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Critical Issue: Building a Collective Vision Critical Issue:
Building a Collective Vision

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ISSUE: Schools are likely to be more successful in achieving in-depth learning when leaders work with staff and the community to build a collective educational vision that is clear, compelling, and connected to teaching and learning. This collective vision helps focus attention on what is important, motivates staff and students, and increases the sense of shared responsibility for student learning.

Samuel BetancesSamuel Betances, professor of education, Northeastern Illinois University, describes the administrator's role in building a collective vision in the school and community, in a presentation at the July 1992 Summer Institute of NCREL's Academy for Urban School Leaders, attended by adminstrators from Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee (Audio comment, 170k). A text transcript is available.

OVERVIEW: Schools are complex places, and teaching is a difficult and challenging job. Many schools do not have a clear and shared sense of purpose focused on student learning. Yet, without it, programs become fragmented, teachers lose motivation, and improvement efforts fail. Without a clear notion of what is important, work can become dissipated and undirected. Without a clear sense of direction, planning and decisionmaking about programs, curricula, and instruction can remain uncoordinated.

Jerry BamburgJerry Bamburg, professor of educational administration and director of the Center for Effective Schools at the University of Washington-Seattle, discusses the benefits of a clearly defined school vision. Excerpted from the 1994 NCREL monograph, Raising Expectations to Improve Student Learning(Audio file, 259k). A text transcript is available.

Schools with educational missions give educators stronger motivation and provide parents with a clearer picture of what the school values. Schools can get side-tracked toward nonproductive programs, a focus on control, and uncoordinated decisions - particularly when those schools serve large proportions of at-risk students. A clear vision and a common mission that identify the kind of learning to be achieved can help keep the school and the efforts of its staff and students on target.

GOALS: School leaders should develop a clear, educationally focused vision and a well-defined mission statement, collaborating with school staff and community members to agree on the type of learning, beliefs, and goals that are important. A vision means an image of what the school can and should become. It is deeply embedded in values, hopes, and dreams. A mission statement is more specific and often defines what the school is trying to accomplish and for whom. It can be developed from the vision itself. Goals and objectives are still more specific and concrete, are derived from the vision, and can be used to focus change and improvement efforts.

Leaders should help develop a mission that is centered on student learning. The school mission should concentrate on key areas of high- quality student learning. But it also can concentrate on establishing a professional work environment that supports collegiality, improvement and profession growth, and an understanding of the importance of diversity and equity.

Collective visions often grow out of collaboration, teamwork, and empowerment. Many schools broaden this goal by establishing collaboratives and partnerships with outside agencies that serve students and their families.

The school's vision also can incorporate values and goals related to equity and justice, respect and appreciation for multiculturalism and diversity, and concern for the academic success of all students. These views of the school determine how people spend their time, what problems they solve, and how resources are distributed. Moreover, a clear understanding of the school's vision and mission statement may lead to greater parent and community support. Thus, having a clearly defined and communicated vision supports active improvement and accomplishment.

ACTION OPTIONS: Establish teams, featuring members of all major groups in the school, to work on a shared vision for the school. The process of developing and implementing a vision should include the following actions:


DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some school improvement experts argue that schools should develop the vision and mission prior to planning and taking action. Others (Fullan, 1994) point out that devoting too much time and attention to vision setting can be counterproductive and that school change efforts and concrete improvements can begin before the vision-setting process is complete.

Moreover, strong visions can be restricting (Fullan, 1994) if they discourage teachers from suggesting alternative approaches to helping students. Schools that develop noninclusive visions, for example, may exclude important groups or values. Teachers and community members should not be forced to adhere to a single, inflexible vision. Transformational leadership involves working with diverse groups to develop a shared conception of what the school should accomplish.


Hollibrook Elementary School, Houston, Texas

Audubon Elementary School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Joyce Elementary School, Detroit, Michigan


The Accelerated Schools Project, CERAS 109, School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-3084, 415-725-1676 Contact: Beth Keller, assistant director of communications, e-mail:

California School Leadership Academy, 313 W. Winton Ave., Hayward, CA 94544-1198, 510-670-4569, Contact: Laraine Roberts, e-mail:

Center for Leadership in School Reform, 950 Breckenridge Lane, Suite 200, Louisville, KY 40207, 502-895-1942, Contact: Marty Vowels, e-mail:

Coalition for Essential Schools, Dr. Ted Sizer, Director, Box 1938, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, 401-863-2847

The School Development Program, Yale Child Study Center, 230 South Frontage Rd., Box 3333, New Haven, CT 06510, 203-785-5759, Contact: Cynthia Savo, WWW:

Vanderbilt International Institute for Principals, Vanderbilt University, P.O. Box 514 GPC, 205 Payne Hall, Nashville, TN, 37203, 615-322-8000, Contact: Philip Hallinger, e-mail:


This Critical Issue summary was researched and written by Kent Peterson, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Date posted: 1995
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