A mission statement, or simply a mission, is a public declaration that schools or other educational organizations use to describe their founding purpose and major organizational commitments—i.e., what they do and why they do it. A mission statement may describe a school’s day-to-day operational objectives, its instructional values, or its public commitments to its students and community. A vision statement, or simply a vision, is a public declaration that schools or other educational organizations use to describe their high-level goals for the future—what they hope to achieve if they successfully fulfill their organizational purpose or mission. A vision statement may describe a school’s loftiest ideals, its core organizational values, its long-term objectives, or what it hopes its students will learn or be capable of doing after graduating.
The terms mission statement and vision statement often used interchangeably. While some educators and schools may loosely define the two terms, or even blur the traditional lines that have separated them, there appears to be general agreement in the education community on the major distinctions between a “mission” and a “vision.” Generally speaking, a vision statement expresses a hoped-for future reality, while a mission statement declares the practical commitments and actions that a school believes are needed to achieve its vision. While a vision statement describes the end goal—the change sought by a school—a mission statement may describe its broad academic and operational assurances, as well as its commitment to its students and community.
In most cases, mission and vision statements result from a collaborative, inclusive development process that may include students, parents, and community members, in addition to administrators and teachers. Schools may also be required to develop the statements, or modify existing statements, as an extension of an accreditation process or a grant-funded school-improvement project.
Educators and school-leadership experts contend that compelling, well-articulated mission and vision statements can:
- Help a school community reflect on its core educational values, operational objectives, purpose as a learning institution, and hoped-for results for students. By asking tough questions about what the school was founded to achieve, and by looking at where it is in relation to where it wants to be, a school can become better organized to achieve its goals and more focused on the practical steps needed to achieve them.
- Act as a “call to arms,” or a way to rally support for its core educational values or an improvement plan, or to mobilize the staff and community to move in a new direction or pursue more ambitious goals. By creating a “shared mission” or “shared vision”—that is, developing the public commitments with the involvement of teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members—a school can increase general understanding of what it hopes to accomplish, why it matters, and what may need to change to realize a stronger academic program.
- Focus a school’s academic program on a set of common, agreed-upon learning goals. In some schools, teachers may work in relative isolation from one another, and each academic department may operate quasi-independently when it comes to making important decisions about what gets taught and how it gets taught. Mission and vision statements, therefore, have the potential to focus school leaders and educators on making decisions that are “aligned” with the vision and mission, that lead to greater curricular coherence, and that use staff and classroom time more efficiently, purposefully, and effectively.
A school may periodically review its mission and vision statements—such as every year or few years—to assess whether it is making progress toward its goals, reflect on setbacks that may have occurred along the way, and reconfirm its commitments. During this process, schools may choose to revise the statements to better reflect the school’s evolving educational values, operational strategies, and learning goals.
Mission and vision statements and their attendant processes—such as bringing people together to reflect on the “noble purpose” of education, spending time debating nuances of meaning and word choice, and publishing the mission statement on a school website or in course-of-study booklet—may be viewed with skepticism by some educators, students, parents, and community members, particularly if the resulting statements are perceived to contradict or be inconsistent with the existing culture and day-to-day learning experiences in a school. In other words, the statements may be perceived as inauthentic or hypocritical representations that might only serve to mask deeper contradictions. Others may question whether such statements are worth the effort or if they will actually effect positive change in the school. In many cases, however, criticism of mission and vision statements arises in response to previous experiences in schools that undertook the process, but then failed to enact substantive changes or honor the spirit and intent of the expressed commitments.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.