Opinion
Teaching Opinion

Turning Vision Into Reality

By Starr Sackstein — January 04, 2018 4 min read
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Guest post by Dan Rehman

Regardless of role, my mission has been to help support the school’s vision and help turn it into reality.

My vision, which has evolved, is in wanting to create and enjoy a learning environment where rigor, risk-taking, symbiosis, autonomy, and access-for-all are valued, expected, and modeled.

There are many ways to turn vision into reality. I saw this quote (I am not sure who to attribute it to so if anyone knows, please let me know) that sums up change and turning vision into reality:

“To create real change in education, you need a vision and an enormous amount of perseverance. This principle applies to any worthwhile journey: You have to be too stupid to quit.”

Clarity, but a willingness to change course as circumstances dictate

“I shut my eyes in order to see.” - Paul Gauguin

Whether planning based on the UbD philosophy, general principles of lesson/unit planning, or agendas for a faculty meeting, they all begin with the end in mind. The same holds true for creating a vision. The vision must be so clear that it can be repeated by anyone in the learning environment.

As an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, it is about being able to translate the picture in my mind’s eye to my colleagues and the students in our care. Sharing a clear vision isn’t a one-time event; it needs to be consistently discussed, modeled, debated, and refined as time progresses.

I am not a huge fan of strategic planning, but rather strategic thinking. For a deeper explanation, refer to Howard Mintzberg’s article on the topic.

In short, strategic planning is calculating; it is not committing. When educators (educators are anyone working in a school or district) is committed to a vision, they are more willing to travel the journey together and shape its course. A strategy cannot be designed around the old ideas from the top down, but by all educators in the organization getting their hands dirty and occasional finding a nugget which they can share.

Everyone needs to be simultaneously immersed in the work while remaining on the balcony (40,000-foot view).

Passion

“Ram Pride” - Anyone who loves where we learn daily

I have been called a cheerleader and even a snake-oil salesman. Depending on the lens I guess both can be true. A cheerleader? Being a cheerleader can be seen in various lights, but for the purpose here it is a dig at me because people feel I may not be invested or do not have a “body of work.”

A snake-oil salesman? When these ideas resonate from a place of fear, they can be “true.” Unfortunately, these ideas when couched in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” are allowed to fester, the vision can never materialize. But passion is more significant than all of that.

Passion can be felt. It can be seen. It exudes from those who love what they do. In Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, he speaks about finding what you are passionate about which crosses with natural talent. It is similar to being in “the flow,” a concept developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a state where action and awareness merge, there is a strong concentration on the task at hand, and a loss of awareness of time.

Passion is about believing in everyone I am fortunate to learn with, it is about the pursuit of something bigger than all of us, and it is something which needs to be chased down which brings me to the idea of Zeno’s Paradox.

Chase it down/The relentless pursuit of perfection

Let’s say I want to go from one side of the room to the other. I want to cover half the distance. Then, I must cover half the remaining distance. Then, I must cover half the remaining distance... and so on infinitely (hat tip to Ms. Rowland for engaging me in this discussion some time ago). The point is I can never get to the other side of the room.

I mention this because someone may have a crystal clear vision with an incredible passion but never fully realize “the vision” because circumstances change. For example, the stock market crash of 2008, changing demographics, and the 2 percent tax cap have all played a role in our district has to change course in pursuit of perfection.

What each educator and student needs to do is keep the end goal in mind. They should chase it down with the zeal one would see in the eyes of a five-year-old as they run into Chestnut Street. We must embrace risk-taking and failure as a path forward towards the reality we envision, not just pay it lip service or sit at a meeting and not share what we believe to be true because someone may disagree or we are afraid. We must be “stupid” enough to understand the idea of trying to create the ideal learning environment and cognizant that we are ever evolving social beings.

I am a fan of “threes.” Anyone can remember three things and commit them to memory. Having a crystal clear vision, with passionate people who are willing to chase it down can lead to “reality.”

Of course, I could be completely wrong. What do you think?

Read, write, and think critically daily.


Having held various positions from a primary teacher, middle school teacher, MSTe specialist (now known as STEM or STEAM), AIS teacher, assistant principal, principal, and currently assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Dan Rehman has had the honor and pleasure to serve students on Long Island for over twenty years.

Picture courtesy of Kate Her Haar/(CC BY 2.0)

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