Saturday / April 13

Why You Need A Vision Now 

Education is on the fast track for significant changes! Between schools re-opening for in-person learning and the funds being released through the American Rescue Act, changes are being planned and implemented at lightning speed.                    

The huge influx of money, a significant gift to our children and to schools, is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revamp and ramp up for reform. 

What can you do to ensure that your ESSER money is spent wisely so that later you will not experience buyer’s remorse?  We recommend that you begin by taking a few milli-seconds to vision.  

We often consider “visioning’ to be a formal process, with committees, opportunities to vote, wordsmithing, and input from a large group of stakeholders. However, the essential components, which could be so helpful right now, can be done with efficiency. You probably have done some of these in your sleep as you have contemplated next fall. Build on the informal input you have gathered, sharing in decision-making with key leaders, including local school administrators, families, teachers, and students. You might even find this to a be joy-filled, inspirational process. 

An Example of Visioning 

The Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) recently updated our vision, visioning together over 6 weeks with three 90-minute, online sessions. In that short space of time, with a group of about 20 staff, board members, and key contributors, we finalized a vision for CEI, for the world, and for education. 

As you review our vision, we urge you to pay attention to a few key features: 

  1. We started with what we wanted for the world. 
  2. We then turned to education. 
  3. Lastly, we turned to our role (see the vision for CEI itself here).

It may even be that you could borrow from our work while forming your vision statement. At CEI, we remain concerned about student and staff mental health and well-being, and we seek to alleviate stress and optimize opportunities for meaningful learning. 

Vision for the World 

CEI envisions a world that leans in with heart and compassion for self, others, and our environment, where people and institutions are dedicated to expanding conscious acts of caring, building resiliency, and advancing equity and justice. 

Vision for Education 

CEI envisions education that serves as the foundation for our humanity; it is flexible and empowering, where there is room for adventure, students drive their own learning, learning is celebrated, and communities support their individual and collective self-care, resiliency, and well-being. 

How to Fast Track Your Visioning Process 

Here is a tool to help you fast track your visioning process. We urge you to take a little time and use this opportunity to consider how to transform education. Rather than spending all of your ESSER dollars on repairing air-conditioning or quickly fixing the trauma that we all felt so deeply this past year with the equivalent of band-aids, do something more substantial and seek long-term solutions. As you do this, check for equity, inclusion, and the sustainability of what you proposing. 

Yet, even as you fast track visioning, even as you feel some confidence in the important decisions that your team is making, make sure you engage in an iterative process. Put a little time and space between your initial and final versions, which will provide time for reflection and time for thoughtful decisions to marinate. (Check out our webinar for more on the 8-step process we recommend.) 

The Coalition for the Future of Education 

Based on our own recent visioning process, CEI realized we needed to reach out to others to leverage the opportunity at our fingertips to influence the future for our children. During the past year, far too many children lost out – so many struggled to understand, struggled to keep up, and struggled to feel safe and maintain a sense of hope and optimism. As extracurricular activities were cut, and so many tragedies impacted families and communities, children lost a year. So, what did we learn from this? And how can we capitalize our what we learned? 

To address equity, sustainability, and alleviating trauma, and move forward with efficacy and build a better future, CEI established the Coalition for the Future of Education. Here are some guiding ideas from the Coordinating Committee for the Coalition: 

  • We need to listen to children and youth. We need to see through their eyes what worked last year and what was a disaster. 
  • SEL alone is not the answer. We certainly need more SEL, but we also need to pay attention to neuroscience and ensure that all educators understand the impact of stress and trauma on our brain. Understanding neuroscience will lead to better collective and individual self-care, accelerated learning, and greater resiliency. 
  • We need to thread SEL throughout classrooms across schools and grade levels, with cohesion, continuity, and common themes that underpin all efforts. It can’t be an afterthought, or a program that is scheduled for 10:45 am on Tuesday and Thursdays.  
  • To build a better future, technology is key, and partnership with technology providers should be developed to bring more advanced technologies into schools and to better prepare youth for future STEM careers. 
  • Education should be driven by individual students. Their individual lives matter. So, individual goal setting and providing students with choices about how they learn and how they display their learning needs to be a foremost component of educational reform. 

You can learn more about our efforts here. 

The Choice is Yours 

You can grab the Rescue Act funds and run – or you can be a bit more mindful. Significant sums of money are needed for so many things in schools, and a little visioning could go a long way towards bringing about overdue transformational changes. Now is the time to consider your dreams. We urge you to be wise, take a little time for visioning, and play your part in elevating the role of education for the days, weeks, and years to come. 

Written by

Christine Mason, PhD, is Executive Director of the Center for Educational Improvement and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, Program for Recovery and Community Health. 

Paul Liabenow is President of the Center for Educational Improvement and Executive Director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association. 

Melissa Patschke, EdD, is Principal of the Upper Providence Elementary School in Royersford, PA, and Director of the Coalition for the Future of Education. 

We are authors of Visioning Onward: A Guide for ALL Schools (Corwin Press, 2020). 

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