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8 ways to establish shared vision

By Julie Randles
April 17, 2015
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When someone is dubbed a visionary, we tend to attribute it to bleeding-edge thinking or a knack for big ideas. Truth be told, visionaries share a number of characteristics such as openness, imagination, persistence and conviction. They also possess a particular skill that contributes to their success as revolutionary leaders. They know how to get buy-in.

Getting people on board with your vision is a critical component to keeping the organization moving forward and ensuring the success of any large-scale change effort.

P. Erik Gundersen, superintendent for the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in Montvale, New Jersey, knows from experience what it takes to lead change. Eleven years ago, as a science supervisor, he was active in the effort to transform the district to a 1:1 computing environment. He watched firsthand as the superintendent successfully created a shared vision among teachers, students, parents and community groups.

Today, he and colleague Barry Bachenheimer, regional director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district, continue to see strong support for their initiatives.

They are not alone in understanding the critical element of buy-in for wide-scale change. Having a shared vision is one of the 14 ISTE Essential Conditions necessary to effectively leverage technology for learning. Here are their tips for how to achieve a shared vision within a school or district:

Put your vision statement front and center. In education, a five-year vision statement is typical. Once district leaders and the school board establish the vision statement, ensure that it’s widely shared with all stakeholders and that every decision is back-fed through the vision statement to guarantee alignment.

Develop a living, breathing strategic plan. Strategic planning involves creating an action plan with a particular strategy in mind. The plan defines what the organization will look like in the future and how it will function. Include teachers, students, parents and community groups in the creation of your long-term plan. Consider hiring a strategic planning consultant to drive the process if that expertise can’t be found internally.

Communicate conspicuously. Sounds like a no-brainer, but some districts still adhere to top down decision making, Bachenheimer warns. Reach out to all who will be affected by your organization’s vision, gather their input and assure they feel involved in the coming decisions. The outcome – stronger relationships with all groups.

Meet people where they are. Determine how stakeholders prefer to get information and then deliver it through those channels. For schools, think newsletters, websites, texts and social media platforms (not to mention the blue jean express – students’ pockets). Reach out to your local newspapers frequently and connect with the student press.

Show, don’t just tell. Field trips don’t appeal just to students. They can be an effective way to engage your audiences in the new initiatives you’re proposing. Show solid examples of the programs you’re seeking to incorporate by taking stakeholders to sites where similar initiatives have been successful.

Keep the doors wide open. Having an open door policy may seem old school, but when seeking buy-in, think of it as an opportunity to educate and to hear opinions that differ from yours. Inviting people in to be heard opens the door to providing accurate information, and perhaps changing minds.

Accept lowercase failures. Also known as "Don’t be afraid to be wrong." Many leaders are afraid to Fail – with a capital F. It’s good to accept and learn from lowercase failures, those small setbacks that allow you to adjust direction, see where data isn’t proving out or slow down and make fixes.

Get comfortable with calculated risks. Risk taking is cultural. In other words, school leaders need to establish a culture where taking calculated risks is acceptable. This approach requires that all involved realize things aren’t going to be perfect. Things will go wrong. Embrace those missteps and use them to allow you to progress.

Do you need to create shared vision at your school or district to transform learning? Start with the ISTE Lead & Transform Diagnostic Tool to guide your transition to a technology-rich and standards-ready learning environment.