The Problem With Your Mission Statement  


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You’re listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 43. 

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders!

 Welcome to another episode of the school leadership re-imagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson, and on this season of the podcast we're getting back to the basics. That's right. Every week. This season I'm going to come to you with a new episode where we're just going to explore some of the basics of buildership.

Last week we talked about some of the hidden basics around your vision, and this week we're going to talk about mission statements. Now, don't turn off. I know mission statements aren't sexy. In fact, mission statements are probably one of the most boring aspects of all that we do.

Everybody has a mission statement

but let's just be real. If I were to ask you right now, tell me your mission statement. Recite it to me verbatim. I bet most of you couldn't do it. And even if you could do it, I bet if I talked to your staff members, they couldn't do it. I mean, everybody has a mission statement, but whenever I go work in schools and I say, so what's your mission as a school? People start saying, wow, I mean, you know, we, we have a mission statement or they say, hold on a second. And they go on a shelf and they pull out a binder and flip some pages and then they read me their mission statement. Or they try to pull up their school's website and read their mission statement to me. 

But in most cases, people can't recite your mission statement. What does kind of weird, don't you think? I mean, the whole purpose of a mission statement is your mission statement says, this is why we are here. This is why we do this work every day. And yet when I ask people what your mission statement is, they can't tell me. So basically, if you can't tell me your mission statement, what you're really saying is, I don't know why I'm here.

I don't know why we do this work as a school.

I mean, that's kind of bizarre, isn't it? Shouldn't you know? I mean, if you don't know why you're here and your staff members don't know why you're here, then it's no wonder that everybody's kind of doing their own thing. Everybody's kind of making up the work as they go along. There's no cohesion in your staff because we don't have and share a common mission. And people talk to me all the time because I teach that your vision statement is yours. I heard somebody say once your vision statement is your baby, but your staff has to help you raise it. So you have to, you develop your own vision statement and then you go to your staff and you sell your statement to your staff because they have to help you raise that baby. You can't raise that baby by yourself.

I love that analogy. So that's your vision. Your vision is yours, but your mission statement is not yours. Your mission statement belongs to everybody, which means that if everybody doesn't know why you do this work, why that vision is important, why we are here every single day, then what's guiding your work, what's actually guiding your work.

So on today's episode we're going to talk about the problem with your mission statement and how you fix it.

But before we dive in, I have two reminders for you. 

The first one is this. Many of you know that I am working on my next book and the working title for that book. And now this will probably change, but my working title right now is turn your school into a success story colon, how to make a dramatic difference with the people and resources you already have. And I'm really excited about this book. This book has been a long time coming. 

As you know, most of my books I test out everything that I write about before I write about in the book. I want to make sure that it actually works. So this is the result of work that I've been doing in schools for the last three years. Kind of focus would really, it's kind of the culmination of the work that I've been doing for the last 20 years. We, the, the book is about what I am tentatively calling the mindsets model, which is about how this whole buildership and how it all works together. And so I'm going to be kind of writing this book in public. In other words, I'm not going to go lock myself somewhere and then emerge with a book because I really think that it's important, especially for this book to write it with you.

So if you want to join me on my book writing journey 

then I invite you to friend me and Facebook. I am Robyn Jackson on Facebook and you can just reach out, send me a friend request. And everyday when I finish writing, I will post on Facebook, tell you what I did that day. Tell you what I'm thinking. Some days if I'm struggling with things, I'll be asking my Facebook friends questions about, you know, kind of what I'm writing.

There have already been some people who have been giving me some great feedback and if you really want to be a part of that process, I would love it if you could join me over at Facebook. So that's the first thing. Now, the second thing I am so excited for because we are going to do one more builders lab this year. We're actually coming to Dallas, Texas, and we'll be there October seven through nine and it's three days of just intimate, intense work where I work with a small group of people.

We intentionally keep builder’s labs small. 

