Why Are We Here? The Creation and Implementation of Guiding Statements in Schools

School vision and mission statements – collectively known as guiding statements – define organizational purpose and should serve to guide the course of the school and the outcomes that it hopes to achieve. Though guiding statements have received much attention in the business literature, school vision has been subject to limited empirical review and school mission statements have been largely ignored in the school research literature. Although many schools have guiding statements, school leaders may not be well versed in the development and application of such an organizational management principle that has been developed and studied primarily in the business world. This paper presents the findings of a case study of one new school’s experience developing and implementing a set of guiding statements. The development of the school’s statements of purpose, vision, and values provided the starting point for building a site-based leadership team and the guiding statements provided the backdrop to the planning work that was done prior to the school’s opening and throughout its first year of operation. Teachers, staff, and the principal reflected on these experiences and the role that the school guiding statements played in the development of the leadership team and in defining the identity of the school. The findings were consistent with the findings on guiding statements in the existing literature: regular communication of the guiding statements provided reinforcement of the concepts they contained, the guiding statements provided a reference point for the work that was done at the site, and alignment of action to the guiding statements was a factor in the perception of their value. The data analysis also revealed several factors perceived as important to the guiding statement development process. The study is grounded in a strengths-based approach to research and data analysis that centers on the aspects of the mutual learning model (Schwarz, 2013) that benefitted the guiding statement development and implementation process.