Guest post by Mary Tighe
When creating a district vision for personalized learning, community voice is key. By requesting feedback and insight from local neighbors, business owners, community developers, higher education partners, elected officials and parents, a district can build buy-in that extends beyond the school walls.
Virgel Hammonds and Bill Zima, former and current superintendents of RSU2 district in Maine, have witnessed this firsthand. The district went through its original visioning process when Virgel was superintendent, and Bill and his team continue using and building upon that vision statement today.
“Sometimes it’s nice to remind yourself of a bigger purpose,” Bill said. “A vision gives you the ability to come up, catch your breath and then dive back into the work.”
So often, though, district transformation lives within the school walls. For true systems change and long-term success, a vision must be created by and live throughout a community.
“It can’t rest only on the shoulders of our teachers and schools,” Virgel shared. “Instead, the entire community needs to lift up learning, support teachers, and encourage students to learn both in and outside school.”
Visioning sessions and community conversations help build support and strengthen a district’s vision with wider input. When planning a visioning session with community members, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Invite everyone, from district and school staff to parents to kids to business and community leaders. As Bill explained, “Invite anybody who has a vested interest in the school, and that would be just about anyone. That ability to have it open to all those stakeholders is important.” Plus, if everyone is invited, then no one is left out.
- Meet community members where they are. Organize meetings in familiar gathering places for higher participant turnout. “We attended our fair share of meetings in schools, homes, churches, town halls, farms, theaters, and any other location where people congregated within the community,” Virgel shared.
- Don’t ask the community for input unless you intend to use it. Don’t start with the intent of crafting your own vision. Instead, take feedback to heart and use it intentionally in the visioning process. “You don’t have to take every single idea or piece of feedback,” Bill said. “But use their words to help the process.”
- Use a visioning session to have an honest conversation. Ask participants what their hopes are for local graduates and how the district can help prepare students for this future. Through these conversations, RSU2’s leadership learned that everyone wanted the same thing for learners: a world-class learning environment to prepare students not only to be successful for college and career, but also to be future local leaders.
- Share the final vision with the community. Celebrate the accomplishment and consider how to move forward with that vision in mind. “That ability to have it open to all those stakeholders is important,” Bill said.
- Live the vision in and outside the classroom. Bill explained it best: “A vision isn’t something you put up on a plaque. It really needs to be revisited and thought about and talked about.