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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Your Goal is to have a Mission, but a Mission is not a Goal

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement. They advance in time and concept in book-form beginning on March 21.

Your Goal is to have a Mission, but a Mission is not a Goal 
     A mission is not a goal. Don’t confuse it with a plan to “increase the percentage of learners who perform above the mastery level on the state test.” It is not something that you may reduce to discrete and quantifiable parts. An excellent example of distinguishing among goals and missions can be found in Charles Garfield’s Peak Performers. (p. 22)  
     Garfield worked in the aerospace industry at Grumman International. During his initial work there every indicator of morale was negative. Absenteeism was high. Quality and pride were lacking. Grievances were frequently registered. Workers appeared to be going through the motions in performing their tasks. They had jobs but not opportunities.   
     Garfield left for a while and eventually returned to Grumman. Upon his return, he was amazed to find a total reversal in morale during his brief absence. The environment and expectations were unchanged. The laborers were replicating their same old responsibilities. The union contract remained as it was. The only change introduced was the awarding of the government contract on constructing the Lunar Exploration Module that the first visitors to the moon would use for transportation on the lunar surface. 
     No longer were the workers exercising mundane tasks, fastening bolts, tightening nuts… They were now involved in a significant aspect of the space race. In their hands rested the safety of men about to make history hundreds of thousands of miles away. Suddenly, each employee had a greater purpose. 
     Grumman had a picture of the moon enlarged and placed in a prominent location as a reminder of their mission. A prototype of the LEM was displayed in the cafeteria. The workers were frequently reminded of their important role in this historic flight. Finally, a party was held to celebrate the point at which the astronauts were televised riding the LEM. 
     Although the morale was raised as rapidly as the ascent of the Apollo rocket it descended just as quickly upon the return of the sojourners to earth. Sadly, the workers were back to merely fastening bolts and tightening nuts. Their purpose was framed within a terminal time frame. Once they accomplished their “mission” everything went back to normal. They were less inspired, less motivated, and less involved with an uplifting venture. They had rapidly retreated in descending order from the nation’s calling, to the common cause, and finally, back to their company contract. 
Launching a Mission 
     Maintaining a focus on the space exploits of our country reveals another quirk. This chapter opened with a quote from John F. Kennedy urging the support of our whole country as it embarked upon a space race with the Soviets. Much has happened since that call to action. Man landed on the moon within a decade of his clarion. Rockets have been replaced by the space shuttle. Astronauts have guided the space shuttle upwards on over ninety separate flights. Yet, despite an increase in the frequency of space travel our nation has been unmoved by these expeditions, with the unfortunate exception of the tragedies of The Challenger and The Columbia 
     Why have we become nonplussed? Legions of skeptics, while applauding and admiring the determination of then seventy-seven year old John Glenn’s return to space in 1998, have asserted that NASA was resurrecting and exploiting Glenn’s position as an aging icon to spark interest in their work. Whatever the motive, it worked. Once again Glenn was paraded down New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes” soon after his triumphant return. A population skewed toward middle aged baby boomers relived their endearing worship of the brave astronaut. His trip held the attention of the public. For a brief slice of time the country was enthralled by the deviation from the perceived sterile, technocratic, business like image that people have of astronauts conducting esoteric experiments and deploying satellites. It remains to be seen whether NASA will be able to reinvent itself and sustain the public interest and support so necessary for its funding.    
Bringing Clarity to the Mission 
     It is vital to define your mission in terms that can be sustained over time. For example, “Develop productive, life long learners” is a mission that is endurable, believable, credible, worthy, and purposeful. It may not fit attractively on some chart in the district office but it succinctly expresses the resolute intentions of every school staff member. 
     The primary function of the mission rests in clearly and publicly articulating the organization’s reason for being. Once established and understood, the mission becomes a source of clarification. The mission represents a compass point of reference and direction. Staff members have reasonable expectations and parameters that guide work behaviors. Actions either support or inhibit the pursuit of the mission. The statement engenders both individual and organizational accountability throughout the school in terms of development and application of policies and procedures. Consistency extends far beyond executive lip service. 
     Similarly, aren’t we seeking to market education beyond “graduating all students” and reach a higher calling with a more lasting impact, such as “producing life long learners?” 
     The process of arriving at a mission that attracts the support of those involved in promoting it is a function of your practice of decision making. People will present their agendas, argue infinitesimal points, and debate the nuances of language. However, as a matter of perspective, it is important to note that Lincoln’s celebrated Gettysburg address is only ninety-six words long and that our country’s constitution, following lengthy political debates, was written in only two days. The mission of your school should not consume a considerable amount of time or words! 
     Finally, here’s a brief story to relate the danger of becoming detached from what should be your organization’s source of strength, its mission.  
The Strength of a Mission 
     Anteaus was a giant wrestler of Greek myths. (Bulfinch, p. 119) He lived alongside a dirt road and compelled all who passed by to engage him in a struggle to the death. His abode was constructed of the bones of his victims and testified to his prowess.  
     Hercules traveled by one day and was required to accept his challenge. A ferocious battle ensued. The grapplers raged on for hours. Each time Hercules threw Anteaus to the ground the Greek giant recovered and appeared even stronger. Hercules was on the brink of defeat. He had to use his wits to escape a dreadful fate. Eventually he theorized that Anteaus gained his strength from the ground - Mother Earth. Hercules then gambled on his instincts and did what no previous opponent of Anteaus had wagered before. Hercules grabbed his opponent by the throat, lifted him off the source of his strength, and strangled him. 
     Reach an understanding of your mission, gain commitment for it, anchor on it, draw a line in the sand with it, go forth and live it, but do not deviate from it’s purpose or your organization risks a fate only steps short of that which befell Anteaus 
Thoughts on Mission 
     Your next step requires a review of the school’s present mission to determine whether it’s relevant and sustainable. Does it have operational definitions designed to fully explain the key words embedded within the mission statement and provide clarity to followers expected to promote the aim of the mission? Is it inspiring? Does it generate mental images consistent with your vision of the school in the future? The mission is a covenant between the school and community that must be articulated in understandable terms. 
     For example, the mission of our school, which is posted on the front door of the school, appears below with qualifying descriptors intended to offer insight and support. 
     “The __________ School will provide opportunities for all learners to realize their potential.” 
Opportunities = resources, materials, encouragement, recognition, and varied, well rounded programs addressing the needs and interests of learners.  
All = everyone within the school community. 
Learners = everyone, at all stages and ages, not just “students” aged five through twelve. 
Realize = reach, achieve, sustain. 
Potential = personal best, all that is possible, continual growth and challenge. 
     One final note on mission comes from Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible. In advising salespeople hoping to secure commissions on the transfer of products or services, Beckwith encourages them to, “Most of all, sell hope.” (p. 214) 

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