Mission and Vision: Which Direction Are You Rowing?

Have you ever been part of a team sport?  I’ve never been a person to participate in group sports activities.  Golfing and snowboarding are activities I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy doing on my own.  While I have never participated in it, rowing is one sport which requires a high level of interaction and coordination among teammates.

Every member of a rowing team must be certain to move in a calculated rhythm that helps the team move in a forward motion.  One or two wrong strokes of an oar can result in the team either moving in the wrong direction or not getting to where they need to go, specifically, losing a race.badrowing

Working within a vision or mission are much the same as being part of a rowing team.  A well focused rowing team knows why they are rowing and what they need to do to stay in synchronization.  Every person on that team  knows their specific role and how they contribute to the team.  Additionally, they all know which direction they need to row in, and they know the certainty of what will happen if one of them should be rowing out of sync or in the wrong direction.

School mission and vision statements provide the same framework and structure as a team of skilled, synchronized rowers.  Your school mission statement “brands” why you are there and what your purpose is. It provides, or should provide, the lens through which all of your decisions get made.

Often times, staff have gone through mission writing exercises only to come up with either a lofty or unclear mission statement that worse yet, gets published and no one ever looks at.  If the mission of your school is not clear, how do you make decisions and are your staff focused on why they are truly there?

Similarly with vision, where do you want your school to be heading? What do you want to be known for? A team that thinks they are rowing in the same direction, but in fact, are not, will end up not achieving what they hope, whether it be a rowing team, or a group of educators.

Vision provides staff with a framework around what they want to become and the way they would like to be viewed as they work to accomplish their mission.  Like mission, vision should be visible and should be communicated.  I think of vision statements as “the dreams schools are made of”.  What is it that you dream of becoming so that you can educate children and learn and grow? How do you want people to talk about the work of your school and what do you want to be known for?

A leader’s role with mission and vision is to not only guide the work in their development, but also to build a core group of people within the school that believe in the mission and vision and want to work towards them.  The leader’s other job is to maintain a “laser-like” focus on them as decisions are made around student learning. All decisions should be made within the framework of the school’s mission and vision.  Once a leader is able to generate support and belief in the school’s mission and vision, the work then continues by making that visible, and truly bringing the mission and vision “to life” within the school.


One resource I truly found valuable in working with staff around mission and vision is the text, Professional Learning Communities at Work by Richard Dufour and Robert Eaker.  The book clearly outlines what it is that mission and vision are and helps the reader frame the work around those definitions and the value of mission and vision within a school setting.

Hopefully, you may be thinking about your own school’s mission and vision if you have not done so recently.  You may want to ask yourself, “Is everyone on my team rowing in the same direction? Are we all clear about why we are rowing and where we are rowing to?”  It is a great opportunity to look at why you are doing the work you do, and what you hope to be that will help students learn and grow.  In a time of great upheaval in education, a school’s mission and vision may be just the thing your school needs to help keep you focused on why we all got into this work in the first place- student learning!



  1. Peter Burnside said:

    Agreed. Professional Learning Communities at Work is a great resource for this. I would like to know of other complementary resources on the nitty-gritty of making it happen.

    April 24, 2014
  2. Vickie Jacobson said:

    Two resources that I have used successfully to guide the development of mission and vision statements are Failure is Not an Option by Alan Blankstein, and The Principal’s Guide to the First 100 Days of the School Year by Shawn Joseph. With 6 new staff members next year, we will be revisiting our Mission and Vision statements soon!!

    April 24, 2014
  3. Some excellent resources for development of the mission and vision are:
    Leaders of Learning, DuFour and Marzano 2011
    The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders, Kanold 2011
    Learning by Doing, 2nd edition DuFour, et. al 2010

    These statements need to be dynamic, they drive everything we do, every decision we make…they change as we accomplish what we want our school to be!!!

    April 24, 2014
  4. Most things are not like rowing. Most things require a significant degree of autonomy among the participants in order to enable the whole to adjuct and adapt. Schools are like that – not like rowing at all.

    Indeed, using an analogy like rowing to describe something complex like a school is actually damaging. It minimizes the role teachers and other staff play to that of mindless automaton, following, indeed, obeying the direction of the leader.

    Additionally, the supposition that there should be one vision or one objective is incorrect. Each teacher is focused on a different aspect of the student (not to mention their own professional development, career, and life outside the school). And each student in turn requires different interaction. Finally, the final objective for each student is different – it is a mistake to say there is some statement that captures what the school does for all.

    No aspect of the vision statement applies to everyone or every situation. Creating one, and imposing it, signifies a misunderstanding of complex organizations. You should rethink the rowing analogy.

    April 24, 2014

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