Monday, March 23, 2015

Process for Creating a Vision and Mission

Perhaps you’ve decided that your school or district needs a vision for science education, what are your next steps? While you’ll have to determine the best approach for your context, I outline what I see as some critical steps here.

Your vision statement can provide a clear focus for your work, noting the crux of what students can do with their scientific understanding, but it does not lay out how to get there. So, I’ll extend my process for crafting a vision into a discussion on developing a mission statement – a concise roadmap for how you will attain that vision.

Clearly, you’ll need the right people at the table. This science leadership committee will be the champions of your cause down the road. They will be leaders and resources for science instruction in their schools and on their teaching teams, as well as advocates for science at school board and other community meetings. For example, if science-related controversies come up, they can readily share their perspective from a position of credibility as part of a district science leadership team. To inspire them to attend and feel good about the meeting, it’s essential that their voice is heard, that they have a clear role, and that everything is clearly communicated. Some suggestions for group members include:
1)      Community members – business people in science-related fields know what skills students need; employers have a critical voice and inherent credibility.
2)      Parents – they’re invested in having this done well, and they really need to feel that this is their school community.
3)      Teachers – the key here is the need for PK-12, vertical representation; students will be asking questions in preschool that they might not fully understand until high school.
4)      Students – they know what and who engages and challenges them.
5)      Administrators – particularly if they’re evaluating teachers, administrators need to understand what research-based science instruction looks like.
6)      Board member – could possibly be a person in another category above; board members have a voice in funding for science education when the votes happen.

Meeting One
Before the first meeting, ask group members to develop a list of important outcomes of science education. What do we want for all of our students in relation to their science education by the time they graduate? What will they have learned? What skills, what knowledge, and what dispositions?

An effective facilitator will make this a smoother process for everyone involved. Don’t just have the science department head or the administrator run it by default; be mindful of who can do the best job.

During introductions have each person share thoughts on why they are there (assuming it’s not just because they have to be). Then, begin an affinity diagram process. Have everyone write the outcomes they previously brainstormed on sticky notes, one per each sticky. Without talking (challenging for some!), post the stickies on a large blank wall and begin to group them. Anyone can move them to different locations based on themes they see (will want to warn people up front that others will be touching their stuff). The facilitator will decide when to ask the group if they’re done and end the process. He or she will then lead a brief discussion of each grouping of stickies, coming up with a phrase or sentence to describe each. If key ideas such as equity don’t come up, the facilitator might need to suggest additional ideas in this discussion (referring to other vision statements, like that in my last post, could be useful). Note: when ideas focus more on how (mission) rather than what (outcomes/vision), the facilitator will need to deftly move those into a to-be discussed mission area. While the facilitator will ask the group if the summary statement captures the main idea, he or she should make a point of not wordsmithing it with the group. In my experience, that’s likely to waste a lot of time and lead to frustration! (“I think we should say ‘the,’ not ‘a,’ as it’s a stronger declarative…”). On a Google or other shared doc, the facilitator will post these group statements in real time, and then show the group how they can go back later to suggest edits. After a set time (1 week?), you want the main understandings, skills and dispositions nailed down in order to get the process going, but acknowledge that the wording is not set in stone. When your science department advisory committee meets again in a couple years, they can fine-tune a phrase if teachers or others have found it doesn’t quite their work adequately. 

Meeting Two
Before meeting two, the facilitator or other designee will revise the vision elements based on the online feedback and craft them into a cohesive statement. The group will come together to vote on the vision statement (quick!) and begin work on a mission statement that details how science instruction will look in order to accomplish this vision. It could also detail the roles of various stakeholders in that instruction. I suggest going through the same affinity process again with follow up through online suggestions. Unfortunately, it will likely be more challenging, as members of the group will likely have different ideas on the best way to teach science. For example, how do you balance learning content, science practices, and scientific thinking? The NRC K-12 Science Education Framework, pages 25-33, might help in that discussion. For the mission statement, I would suggest either an online vote (wouldn’t bring people together just for that), or combining that vote with the beginning of a science program audit.

Next Steps and Final Thoughts
A science program audit is the next logical step in a broader strategic plan to improve science education in a district or school (notably, this strategic process that I’ll be outlining in these blog posts should be detailed up front). The science leadership committee and/or other stakeholders would investigate current science structures and practices in relation to the mission and vision statements—an “audit.” My next blog post will outline audit strategies, though at this point you’ll also want to ask how well science leaders understand the instruction laid out in the vision.
If they don’t understand what that looks like, they won’t be able to assess how well they’re meeting that mission or not, and some professional development will be necessary at this point.

An ending disclaimer here: I tend to be wordy. Some argue for a very concise mission and vision statement.  As seen in my last post, I don’t think I can capture my vision for science education in a short statement. It’s a substantial paragraph. There’s a lot I want for my students, and I want to have those key ideas at the forefront of what I do. My ideal mission statement wouldn’t exactly be concise either. Here’s an example:

“In order to accomplish our vision, teachers and school-based educators will facilitate science learning through having students engage in authentic science practices and reasoning. These investigations will include applications to real-world problems, meaningful to students’ lives and community. Students will fully engage in these investigations, asking questions and connecting scientific thinking to their lives in an out of school. Our community will provide its expertise in showing how science connects to careers and broader community and societal problems.”

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this process and the vision/mission from your school!

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