More Than Words

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

A little over a year ago, our community embarked on a journey of reflection and self-examination as we conducted a review of our school’s mission statement and associated core documents. As with most meaningful endeavors, it was recognized at the start that the learning from this process was arguably as important, if not more important, than the final product. To that end, the yearlong review included the involvement of parents, students, and teachers through surveys, focus group discussions, retreats, review committees, and a school improvement team. At the end of this process, the American School of Brasilia’s (EAB) Board of Directors, who were also active participants, were presented with a proposed new mission statement, which was approved. As we look to the current year and years ahead, there is excitement surrounding the opportunity and challenge to make the new mission statement come alive.


Process

To avoid lengthy discussions and potential misunderstands regarding terminology, our School Improvement Team (SIT) agreed to not let the strict definitions and debates associated with the words mission and vision take way from the review process. SIT agreed on a basic definition of mission as “who we are” and vision, with an emphasis on the future, as “where we are going” and, more subtly, “how we will get there”. While not perfect, this was enough to move us forward.

As part of the reflection process, we literally reviewed hundreds of mission statements from schools around the world, fortune 500 companies, and internationally recognized not-for-profit organizations, with the goal of establishing criteria associated with an ideal mission statement structure. This process was helpful and led us to the following criteria:

  1. Accurately reflect our community and school
  2. Be short and concise, such that it could be easily memorized
  3. Avoid lofty language that sounds impressive but has little practicality
  4. Avoid a statement that encompasses everything but says very little
  5. Provide a framework to clarify who we are and what we value
  6. A blend of realism and optimism
  7. Strive for language that is accessible to all student ages in addition to community members whose first language is not English.

It was also agreed that the descriptor statement about the school would be removed from the mission and listed as a separate statement called “Our School”.

Our School: We are a diverse community that provides an English-language based pre-K through Grade 12 education. We are an International Baccalaureate World School with U.S. and Brazilian accreditation.

The remainder of the process focused on identifying and articulating the key components associated with our school’s identity. As those who have participated in similar processes, this is not an easy task but is at the very heart of establishing a new mission statement.

Looking back on the process, a key moment in the discussions occurred during the review of mission statements from other organizations, when someone highlighted the Ritz-Carlton motto:

We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

This statement is not only elegant in its simplicity and content and easy to remember, but also acts as an effective and inspiring guide for everyone who works at the Ritz-Carlton.


New Mission Statement

There is no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton motto influenced the key aspect of EAB’s new mission statement, which articulates that we are a community of learners, adults and students alike, working together on an educational journey. It is EAB’s conviction that student learning is only maximized when all members of our community are also engaged in the learning process. It is this focus which led to the first words in EAB’s new mission and also serves as the new motto:

Learners inspiring learners

Education has fundamentally changed and continues to change, specifically in terms of who controls the flow of information. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance that schools be designed in an adaptable manner, such that they are positioned to take advantage of the current and future changes associated with learning. It was hoped that the concept of “learners inspiring learners” would capture these concepts in terms of how everyone in our community is always learning, adapting, and growing. Given that the control of information has shifted from teachers to students, we must then expect that parents, teachers, and school communities must also be continuous learners or we risk becoming irrelevant in the learning process.

With the first three words of the new mission statement established, the remaining parts of the mission emerged quickly, with the following result:

PREVIOUS Mission Statement:

The American School of Brasilia serves the International and Brazilian communities by providing a U.S. and Brazilian accredited pre-K through 12th grade program and International Baccalaureate Diploma in a culturally diverse atmosphere. Our English- language school develops and supports the whole child in achieving his or her own potential. Through a differentiated, innovative learning experience, we cultivate responsible and contributing citizens, leaders, and environmental stewards with a strong foundation of academic excellence.

NEW Mission Statement:

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As stated, “Learners Inspiring Learners” highlights that we are all life long learners, learning together. “Inquisitive in Life” is about a focus on academic learning. However, learning should always take pace within the framework of character, ethics, and acceptable values. It is this belief in a whole child approach to learning that resulted in an emphasis on character: “Principled in Character” is about being a good person and making good decisions. Yet, it can then be argued that we have a moral imperative to use our learning and character to make a positive difference: “Bold in Vision” is focused on channeling our creative and innovative energies towards making a positive difference in the world.

In summary, after a yearlong review process, it is believed that the new mission meets the criteria set at the start of the process. The statement accurately reflects our community’s beliefs, is sufficiently short and concise such that it can be memorized, and avoids lofty language and jargon. It is also believed that the statement further articulates our values within the context of a blend of realism and optimism for the future.

We are excited to officially introduce EAB’s new mission statement. The next step is to ensure that the mission guides everything we do in addition to finding ways to make the mission come alive at our school.


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Muha… https://www.flickr.com/photos/alpstedt/13339786034


Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

About Barry Déquanne

Barry Déquanne is currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia. His blog explores topics in K-12 education and school leadership within the framework of five focus areas: Academics, Activities, Arts, Leadership, and Service. The blog also explores professional articles and highlights recently read books.
This entry was posted in Barry Déquanne and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *