[Editor’s Note: This article is re-posted with permission from the CACE blog, where it first was published on October 3, 2018].
Developing a mission and vision statement is a task that every Christian school has engaged in at one time, or perhaps multiple times throughout their history. A lot is asked of Christian school mission statements. They must sell the school to prospective families and donors alike, rally the community in a multitude of different ways, and direct the overall operations. Yet they sometimes read like inscriptions on tombstones or the elegies of fallen heroes. New strategies or ways of authoring these statements have been recommended and tried. New words have tried to replace mission and vision (e.g., some schools refer to their vision statement as their aspirant statement) but in the end, the goal of these two statements remains the same.
If you have read enough mission statements to develop a love-hate relationship with them, you are not alone. When a mission statement defines a school so well that it feels somewhat like strategy or a clear understanding of who they are and why they exist, you love it. When the mission statement is generic, stale, copied from the best statements of sixteen other similar institutions, you tend to hate it. If you are wondering which category your school’s mission statement falls into, try a blind screening test with a parent, maybe a new parent with whom you have built up a good amount of trust capital. Ask her to read your mission statement and a couple others. Can she tell which one is yours?
The mission statement describes the reason for existence as well as a reference point, a reminder. Along with the core beliefs and core values, a mission statement provides the boundaries for which the school stakeholders agree to work creatively within. The work they engage in is designed to achieve a shared vision, a public declaration that schools use to describe their highest-level goals for the future. In other words, what a school hopes to achieve if they successfully fulfill the school’s mission.
Mission statements represent the intellectual and cultural memory, and the will of the local place and people. Mission statements are common statements of mutual understanding that reflect local habits, place, and legacy. Mission statements answer four key questions: Who are we? What do we do? Why do we do it? For whom do we do it? A vision or aspiration statement is precise, adaptive, and responsive. Its tenets should be reflected in curriculum, assessment, instruction, projects, and learning artifacts.
A simple analogy might be arrows and a target. One might immediately associate arrows and vision, right? The arrows, shot from the bow, are what we use to accomplish the mission. The arrows, however, represent the mission in this analogy. They are the reason the school exists and remains the same. The target represents the vision or aspiration statement. It can change and should change periodically by assessing the needs of the families and students who are choosing your school.
Steps for Writing Your School’s Mission Statement
Some suggested steps as you begin to write (or re-write) your school’s mission statement:
1. Imagine a family moving into your community and making the decision about which school to send their children to. Use your imagination to see why they are exploring your school, how they find you, and what would be the result of sending their children to your school. Write this story out and add as many details as possible. Encourage other leaders at your school to go through the same process. These are the stories that describe what it looks like when your school is doing their best work. Share your stories and keep these stories in mind as you begin the rest of the process. These stories are the background of the mission statement, the context behind the actual words.
2. Make a list of what your school does and does not do. Start with the good and don’t undervalue what you provide. Schools operate within communities, alongside families, churches, and a multitude of organizations that provide value for children, but your school has a unique calling in the formation of children. Define what your school does for families who choose you. The business (for-profit and non-profit) community offers some interesting examples to help spur on good thinking. For example:
- Apple Computer’s 2017 Mission Statement reads, “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”
- A different approach comes from IKEA who begins with a broad statement followed by a sentence that could only be IKEA: “Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. We make this possible by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home-furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
- Or from the non-profit world, “The Vs. Cancer Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving kids’ lives by empowering athletes and communities to fund lifesaving childhood cancer efforts.
3. Discuss, digest, cut, polish, review, revise. And then listen. Show drafts to others, ask for opinions, and really listen. Don’t try to convince them; just listen and then revise again.
Exemplars We Admire
Here are a few mission and vision samples we admire, as our nature is to be shaped by exemplars:
- Hope Academy. Mission: To foster hope in God within the inner-city neighborhoods of Minneapolis by providing youth with a remarkable, God-centered education. Vision: Believing that all children are created for God’s glory and endowed by Him with an inalienable potential to acquire wisdom and knowledge. Hope Academy covenants with urban families to equip their children to become responsible, servant leaders of the 21st Century. Committed to the truth, discipline, and values of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Hope Academy pursues this aim by mobilizing educational, business, and community leaders towards the important goal of serving the children of Minneapolis with a remarkable education, permeated with a God-centered perspective. This inter-denominational school will seek to unleash kingdom citizens who work for justice, economic opportunity, racial harmony, hope for the family, and joy in the community.
- Chattanooga Christian School. Aspiration: Chattanooga Christian School desires to be a leading Christian school that is distinguished by its redemptive discipleship through rigorous curricular programs promoting Christ-centered critical thinking and co-curricular programs that allow students to fully display their diverse talents and skills while fostering an enthusiastic love for their school community.
- Unity Christian Academy. Mission: Empowering a diverse community, united by Christ, to achieve excellence in education for the flourishing of all creation.
- South Christian High School. Vision: to be a spiritually vibrant educational community that reflects God’s Kingdom. We seek God’s leading in providing exceptional offerings, culturally relevant methods, and a service-oriented community with a heart for students.
Finally, here are a couple of good reads as you consider developing (or re-developing) your school’s mission statement:
About the Author
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the director of the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE). Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt College. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt College and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota. He can be reached via email at Timothy.VanSoelen@dordt.edu.