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Seeing the vision and making it happen

One of the constant seesaw acts I found myself performing as a school leader was trying to keep a focus on the long term vision for the school – the big picture – whilst simultaneously managing the day to day tasks that would help us move incrementally closer to it.

Some of the difficulties I found were:

  • Making the best use of time by strategically aligning actions
  • Prioritisation of actions – assigning most effort to what really matters
  • Communicating the vision – not just at the start of the year, but every day
  • Measuring the impact of actions with reference to the vision
  • Getting the best out of team members by playing to their strengths whilst assisting their professional learning

As a head teacher, I always tried to make both the big picture and task management as visible as possible. My office and the staff area were festooned with whiteboards with visuals of what we were working on and where we were going – so I was particularly looking forward to the SCEL team’s graphic facilitation meeting.

We invited Clare Mills from Listen Think Draw to help us to frame our strategy meeting and capture it using graphics. She started with a blank framework that illustrated something called Person Centred Planning and Practice, an approach originally developed and used to assist people with disabilities.

Our first task was to map out our individual professional journeys that had brought us to this point. It was interesting for me to reflect on lessons I learnt as a barman during my university days, and then as a call-centre operative and how these have impacted upon my current practice – a people-centric approach.

As a team we then performed a strength audit, discussing what skills, abilities, knowledge and experience we brought to the organisation. As we talked, Clare drew the salient points on a large roll of paper that was taped to the wall. Clare’s drawings began to fill the first section of the framework, ‘Team’.

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The Person Centred Planning and Practice Framework starts with people and then includes the current reality (Now), a commitment to moving forward (Enroll), reflection on what will make us stronger, and actions.  The circle at the end represents what we plan to have achieved within a year from now and the far end of the paper is for the preferred future – the vision.

After we had compiled our team strengths, Clare directed us to start with the end in mind (as Covey put it) and consider the vision. She asked us to imagine what the ideal future for SCEL would be if we had achieved everything we could wish. This was an easy enough task as we had already put a lot of thought into what we want to achieve as an organisation. We want to make all educators’ professional learning in leadership completely accessible so that the profession in Scotland is empowered to bring about the best outcomes for young people, their families and communities.

Clare listened, thought and drew our output. Then we moved one step back on the framework and imagined ourselves in the same office, a year from now, speaking in the past tense about what had been achieved in a year. This enabled us to break down the vision into impacts that were achievable.

We then reflected on the current reality, our starting point. What had been achieved well so far, what actions were partly complete or in the pipeline and what our current challenges are. This was visually represented by Clare before she invited each of us to come and make our own mark on the page by signing up to the vision. This may sound a little contrived to those unfamiliar with the process but there was a strong sense of commitment that came through the mere act of adding our name. In a way it felt like it was becoming our Bill of Rights, our Magna Carta, our manifesto as well as our plan.

Clare then took us through the final stages of discussing the strengths that we have and need to build and finally the actions that we will undertake in the short term. Her use of sticky notes here enabled this section to be agile and evolving as the plan moves from month to month:

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Though a skilled graphic facilitator can help turn you strategic vision into a thing of aesthetic beauty, not everybody will be fortunate enough to have access to one. You don’t need one to follow the Person Centred Planning Framework – but you do need to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal; a clear sense of the team’s strengths and an honest picture of the current reality, as well as a well-considered plan of achieving the goals within the vision. How you achieve that is up to you, but every time we have a meeting in the SCEL boardroom we are reminded of why we are here.

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Clare is on Twitter at @listenthinkdraw

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