Visioning Onward: Planning Heart Centered 21st Century Learning Communities

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

School leaders with passion and drive to make a transformative change in their buildings sometimes stall because they can’t get past this question, “Where do I start?” Making radical change in your school or district can be overwhelming when there are many aspects with room for growth. It can be confusing, frustrating, and mind-boggling to attempt to solve all of your school’s problems alone. That’s because lasting, effective change happens when leaders listen to school community stakeholders, form initial teams to help do the work, and set up systems and routines to support that work. The Center for Educational Improvement’s Executive Director Dr. Christine Mason has co-authored a new book that will be released in February that guides educational leaders through this process of intentionally visioning how their schools can become compassionate learning communities.

What is Visioning?

The visioning for school improvement that we present in Visioning Onward: A Guide for All Schools is an evidence-based method for engaging all community stakeholders—staff, students, parents, organizations, and agencies in your town and state—in the process. In Visioning Onward, we present the historical context of visioning and share powerful stories from leaders in education who have used this process to bring change to their buildings and districts. We also bring in success stories from businesses like Apple and Starbucks and see how their visionaries’ processes can be applied in the realm of education.

We will take you step by step through a method to vision transformative change:

  1. Form a Vision Steering Team and Develop A Visioning Process Blueprint
  2. Identify Participants for the Visioning Process
  3. Develop the First Draft of Your Vision
  4. Research Exemplars and Options
  5. Researching Options: The Extended Exercise
  6. Refine Your Vision Using an Iterative Visioning Process
  7. Develop Mission and Goal Statements and Determine How to Measure Progress
  8. Develop an Action Plan to Implement Your Vision

Beyond the Steps

Understanding the steps to an iterative visioning process in your school is a great place to start this journey, but before you begin, it’s important to understand the why and how behind this undertaking. Visioning Onward provides ample background research to support the 8 steps and presents a variety of 21st century learning exemplars. Included in the book are examples of schools who have made a commitment to being green, addressing trauma, and infusing mindfulness into the school day. To get the most out of this book, follow this advice:

“Principals and others may find it easiest and most straightforward to read this book front-to- back. That approach will ground you in the context for the book, take you through a step-by-step process, and lead you into future considerations. However, the most will be gained if readers go beyond ‘reading’ this book and fill in the blanks for their own schools/districts. A small study-team or Core Learning Team may wish to select a leader and implement the steps we recommend, taking your school through a trial run and preparing for more wide-spread collaboration with the larger school community, including ways to engage parents and community leaders. Or you may want to begin with a book study group to discuss and learn about what we are recommending before undertaking your own journey” (Mason,  Liabenow, & Patschke, 2020).

Visioning: One Aspect of Heart Centered Learning

We see visioning as the necessary groundwork to creating compassionate school communities immersed in 21st century Heart Centered Learning. To encourage that learning to take place in everyday classrooms, we wrote Mindfulness Practices: Cultivating Heart Centered Communities Where Students Focus and Flourish. In that book, we give educators practical advice for infusing mindfulness into the classroom and school building each day. Visioning Onward helps school and district leaders set up a concerted effort and systems to do this more intentionally.

Jeffrey Donald, the Mindfulness Coordinator of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland believes that our work can truly make a positive impact in schools:

“The beauty of Mindfulness Practices is in its carefully articulated, yet simple to synthesize, message of our student’s social/emotional/mental health needs. We utilize Mindfulness Practices as our tool to communicate to all stakeholders our foundational philosophy and justification of mindfulness curriculum and practices within our district. I have reviewed the authors’ next book on The Five Cs – we are eagerly awaiting its publication as it fills a void. The Five Cs takes mindfulness and heart centered learning to the next level by providing a practical tool for healing stress and trauma and building student resiliency. With the Five Cs teachers gain access to many engaging instructional activities that can be easily integrated into the academic curriculum, supporting healing and building compassionate school communities. Bravo!”

Visioning Onward will be published in February 2020 by Corwin. Stay tuned for more information about the book’s release as its publication approaches.

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