Every School Needs a Clear Mission. Yours, too

A mission may be the guidepost you’ve been looking for

If you roll your eyes at the notion that a school needs a clear articulable mission and a vision, here’s a scenario:

Imagine you are going for a very long drive. You have a vague idea where you’re going. Strangely, there are no street signs or landmarks. Also, imagine your entire faculty riding in the back seat.

Now, take that drive 180 times. Don’t worry, you’ll get the weekends off … sort of.

When a school community operates without a meaningful vision or mission, too often members of your staff are going to feel lost and go off-track. Schools are complex institutions with many conflicting demands.  If you don’t prioritize and set a clear system of values, purposeful decisions are hard to make. Tensions run high because expectations are unclear. Retaining faculty is tough, and serving kids is almost impossible.

Here’s the good news: You probably already have a mission. And if you are dealing with low retention  or lackluster morale,you need your mission more than ever. Why? Because your mission is an agreement that binds you together. It gives direction. It offers purpose. As an administrator, you can use the directive within your mission to transform your school. A strong mission helps a community recommit to a kids-first mindset.

A community agreement


A mission statement reminds your school community what you are all there to accomplish. When you’ve done work to make sure that everyone in the community knows your mission, you create a living agreement. You keep the mission alive by making it a real part of your leadership practice.

One principal we spoke with recognized that focusing on the mission has helped them identify the reluctant stakeholders. They used an analogy to communicate their message: This is the bus we are on. This is the direction we are going. If this doesn’t align with your beliefs, perhaps you are on the wrong bus.

Common language

Clay Scarborough, principal at North Lamar High Schoolin Paris, Texas, has done significant work with his faculty around building their core purpose statement.

Their statement reads,

Our core purpose is to provide engaging opportunities for students to not only learn, but also become confident of their ability to succeed in all aspects of their life.

When you have a mission that your community is committed to, your school gets the chance to define a common language. If you all speak the same language to describe what is most important, you have a better chance of meeting your goals. A common language can have wide impact on and off campus. “It sure has been nice using our mission to have a common language for when we tell others what we are about,” Scarborough said.

Let’s say your mission states that you are a community that aims to foster authenticity and purpose in students. That means that your work together will be to learn to talk about what that looks like and how you will collectively make that happen. You can make this more impactful by doubling down on this investment by shaping your culture around it in other ways. Imagine a more meaningful end-of-the-year awards ceremony not based on GPA but rather on how your students have embodied various aspects of your mission.

Navigate conflict

Peter Burnside, secondary principal at Xiamen International School (XIS) in Fujian, China, says that missions matter when it comes to dealing with conflict. XIS is a world International Baccalaureate (IB) school, which means that it shares a mission with other IB schools worldwide.

Here’s their IB mission statement:

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

“I often refer to the last line in the IB mission,” Burnside says. “Whether it’s a student, parent, or teacher issue, this line in the mission guides us to be open-minded, honor multiple perspectives, and approach conflicts in a way that is mediating and satisfying to all parties, as opposed to a right-wrong or win-lose approach.”

Make the right decisions

Got an enthusiastic teacher who wants to bring e-sports to your school? Before you commit to a year-long Twitch subscription, take a breath. We all know that esports is a popular innovation that diversifies your extracurricular offerings. But how do you know if is it right for your school? If it helps further the mission, go full steam ahead. If it’s not in line with your goals, it’s not mission appropriate.

The term “mission appropriate” is a clear way to evaluate new ideas or old procedures as the program grows. Do you have an antiquated discipline process that certain tenured colleagues are attached to? Use a faculty meeting to take a closer look, using your mission as a lens with your colleagues. Let the group decide if your mission is in line with how the school responds to disciplinary issues.

Not actively using your mission to make your school a better place? It’s time to dust it off and reintroduce it to your school. Engage the expertise and passion of your teachers to give students the opportunities and care they deserve.

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.