Without a Mission, a Teacher Perishes


Any corporation that is serious about its long-term success has a mission statement. Companies need a guiding vision to keep focused during challenging times, as well as the good times. Most schools also have mission statements. Administrators and teachers spend long hours honing each word for appropriateness and precision. Schools set lofty goals guaranteeing results beyond even the most wild-eyed optimist’s dreams. Schools and school districts are committed to creating clear visions that will lead to all students’ success. Educators understand the power associated with a well-crafted mission statement.  As Solomon claims “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But all too often these well-meaning mission statements are lost or buried on the school’s website, or better yet, abandoned to a notebook locked in a supply closet.  And while the process of writing a mission statement is beneficial; a mission statement is ultimately only as effective as those who read it and buy into its vision.  If teachers really want to take advantage of the power of a clear mission/vision, I suggest teachers write and act upon their personal mission statements daily.

For some reason, I tend to fall into a teaching funk during October and February. Not the whole month mind you, just a few days when getting out of bed in the morning is more challenging than normal. I still teach to the best of my abilities. I still attend meetings and complete the other duties associated with my job, but I feel a little off. I suppose we all have a few days each year when we would like a little break from the action.  A timeout.  A little time on the bench.  A few hours staring at the wall.  So far I have not been offered a timeout or wall to stare at, and I refuse to miss my classes, just because I feel like Bill Murray reliving the same day in Groundhog Day. My answer to this seasonal “wanting to work at Barnes and Noble syndrome” is a personal mission statement.

When I set about writing my personal mission statement I decided I would read several mission statements from schools and other educators. Most of these statements were insightful and thoughtful. Few enter the teaching profession for riches and glory, and the dedication of these teachers was evident.  I decided to appropriate some of the great ideas I found in these mission statements and combined them with my personal teaching philosophy.  I wrote my statement and pasted it on my computer and on my desk. My mission statement keeps me focused on what matters to me and what matters to students.

My mission statement as a teacher is as follows:

“To enable all students to better understand the world around them, as well as how their unique gifts and talents will ultimately lead them to become successful individuals, family members, community leaders, and compassionate citizens. I will accomplish this mission by helping students improve their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.”

My mission statement as a department chair is as follows:

“To enable all teachers to reach their full potentials in the service of students. I will also work to better my school as a whole if its goals align with the service of students and teachers’ welfare.”

My mission statements will never be mistaken for great literature or even original. I don’t care.  I like them and they remind me why I teach and who is important. My mission statement motivates me and focuses me. On those days when I am not at my best, because those sneaky days in October and February try to steal my passion, I read my vision statements and I feel stronger.  I guess, in a way, I am a mini-business. I am a professional teacher and my students depend on me to bring my best every day. I can’t afford to have “off” days. I can’t afford time on the bench. And if my mission statements focus me on my vision, then I am going to read them and revise them and try to live up to them every day.

5 thoughts on “Without a Mission, a Teacher Perishes

  1. Roy,
    I love the way you keep your focus clear by posting your own mission statement. It is such a simple but powerful way to keep yourself focused on what’s important.

    • Thanks Ruth! Statements, be they mission or statement, help me to return to center when I get wrapped up in all the things teachers deal with everday that have little to do with kids or effective learning.

  2. I came to terms recently with the tension between the bureaucratic behemoth that is the modern public school and the real mission of a school. Public education has a very noble and generous mission: help young people understand the world in which they live. It is good and right that we all should understand what’s going on in our world. So my mission statement would acknowledge that while the delivery of education is flawed, the reason for the delivery is noble and worthy. I consider it a privilege to serve in this way.

    • You are absolutely right Nancy. If we keep our focus on serving kids, even when the bureaucratic machine gets in the way, we will do well by kids.

  3. You just made me start pondering my mission statement, Roy – both as a teacher and department head. I had my focus in mind, but it will be so much more powerful to put it into words and have it up in front of me! Thank you.

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