If you’ve spent any time poking around the Radical recently, you know that I’ve been hammering on the idea that schools need to create sets of clear, concise, actionable vision statements in order to be truly successful.

In an instance of kharmic synergy, I found out this week that David Allen—one of the world’s leading experts on personal and organizational productivity and the author of Getting Things Done (2002)—believes in the importance of vision statements, too!

For Allen, vision statements matter the most in knowledge-driven workplaces.

He writes:

In the old days, work was self-evident.  Fields were to be plowed, machines tooled, boxes packed, cows milked, widgets cranked. 

You knew what work had to be done—you could see it.  It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished.

Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. (Kindle Location 174-179)

This lack of edges to our work causes stress and confusion for most of us.  It leads to an almost crippling inability to figure out what to do next in order to move in a productive direction—and that crippling inability is only magnified when people are working together on complex problems.

When we take the time, Allen argues, to pause and to write down the “very next physical action required to move the situation forward”—a process that parallels my beliefs about writing vision statements in schools—we put ourselves in a more productive position:

You’ll be experiencing at least a tiny bit of enhanced control, relaxation, and focus.  You’ll also be feeling more motivated to actually do something about the situation you’ve merely been thinking about till now…

The situation itself is no further along, at least in the physical world.  It’s certainly not finished yet.  What probably happened is that you acquired a clearer definition of the outcome desired and the next action required. (Kindle Location 328-343)

Please don’t underestimate how important this process is. As simple and as ridiculously-common-sensical as it seems, there are too many teachers working on too many learning teams in too many schools who have NO IDEA what it is that they’re supposed to be doing with each other from day-to-day or month-to-month.

Sure, we’ve all heard the “you should be studying your practices” and “you should be looking at data” lines about a thousand times.  We’ve heard the “you should be deciding what your students should know and be able to do” line, too.

And we’re with you.  We WANT to be productive.  We see the value—for teachers and students—in collaborating with one another around practice.

But “studying practices” and “looking at data” and “figuring out what students should know and be able to do” are general terms.  Allen would call them tasks with no edges—and tasks with no edges leave professionals frustrated and lost.

What is so darn aggravating to me is the nearly universally negative response that educators have towards vision statements.  Most—including building principals—will tell you that vision statements are nothing more than a waste of time that no one pays any attention to.

Allen sees this resistance to clearly defining a vision all the time.  He writes:

Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes is something few people feel they have to do.  But in truth, outcome thinking is one of the most effective means available for making wishes reality. (Kindle Location 356-360)

What should this mean for you?  How can you translate the lessons that Allen has learned from decades of helping individuals and organizations to move forward?


No matter what the cost in time or energy—no matter how skeptical your teachers are, no matter how divided your faculty is,  no matter how many other things you think you need to be doing—-you ought to find a way to lead your faculty through a visioning process that results in a set of tangible action steps that teachers and learning teams can work towards together.

Rick DuFour and Bob Marzano call this giving teachers the gift of significance:

To be the best leader you can be, link the vision of your district, school, or classroom to the hopes and dreams of those you serve.

Work with a guiding coalition to develop the specific actionable steps you will take to move toward the vision.  (Leaders of Learning, 2011, in publication)

Does ANY of this make sense?

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