We usually have less than 100 people and there isn't this, you know, like a lot of conferences, you know, you can go to this session and that session and all. If I go to this session, I'm going to miss this speaker over here. No, it's just me and you. And for three days we are working through this model. At the end of three days, you're going to have a tight vision and a clear vision for what you want to do. You're going to tighten up your mission statement. You're going to tighten up your core values process and then you're going to use that to start thinking through, okay, this is where we're headed as a school. So then the next part of builders lab is how do I get everybody there? And the same thing that I'm promising in the book, this is what we do at builder's lab.

How do I make a dramatic difference with the people and the resources I already have? Builder's lab shows you how to do that, so you're not only going to tighten up your vision, mission, and core values until you are inspired by them. That's the whole goal. You have to, if you're not excited about and nobody else will be, so we work with you until you get it right and then once you get that right, then the rest of builder's lab is, okay, now how am I going to get everybody on board? How am I going to move my entire school? Even that resistant teacher, even that teacher that calls a union on you every single time. Even that teacher that's kind of phoning it in every single day or retired on the job. Even that teacher who is new or struggling or you know, really not invested in your school, how do you take the teachers you already have and get everybody moving towards your vision, your mission and your core values.

That's what we do at builder's lab.

When you leave, you will have a plan that you can immediately put in place. In fact, unlike most conferences that kind of give you a whole bunch of information and then they leave it up to you to go home to figure it out. We do two things differently. A builder's lab, the first thing is that we reserve the second half of the last day for an implementation lab and in that implementation lab you are not working with everybody else through something. You are working intensely on your own stuff. All the things you learn at builder's lab, you're going to implement them starting on day three. So I will be working around my team, we'll be circulating around, we'll be helping and coaching you individually and you're going to get that work done. And then not only that, but after you leave builders lab, we follow up with you for the next 90 days.

We send you additional resources and strategies and we offer additional support to make sure that what you set as an intention in builder's lab actually becomes your reality when you get back to school. Now this is the last one we're doing for 2019 and so you need to be at builders lab. Just go to mindsteps INC com slash builders dash lab and if you're listening to this sometime in the future and October seven through nine is already passed, that link will still work. Go to mindsteps INC com slash builders dash lab and you can find out when the next upcoming builders lab is. Now for those of you who've been telling yourself all year long, look, I gotta get to Boulder's lab. I'm going to get there. I'm going to get there. I'll just get to the next one in the next one and next one. Every time you put off coming to builders lab, you are putting off your dreams for the next three months or the next six months or for half hour, however long it is until the next builders lab.

You don't need to wait now.

It's a great time. October is a perfect time in the school year to come because you still have time to see the results this year, so make sure you sign up. Mindset, Now, what are we going to do about these horrible mission statements that most of us have? I want to actually, I want online before I hit record for this episode and I'll actually looked up, I just did a random search for school mission statements. I didn't search for bad school mission statements. I just looked for a mission statements and I want to read to you some of the random ones that I selected and I bet that your school mission statement probably sounds a little similar to one of these. Here's one. I'm going to try to kind of not say the school name. Okay. So blank elementary school in partnership with its children, families, community, and the district guarantees each child a superior education by providing quality instruction and challenging learning experiences in a safe and orderly environment, which will foster lifelong learning and responsible citizenship.

Okay. Now, I bet if you went to that school right now and you asked three random people in that school, what's your mission statement? They probably could not recite that. Here's another one. Blank school provides a nurturing environment committed to achieving excellence. All students are challenged to reach their maximum potential by learning at their functional level to provide a solid foundation of skills, knowledge, and values. This foundation enables each student to become a well-educated, productive adult, able to cope with an ever changing world again.

Are you still awake? 

Okay. Cause I have one more for you. And again, these are random. I did not go looking for bad mission statements. These are random ones. Okay. Here's another one. At blank school. Students should be accepted, appreciated, nurtured, and challenged according to their individual needs. Through their education at schools, students should gain the skills, strategies, and desire necessary for continued learning.

