The #1 Curriculum and Assessment Partner for Educators

[Administrator Tips] Using Your Mission Statement to Build Shared Student Ownership

[Administrator Tips] Using Your Mission Statement to Build Shared Student Ownership

In my work as an educational programs consultant for Edmentum, I have been dedicating a lot of my time recently to helping schools create a sense of shared ownership. This idea is not new to education; there has been plenty of conversation and research on the value of giving students a voice in deciding how the classroom is structured, creating classroom policies, establishing social expectations, and choosing learning and reflection tools to increase engagement. However, the idea of creating shared ownership has taken on a new meaning as technology becomes more prevalent in the classroom.

Think about advertisements you see as you surf the Web. Companies have always implied that, by purchasing specific products, you enter some kind of special society. For instance, when you see a Mercedes-Benz commercial, you get the feeling that owners of these cars belong to some sort of elite group. And, in today’s information-saturated world, companies are communicating these sorts of associations more explicitly than ever before. 

Consider the company Rareform, which sells backpacks made from old billboard canvas material. Buying from Rareform means that you are helping reduce waste--this is made clear, as the company has an entire page on its website dedicated to explaining how it repurposes the material and how its founders were inspired initially on a backpacking trip through South America. Rareform uses these stories as a clear invitation to be a part of a community of individuals dedicated to waste reduction, repurposing, creativity, and uniqueness. The shared ownership Rareform offers is twofold: buying from the company allows it to continue its mission of helping the environment and offers the buyer an opportunity to share this environmental identity with others who feel the same. This points to the core of the modern mission statement.

Mission statements invite their audience to contribute to and share in an activity that they care about. They create a sense of motivation, purpose, responsibility, and community for those that participate. Isn’t this what we’d like for our students?

Many schools and districts have mission and vision statements, but they vary greatly. At the very least, they typically allude to the district’s or school’s purpose, how the school or district operates toward that purpose, and the commitments the school or district has made. Vision statements are usually reserved for describing future goals, and they may include expectations of staff, students, and sometimes, parents. However, in comparison to a modern business mission statement as described previously, there are glaring differences in how schools communicate their purpose. Here are four questions school and district leaders can ask to borrow from the community-building savvy of the corporate world and create mission and vision statements that resonate with staff and students.

1. Who is the audience?

Take a look at your district’s or school’s mission statement. Who does it appear to be written for? Often, these statements are created to be read and appreciated by staff members and parents, but does it speak to students as well? A mission statement should be written for the target market—and the education system exists first and foremost to serve students. If your mission doesn’t engage your learners, then why would the academic products you’re offering engage them?

2. What is the object of purpose?

Read below a snippet from one school’s mission statement. Does it imply that students are a part of this mission or only the object of the mission?

“Through their education at school, students should gain the skills, strategies, and desire necessary for continued learning. They should also develop a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and toward each other, their community, and the earth's resources.”

Sharing in a mission while being its object requires a level of maturity that students may not be ready for. Students would need to understand the mission not as an imposition and sincerely desire in themselves that which the school desires for them. Of course, it is the purpose of the mission to instill these feelings, but without explicitly stating how it is to be done and how it is to be a shared experience, many students may find it difficult to embrace the development. Focus on making your mission statement speak to your students; not just about them.

3. What is the shared mission?

Every district’s or school’s primary function is to teach its students, but as an organization—staff and students combined—it’s important to consider overarching goals. A mission declaration that makes academic excellence the only focus is likely not to compel feelings of motivation, responsibility, community, and purpose from the majority of students. By explicitly communicating shared activities that implicitly communicate elements of academic excellence, students are much more likely to personally identify. Jumpstart the discussion of how your district or school may offer a shared education experience by asking:

  • If our students could contribute to a cause, what would it be?
  • What sort of experience can we offer that all of our students can share a sense of responsibility and motivation for?
  • What overarching purpose can the district/school community as a whole contribute to?
  • What can our district/school be involved in that no other district/school is?
  • How can we communicate—and empower our students to communicate—our shared purpose and contribution to the community and prospective families?

4. What is your story?

With continual access to the creativity of generations, districts and schools are in an optimal position to define and lead the social and academic initiatives of the future. Today, engagement and decisions are based on language and stories. Problems are created and solved socially, and there is a deep need to share in meaningful activities and communicate those experience with the world. In order to connect students with academics, we must first share a social experience with them. A shared district or school mission may not be a bad place to start, and the best way to establish one is with a compelling story.

Your school or district mission statement is just one aspect of broader school culture that can have a huge impact on student and educator outcomes. Want to dive deeper on this topic? Check out these 4 Simple Steps to Improve Your School Culture!