One of the things that separates a charter school from a for profit corporation is that there is no mission of creating shareholder value or attaining profitability. The mission is "pure." Because of this, it's easy for schools to create pie in the sky vision and mission statements that may never be achieved.
The idea of a vision statement can give the impression that a vision can be anything that can be imagined. While I hate to limit people's vision and thinking, I find it important to remind people that while a vision should be optimistic, it should not be unrealistic. This is a tough balance and tough to figure out. Think about the vision of "A computer on every desktop." At one time Bill Gates' vision may have seemed impossible and unachievable. Now, its appears that it may have been too short sighted. The vision has to change because now the desktop computer is almost a think of the past. In other words, coming up with a vision is both easy and difficult. It is, perhaps, more difficult than coming up with a mission statement. A mission statement includes a bit more reality into what exactly will be done.
Vision statements for schools often look very similar. This isn't surprising. The fact that a school is a school narrows the vision. For that reason, beginning by looking at other charter school vision statements can be helpful, although it can also be too limiting. Again, this is where a facilitator can draw out ideas, even if members of the strategic planning team have preconceived ideas. Not that we want the facilitator suggesting ideas, but the facilitator can encourage participants to bring out their own vision.
The vision statement should be short and focused on end results, not means of getting there and not a number of specific goals. It must be specific enough to be pursued, but also must create a vision in the minds and emotions of those who read it. I like vision statements that people can rally around.
The mission statement is a further level of detail. So, if your vision is something like "every child a learning and loving person," Your mission statement should explain in more (but still limited and high level) detail of what that means. So, a mission statement for this school might be:
Our mission is to care about every child, educating each one in a nurturing environment that will allow them to develop into thinking and caring people who can live as successful human beings.
For some, this mission statement will still be too vague. Because I believe that the mission statement should be almost unchangeable, I like mission statements that err on the side of too vague. I believe that they are more effective mission statements. I have seen schools with mission statements that are multiple paragraphs. What is the weakness of longer, more detailed mission statements?
Long mission statements:
- Lose emotional power
- Are not memorable
- Cannot be easily explained
- May include details that are subject to periodic change (and therefore are not part of the essential mission)
There is plenty of room in the remaining sections of the strategic plan to include other values, goals and objectives. These are not necessarily essential to the mission. Some of them may change. Even core values may be added to or edited, but the mission will rarely change.
Remember that with both the vision and mission statements, the purpose is to motivate and to keep people focused. They are a filter that all goals and strategies must fit through in order to be included in the school's plan. The next step in the process will be to create the goals that the team believes will accomplish the mission of the school.