They should also develop a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and toward each other, their community and the earth's resources. To this end, faculty and staff should create a rich multicultural environment for learning. Design an integrated curriculum with strong focus on 21st century skills, provide for children to become self directed learners and share their enthusiasm for learning in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation for diversity.

Okay.If you're still awake, I'm not going to read you any more, but you get the point. All of these mission statements sound like we're playing a game of educator ease. Bingo, where you're just listening for some of the buzz words in education and then hoping that maybe you'll get enough to get bingo. All of these mission statements have things like 21st century learner, potential, nurturing, safe. I mean all of these words. What?

What do they mean?

You see your mission statement is your why. Remember from episodes past where I've told you that everybody has three questions. When they come to your organization, they want to know what are we building, why is it important and what's my role and your mission statement answers the why. It's important. The the vision answers. What are we building? Your core values? Answer what's my role, but your, your mission statement answers why this is important and if your mission statement is a whole bunch of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Then what your mission statement is saying is that the vision isn't really important. Let's say you set this ambitious vision for your school. 100% of our students will x, Y, and Z and then you follow that up with a mission statement that says we exist to provide a strong nurturing environment to help students become lifelong learners and be productive.

21St century citizens. We lab, blah, blah, blah, blah. What are you saying other than, hey, that vision that I set that ambitious vision that I said not really important. Nobody is going to get out of bed and come to work and work hard all day and stay late and put in that extra effort so that maybe one day students might become lifelong learners.

I'm sorry, that is not going to compel anybody,

so we've got to stop bloating, our mission statements with a whole bunch of blah, blah, blah. Because when you do that, you're saying, why are we doing this? Blah, blah, blah. Your mission statement has to answer the why. In other words, I put it like this. When I'm training people in builder's lab or in our private workshops about mission statements, they always start out with the blah, blah, Blah mission statement, and then I say, okay, Ken, your mission statement, explain to a teacher why I'm asking that teacher to put an extra effort.

Can you mission statement, explain to a parent why I've just suspended his or her child. Can your mission statement explain to a school board why I am using the money and the district in this particular way? Can your mission statement explain to a teacher why I keep showing up in that teacher's classroom every single day or why I'm asking that teacher to improve. If your mission statement doesn't provide an acceptable answer to that and answer that makes people say, you know what, I do need to do better. You know what, I should give you this money. You know what you were right and suspending my child. If your mission statement doesn't result in that kind of response from people, your mission statement is pretty useless. It's just something you put up on a while. You look at it every once in a while you may be printed up on, you know, inside inside your student planner or you know, put it on a piece of paper in a binder and stick it up on the shelf.

It's a useless exercise.

 It's why your staff starts to roll their eyes when you roll out your mission statement or worse, force them to go through a mission statement activity where they just kind of pile on a whole bunch of aspirational phrases into some sort of grammatically correct sentence. But it doesn't really drive the work. If your mission statement doesn't help you get out of bed in the morning, if your mission statement doesn't help you keep working when you're tired or keep working when you hit a wall, then your mission statement is pretty useless.

So how do you fix this? How do you create a mission statement that actually will propel and unite your staff forward and also keep everybody accountable? You got to get rid of the educator ease. You've got to stop bloating, your mission statement with all these things that sound really great, but you don't really understand what they mean and it got to get to the real why.

And I'll be honest with you,

it's kind of scary when you're having these kinds of conversations because when you talk to people about their why, they will give you the right answer, but they may not give you the truth, the real answer. They will give you the politically correct answer, but they may not give you the truth. So you start out with your mission statement, your staff into saying, why are you here? Now, honestly, some people are there because it's an easy way to make money for them. Some people are there because they don't have anywhere else to go. Some people are there to collect a check and then some people are there because they want you to change lives and they want to make a difference and they have these big lofty goals and some of them are there because you know I like kids or I love math and this is one of the only places that I can spend time all day with math.

