In education and elsewhere, leaders too often start with the “what” – What do we want to build? – or the “how” – How will we build it? But the first, and most powerful, question to answer is “Why are we doing this?”
It is the “why” behind the facility that creates the compelling vision that drives every element of the project. It determines the “what” and the “how.”
Crafting a clear, compelling and community-inspired vision is the most important step in building or expanding a school facility. It aligns the educational programs and the physical facility design. While I will focus my attention on schools in this blog, this process can be effective in a variety of facility projects.
Here are four key questions that I have found to be valuable when facilitating the group process of shaping the vision for schools:
- What are your aspirations for your school?
This introductory question provides an opportunity for each person to share their reasons for why they are there and what they believe is most important in this process. Write out the expectations in front of the entire group so it is shared visually with everyone and serves as a record to refer to later. The list is often diverse and creates a bird’s eye view of the aspirations of the community members and staff in the room. If we have done our preparatory work well, we will hear about educational desires and not about the walls.
- What inevitable changes will impact public education over the next 10 years?
This may be the most impactful question asked when developing a vision for execution. This exercise begins to build a collective understanding of what the members believe are the internal and external forces driving change in how we deliver education and operate our schools. It also can help participants understand why this process has been initiated.Before asking this question, set the stage by showing a compelling video that speaks to the future and may even provide a different viewpoint. One of my favorites is this one by Sir Ken Robinson on “Do schools kill creativity?” While getting some laughs in this video, Robinson helps leaders rethink school systems and makes a profound case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than the more common approach that inadvertently undermines it.
- What beliefs could limit or inhibit success in the future?
Creativity in a group process often is inhibited by unspoken beliefs held by the members of the group. Many are thinking, “We can’t afford this.” Others are thinking they know the answer before the process begins. These beliefs may be institutional, community and personal in nature. By asking and publicly documenting this question in the beginning, we help participants let go of these beliefs and work together in a more open and creative process.
- What do you see in year _____?
Insert the last year of the planning period, usually about 5 or 10 years in the future. Then, set the scene. The school district is flourishing with strong enrollment and community support. What do you see? In most cases, it works well to collaborate in small groups and then present what they imagine to the larger group. The themes typically rise quickly and serve as the basis for the vision. Once they have described what the future school district looks like, ask the group to share what decisions they think the community and the school leaders would make along the way to lead to that future. This exercise encourages the group to begin with the end in mind, identifying the destination and then outlining the path to get there.
The final vision should reflect the mission and values of the district while being distinctly focused on the process at hand.
The vision cannot come from one person – or simply from within the organization. It needs to be thoughtfully created by a group that represents both the school and the community. (Learn more about best practices for creating this group).
Visions can be seen as soft. But they are more than words on paper. A vision creates a foundation for the school and creates a filter by which every decision is evaluated. Bringing a diverse group of community and school leaders together to shape the vision as the first step of a building process has been a best practice for schools of all sizes.
Get more details on creating a vision and effectively engaging in the community in this Step-by-Step Community Planning Guide.