One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father’s shoulders as he walked me around the University of Melbourne. I didn’t quite know what I was looking at, but I did get the message that this was a place where I needed to be when I was older. No surprise then that I took my first degree from that very institution; nor, perhaps, that I’ve spent so much of my life as a learner and an educator.
Fast forward some decades from this initial tour, and I’m back at the same place working with school principals on the development of their leadership capabilities. This work included asking program participants to articulate a vision for their school. How hard could it be, I thought, to express the aspirations of a school in a brief, compelling statement? I’d seen countless examples from other industries, and even provided samples. My favourite, by the way, was Ducks Unlimited: wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.
Schools are generally outcome-focused. Their staff work hard to tailor their lesson plans to the needs of individual students. Results are quantifiable, certainly in aggregate, and the human connection is obvious. Therefore all the ingredients of a superb vision statement are there to be exploited. And yet this often proved to be one of the more challenging sessions of the program.
It seems to me that there is grey space between people in an organisation that can either be left void or filled – at least in part – by leadership. An individual school principal acting alone or orchestrating the effort of a group can provide a vision to glue together the disparate parts of a school. But this takes courage. It involves exposing something held deep inside to public scrutiny.
My vision for education was formed early. It involved being lifted up by someone I trusted to a place where I could see a little further ahead.