to guide and focus the strategic thinking and planning of the team.


The following are some examples of Vision Statements produce by school middle leaders:


The English team are deeply passionate about our students maximising their potential and striving to be highly literate and successful participants in a 21st century context.

We want to be known for being an innovative, highly motivated and collaborative team; inspiring students to apply these valuable skills in the classroom and beyond their school-life.


Health and PE

In Health and PE we are deeply passionate about our students and staff being healthy, resilient and active members of society (mind, body and spirit).

We want to be known for providing a safe and supportive learning environment that caters for all individual learning styles, models healthy lifestyle habits and allows students a variety of opportunities (diverse range of activities) to succeed and become team players.



The Maths team are deeply passionate about producing individual critical thinkers with skills that enable them to be lifelong problem solvers.

We want to be known for providing a supportive and engaging environment, which enables all students to learn and develop an appreciation of mathematics.


Context for doing this

The research literature shows that effective leaders engage their teams in a vision that everyone buys into. The vision speaks to the team and effective teams work towards accomplishing that vision together. Quite often school teams can devolve into DOING stuff, especially in these times when there seems to be an increasing amount of administration matters being required of schools. Effective school leader are strategic in their thinking and harness the power and good will of their team by collaboratively articulating clear vision statements and then planning and leading their team from the vision as the team takes the required actions. This is especially important in schools as schools are relational organisations.

The design for the two parts of the vision statement came from the research of Jim Collins which he wrote about in his book Good to Great. Collins found that organisations that went from good to great had disciplined people who had disciplined thought and took disciplined action. The disciplined thought stemmed from the organisation / team having a very clear vision of what they were passionate about and wanted to be known for. This vision guided and focused the organisation / team on what was important to them and to develop the discipline in their planning and action to focus on specific key areas they wanted to deliver. In this way they began the journey to being great. This journey often took years but was the result of being disciplined in the three identified areas.



  1. Review of contemporary  research on middle and teacher leaders, Dr Maureen O’Rourke and Dr Peter Burrows, Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership (2013)
  2. Extraordinary Leadership in Australia & New Zealand: The five practices that create great workplaces, James Kouzes and Barry Posner with Michael Bunting, Wiley (2014)
  3. Hardwired Humans: Successful Leadership Using Human Instincts, Andrew O’Keeffe, Roundtable Press (2012)
  4. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, Jim Collins, Harper Collins (2001)
  5. Good to Great, Jim Collins, Fast Company (2001)
  6. Know your why,

If you are interested in discussing with Adrian the possibility of running in-school workshops on developing middle leadership please email him at

It might seem odd to begin a blog post with this title but hopefully you will find that the analogy is quite apt.

We all live in houses. However, the style, the quality, the fittings, the size, and the neighbourhoods that our houses are in are all different. It seems to be a trend in most countries that many people aspire to the larger house, the higher quality fittings, the expensive neighbourhoods, the more impressive styles, and so on. It would be a rare person that aspires to a small hovel.

The aspiration of living in one of the grander houses drives many people to act to raise the money, work hard, and commit to mortgages so they can live in one. Certainly in Australia we have seen the rise of larger and larger houses on smaller blocks of land.

What’s the point of this conversation?

Well, consider that all of our conversations are housed in contexts and the size, quality, style and conversational neighbourhoods of these contexts are what drive actions and motivates people.

If an organisation or a school or a class is living within a large context then what you would find are actions that are consistent with an inspiring compelling context. The context automatically creates an environment where people want to take action – they are compelled to live a bigger life, taking large actions, produce higher quality efforts and products – stretching themselves.

If you are living in a hovel of a context then the actions are similarly small.

This blog arises because I have been working with a range of schools over the past few months that I have begun to notice the variations in contexts that different teachers and schools are housing.

It is crystal clear which schools and teachers have created large mansion-sized contexts for themselves and which are operating inside of small outhouse contexts.

Schools that are creating and building large contexts and aiming for being world-class educational institutions (regardless of the current status of facilities, funding, teacher experience, government or corporate support) have staff who are inspired, creative, working collaboratively, experience being valued. Their classes, while rarely perfect, demonstrate students who are thinking and acting big. Both staff and students have a purpose and they are working together in a disciplined and structured manner to accomplish that purpose.

The schools that struggle quite often lack the larger context. The senior management have not clearly articulated the large vision that their school stakeholders can aspire to – they are living inside a contextual hovel. Sometimes they have a large vision but that vision lies in a filing cabinet somewhere – the vision is a merely an architectural plan.  Sometimes the vision is on display on posters and various signages around the building but the systems and practices from which the school operates (the curriculum, the staff interactions, the stakeholder relationships, the classroom activities, etc) do not reflect that vision – the builders are not following the architectural drawing. Sometimes you have an environment where some teachers and administrators are operating from the vision and some are not – your house will be inconsistently built with some great parts and in other parts it is apparently shoddy work. In fact, what one will find is that trying to build a fabulous house on top of shoddy or inconsistent work is virtually impossible.

If you are going to build a cathedral it is a long term goal. You have to have quality architectural plans. The vision must be articulated clearly. You have to refer to them all the time as you build it. You have to have quality builders working together, communicating and collaborating together, people with different strengths and skills in a team – all of them valued. You will need a group that leads the process who is clear about the vision and the plans, everyone aligned on the plan and the steps that will lead to the finished product. You need to have a team that confronts and overcomes obstacles together – sometimes working out solutions that no one else has thought of because the challenges that this group faces are profoundly different from others. There has to be a high level of trust and everyone being collectively responsible for the journey.

If you look at any major undertaking, any architectural construction that has a lasting impact and survived over large swathes of time, this has been what has driven the process. In fact, if you look at any major undertaking in any field you will find it is the same.

Why not operate this way in schools?

In fact, to build a high-performance educational environment you would automatically follow this approach. Just look at Finland. Just look at Singapore. Just look at those schools, school systems, and teachers that you admire.

My questions to you are … what house do you live in? What are you building – a cathedral or a hovel?

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