Creating a shared “North Star” vision of where you want to go is one of the first and most critical steps of changing your school. Each school with which I have worked has fashioned their own unique North Star, and I discuss these steps at length in Thrive. These North Stars have taken varied forms and lengths, each appropriate to the school, and I want to share a brilliant example here.
Over the last 18 months, Porter-Gaud school, lead by Academic Dean Audrey Holsten, engaged in a deep, diverse, faculty-led conversation about the critical elements of learning at the school. Their first draft was titled “Vision of a Graduate”; after some discussion, they changed it to “Vision of a Learner”, for two reasons. First, the goal of a great school should be powerful learning every day, not just what the school “produces” as a graduate. Second, every one of the elements of great learning in this North Star can and should apply to the adults in the community as well as the students!
Go to their website and look at the full scale Vision of a Learner “placemat”, which has now been validated by their board as a major guiding document for the school and a key driver of their upcoming strategic plan. The eight element headings look a lot like what many schools identify as key learning outcomes, What stands out about this North Star is the language in each box. Each description is short, clear, and unambiguous; a teacher is either incorporating some of these elements in their teaching and their own growth, or they are not. They are either dynamically adding some of these elements to the learning experience, or they are not growing closer to the North Star. The key elements are either reflected in the school’s strategic implementation and resource allocation, or they are not.
And here is the key takeaway: the VOL will be used as a primary tool for faculty goal-setting, professional development, support, and, ultimately I believe, evaluation. Think how easy it will be for Audrey, division leaders, and department chairs to sit down with individual teachers and ask these simple questions: “Which of these elements do you want to work on in the coming year? What kind of evidence should we be looking for that you are succeeding? How can we help you? When would you like to meet again to reflect on your progress?” Remember, the VOL came from the faculty themselves! They WANT to move in these directions!
It is crazy to think that any one teacher will incorporate ALL of the elements of the North Star into their work; that is NOT the goal. But by creating a tool like this, and using it to collectively align the learning experiences and expectations of the school community to what they believe great learning actually IS, the school will move closer to what they value, strengthening their value proposition every day and every year. Great work, Team Porter-Gaud!