So when you ask that question, you have to keep digging until you get an answer. That is the truth. It's not going to be, I'm here because I want to make a difference in the lives of kids pushed further. What kind of difference do you want to make? Why? Well, how will kids be different as a result of their encounter with you every single day? And that's when you get to people's real. Why. When I started thinking about my why long time ago, I started out with those same answers I started out with. I want to make a difference because I want to give, you know, kids a shot because I believe that all kids deserve a great education. Yeah, that may be true, but what's really driving that? There's another layer and that layer of truth underneath that. That's the heart of your mission statement.

And I remember asking myself that question.

Okay, so why am I really here? Because those things started to sound kind of trite. And the real reason I was there is, you know what I really wanted? I felt everything I did as an English teacher, everything I did as a school administrator was really designed to give kids opportunities that they didn't have before. And that didn't mean kids were working with kids in poverty. I started out working with kids who are truly impacted by, and for them, I wanted to give them a way out. I wanted to give them an opportunity that they wouldn't have had otherwise. But the other thing was I just didn't want to throw a whole bunch of opportunities at them because quite frankly, my students, you know, the big opportunity for them was college.

A lot of my kids were not headed to college and I wanted to make college an option for them, but the problem was this, even when I make college, the option for them, a lot of them would get to college and flunk out first semester because they were just floundering in college and so I started that thing. It can't just be that college is an option for you. I want to make sure that you're successful and you can successfully take advantage of whatever option that you have. Now, when I moved to a different school where it's very affluent, where it was just assumed that all the kids were going to college, I had to rethink it because again, I wasn't trying to get these kids into college. They were going whether I was there or not. So what was my, what was my mission going to be? What was going to get me out of bed every morning and make me serve these kids?

And I realized it was this,

maybe it wasn't about college, maybe it was just about opening options that they didn't have and for these kids it was options to be self reflective. It was options to be, to be better people and giving them other options, other ways of being other than what they may have been seeing in their homes or in their communities that help them become better people and again wasn't just about giving them the option.

Are they going to be able to take advantage of it? Are they going to be able to make the decisions behind that and over time, my personal mission evolved into being, I want to give kids, I want to help kids have better options and make better decisions about those options. That's my mission statement. That's why I get up in the morning. Now think about that. That kind of clarity around my personal mission statement dictated what I taught and how I taught. It dictated how I worked with kids and dictated the kinds of professional development that I pursued because I was trying to figure out how do I give kids more options and how do I help them make better choices about the options that they have. That personal mission statement helped me persist with kids. I would have given up on the personal mission statement, help me be creative about ways to reach kids that I wasn't able to reach in traditional ways and it made me an excellent teacher and administrator.

Well, think about what that will do in an entire school 

if it that will happen with one person. What if an entire school got United around? Why are we here? Not Why am I here as an individual? That's between you and you, but why are we here together as a staff? What is it that we want to do and why is that so important? You give them that vision. You say, here's our vision, and they say, no, come on and help me raise it, and everybody's got to have a good reason for doing that. Otherwise I say, well, that's your baby. You raise it? No, you've got to get people together and galvanized around this thing. So the first thing you have to do is you have to make sure that you are having conversations constantly about why is this important? Notice I didn't say, why are you here?

Because that's personal. Why is this thing that we are building together so important and you've got to help people dig. You can't just let them off the hook with with a trite educator [inaudible] answer that we always give because we want to make a difference because they want to know it has to be deeper than that.

Why is this important? 

So for example, one of our builders lab alumni created this vision. 100% of our students will reach proficiency in reading and math by grade two and maintain or improve their proficiency level for each grade level throughout elementary school. It's an ambitious vision. It sounds really great. She presented it to her staff and then she said, so why is it so important that we get kids on level by grade two and she had long conversations with her staff and they talked about it until her vision became their vision.

She provided the vision, they supplied the why, and when she did that, all of a sudden her staff got excited again. Her staff starts seeing how what they were doing played into that bigger vision. They started seeing their own part. They took that vision and they'd started really putting flesh and bones around that vision and started seeing how that could be possible because she asked the question, why is this important not why are you here? Why is this vision important? And she facilitated those conversations. The same thing is true for you. You've got to start having conversations with your staff. Here's the vision. Now let's talk about why this is important and you facilitate that until the staff comes into agreement.

This is important 

and the more you talk about it, the more excited about your vision your staff becomes, you know, people talk all the time about shared vision.

And I always say, you know, I always, I have this, this, this joke that I heard years ago, corny joke, but still, you know, it says, what is a camel? It's a horse built by committee. And I love that joke because a camel is nothing like a horse. A lot of times when you take your vision and you say, I want to have shared visions, so let me take it to the committee. And everybody sits around and they do shared visioning. You come in and you've designed a race horse. That's your vision. 100% of our kids, by the time the committee gets done with it, they've added all this stuff to your vision and your race horse now looks like a camel. So I don't believe in sitting down and everybody working on the vision together as the, as the builder, people are looking at you to say, what are we building?

You are the head builder.

 They are looking to you for that. And if you go to somebody and say, what are we building? They say, I don't know. What do you want to build? Come on. Nobody wants that. They're looking to you to have that vision. And so the part of visioning that shared, that's where your mission statement comes in. Because when you take that vision and you put it out in front of people and you say, here's what we're building now let's talk about why it's important. That conversation creates your mission. And when you come out of that conversation, not only do you have a solid mission, but you also have everybody now invested in your vision because they've talked about why it's so important. So let me give you a couple of examples of some solid mission statements. We exist to provide a safe place for students so that they are free to be children and to learn and grow and develop in their own pace.

So is that clear when I say, why are we suspending your child? Because your child is doing something that's unsafe and they have to learn. And so we are going to give them some discipline that helps them learn how to be safe here in this school because this is a safe perspec protected space and we're not gonna let anybody infringe upon that.

They've got to learn that.

Why am I asking you to stay late? Because I need this place to be safe. And so when you stay late, then you can help us create a safe environment for the kids who can't get home right away. Why am I asking for more money? Because this place needs to be a safe place and this money is going to help us create more safety. Notice how having that kind of clarity around your mission helped you answer those questions about why are we doing this or why are we doing that?

Because we exist to provide a safe place for kids. Here's another one. Let's use mine. We exist to provide kids with more options and help them make better choices. So why am I asking you to teach differently? Because the way you're teaching, Rob's kids have options and doesn't help them make choices on their own. Why am I writing this student up? Because he made a bad choice and I am now going to help him use this disciplinary process to album, make better choices in the future. Why am I asking for this money? Because I want to be able to provide kids with more options than they have. Now. Notice how when you have a clearly defined mission statement, the why becomes clear. When you ask people to do things, you have a good compelling reason why and you didn't make that up.

That came from them.

That came from the whole organization, which brings me to the second benefit of creating a mission statement this way, and that's when you have a shared mission statement, one that gives a really compelling reason for why that vision is important. All of a sudden you have built in accountability. You don't have to run around chasing and checking and correcting people. Right now. People can make good decisions about the work that they do based on your mission. So when you're, so one of the things that we often ask our clients when they're asking, they're saying, hey, we want to try this and we want to do this work or we want to do this over here. We always ask our clients, is that work on mission or off mission? I mean that's a really simple question, isn't it? Is Our work on mission or off mission?

If we do this work, will it provide more options and help kids make better choices? If we do this work, will it make kids more safe? Notice how when you have clarity around your mission, all of a sudden decision making becomes a lot easier. And then here's what I love the most about it. Not only does your decision making become easier, but everybody's decision making does so when a teacher is sitting in our classroom all alone, no help, and a teacher is trying to decide, should I do this or should I do that? The mission statement reminds a teacher which one is going to better help you make kids academically, psychologically, socially, and physically safe? Which one of those options is going to better help you give kids more options and help them make better decisions? When you're mission statement,

It's alive in your school

It helps everybody make better decisions and so you can trust your teachers to make more decisions on their own if they're guided by your vision and your mission and your core values. It's so powerful. We always talk about accountability. And usually that means running around with a clipboard and, and checking people. Now that's not real accountability. Real accountability is when everybody in your building is accountable to something bigger than them. And that's what your vision and your mission and your core values exist to do. So just to recap right now, most of our mission statements will not serve us. They don't serve us at all. We need to rewrite them. They are pretty useless. I was about to say they're trash, but I'm not gonna say that cause I don't wanna hurt anybody's feelings, but they're pretty useless as they exist right now. They may be pretty, you may be able to put them up on a poster, but they're not guiding the work in your building.

So how do you fix that?

First thing is you need to come with a clear vision. Your vision needs to be clear and it needs to be compelling. And if you don't know how to write a clear vision, listen to episode number 42 where I talk about what your vision statement should look like. Okay? So once you have a clear vision, the next step is your mission statement. You bring your vision to your staff and you say, here's the vision. And then you ask your staff, why is that important? And you have facilitate those conversations and you generate ideas until you start to co get cohesion around a particular concept. And then after you had those conversations, and it may be more than one conversation, you may have a no more than one day. I don't know. You have to have the conversation until you've gotten cohesion.

And people want to rush it and say, well, can I get it? I want to schedule it during pre-service week and be having it ready to go. No, don't rush people have the conversation until you get cohesion. How do you know you're done? Everybody's buying into that vision. Everybody sees why it's important. That's when you're done. And once you have that, why the third step is now turn that into a statement that can guide your work. We exist to a lot of people use that and then they bloated up with a whole bunch of educator ease it. There's no magic and we exist to having that at the beginning of your mission statement.

The magic of your mission statement

Can everybody remember it and can everybody use it to make good decisions about why they're doing the work? Can everybody use it to understand why we are doing this work in this building, why this is happening and why that's happening? 

Until you've gotten there, you don't have a mission statement that can serve you and that's it. It really is simple, but it's not simplistic and most people don't want to put in the work it takes to build a good mission statement and then they wonder why their staff is scattered and they wonder why the, they're having a hard time making the decisions and they wonder why they can't trust their staff members to make a decision and they wonder why their staff members are not enthusiastic about the work.

It's very simple.

If you don't have a compelling why, something that explains this is what we're building and this is why it's important. It's hard to get excited. Nobody is going to get out of bed and drag themselves to work every single day because of your mission statement as is currently written and you know you've gotten the right mission statement when people get to work everyday and they're excited to be there because they're part of something important because they're doing work that they believe in.

That's what your mission statement can do it in. That's how you write a mission statement like a builder. Now before we go, a couple of reminders. First of all, if we are not connected on Linkedin, why you make me beg this is go ahead and find me at Robyn Jackson on Linkedin and let's connect and don't forget that if you want to follow my book writing journey, then let's connect on Facebook as well.

And by the way,

 I should probably tell you I'm also tweeting about things as well and you can find me on Twitter if you're more of a Twitter person at Robyn underscore mindsets, however you choose to connect. Let's connect. Let's stay connected. All right, and then the second reminder builders lab, you know what? This is the kind of stuff that we talk about at builders lab and this is the kind of thing that we help you build a builder's lab.

So if you're interested in creating this kind of mission for your school, the come to builders lab and I'll help you write it and when you leave builders lab, it'll be done.

You'll be ready,

you'll have the whole process down, you'll go back to your school and you get everybody on board and on fire for this work because it's really important to get your ticket for builders lab, Go-to mindsteps inc com slash builders dash lab and if you can't remember that because you're driving or whatever, you can always go ahead and check out the show notes for this episode at school leadership re-imagined dot com slash episode 43 you can also get the transcript for these episodes if you want to read it in a it over later on as well.

Now let's talk about next week.

We talked about vision, we talked about mission and next week I want to give you a little counterintuitive take on core values. Now, I've already talked about core values quite a bit on this podcast, but they're still more, there's still more to say about core values. And so next week we're going to dig in to your core values in a way that you probably have never heard them talked about before. So I hope you'll tune in next time. We're going to talk

About how to take your core values up a notch #Like a Builder.

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

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