Vice Principal Dr. Amy Fast helps schools how to move their mission from the letterhead to what people do every day. A must-listen for school leaders. Dr. Amy Fast, the author of It’s the Mission, Not the Mandates, talks about how to regain the purpose of education in schools.
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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Purpose-Full Education #MotivationMonday
From Audio File: 172 Amy Fast @fastcranny
Monday, October 16, 2017
Now Amy, this is tough for so many educators, because we have so many mandates coming down, right?
How do we focus on the mission of our school?
Vicki: So how do we focus on the mission, when we feel overwhelmed by all the mandates?
Amy: That’s a good question. I think that it’s certainly something that we need to keep in the forefront of our minds, because mandates are kind of – like you said, in the forefront of our work on the daily basis.
But one of the things that I’m really passionate about is that if we’re not really clear about what our end goal is in public education, then we’re going to be spinning our wheels for the most part.
We only have so much time that we can do things in, and so much manpower and motivation to do those with. If we’re not really clear about how to get the biggest bang for our buck in every second of everyday, then we’re not doing right by our students, and we’re not doing right by society ultimately.
A Leader’s Responsibility in the School
For me, I think that A) it’s a leader’s responsibility to be mission oriented and not be so focused on the initiatives and the mandates that are rolled out in their districts and their states. But B) to be really clear about what their school and their district in there in this field of public education is all about, and to use that to make sure that their staff is on the same page and excited about what they’re doing every day… and knows pretty clearly what they need to do for students so that students can be as successful as possible.
Vicki: Now, Amy, you’re not just a thought leader, sitting in an office. You’re actually an assistant principal in Oregon.
3 ways to make a mission more than a statement
Vicki: So how do you reinforce this with your staff? How do you help them focus and stay on mission? And what do you say your school’s mission is?
Amy: We just came up with a mission statement this year. We have a relatively new team across the board. Three new administrators out of four – “new-ish” I should say, in their roles – and a lot of new hires, and a lot of veteran teachers who are ready for a chance to revitalize their purpose and revitalize the school.
We have this committee called Innovation Council. On that team, we determined the mission statement alongside students and parents and other staff members.
Our mission is “Ignite purpose. Pursue passion. Rise to your worth.”
That kind of encompasses what we’re all about. I think that even for me it’s hard to keep that in the forefront of my day-to-day work, but there’s a few things that we do to keep that mission alive.
Mission statement action item #1: Make sure every group purposefully pursues the mission
One is to not just have it live on letterhead, but to really make sure that all the programs and practices in our school fall under the umbrella of that mission and are really purposeful in realizing that mission. Otherwise, why are we doing them?
Mission statement action item #2: Rethink school meetings that don’t help the purpose
(Two) is making sure that if our meetings and our work with students doesn’t reflect that mission, then we rethink whether those meetings are purposeful or not.
I do something that’s called “Fast Facts.” You know, my last names is Fast, so…
Vicki: (laughs) I got that!
Amy: I send out weekly emails that are mission-oriented. They kind of get to you. I always tell people that “Mindset is more important than Skillset in what we do as educators.”
I’ve seen that to be true in my work with students and staff. These Fast Facts are really geared toward making sure that staff remember how hard the work is that they do and that they also remember that that work is valued.
I think that it’s really easy to feel demoralized as an educator. When you’re reminded constantly of the mission and of our value, I think that can keep your battery charged enough to do the really important work.
Also, I think that one of the big mistakes that we make as educators is not keeping our students in the know of the work that we’re trying to do. I talked on a few podcasts about our student survey that we’re really proud of.
Twice a year we use a Google Form to survey our students about how hopeful that are, and how much they feel like they’re significant in the school, and even have them reflect on their soft skills like teamwork and perseverance and those sorts of things.
Everytime we do these surveys and every time we have an assembly, we remind students of what we’re all about and how proud we are of them and the work that they’re doing and the achievement that they’re had thus far.
If we’re not taking the time to let them know the strides that they’re making toward that mission, and they’re the ones that are doing the real work, then we’re never going to realize that mission.
Mission statement action item #3: Make sure students own it
I think that:
- Keeping it in the forefront of our work as administrators, and
- Making sure that our staff see that it’s a living thing and not just something that lives on letterhead, and
- Making sure that students own it.
Those are probably the most important pieces of making a mission more than just a statement. It’s something that actually inspires you on a daily basis.
Make sure schools are full of purpose or purpose-full
Vicki: So, Amy, you said a word that I love. “Purposeful.”
But I like to spell it “Purpose-full.”
Vicki: Everything we do should be full of purpose.
As we’re thinking about motivating ourselves to be more, do you think that there’s anything that schools unknowingly do that are “Purpose-less,” or take away from your purpose?
Amy: All the time, unfortunately. This is probably the impetus for my book. I had this nagging feeling for fifteen years — when I was in the classroom or as an instructional coach — that what we’re spending the most time on isn’t necessarily the most purposeful for students and in turn for society.
We’re really doing this so that students can be happy and successful someday and so that we can live in a better world. When you zoom out at the 30,000 foot range, that’s why we’re here. The unfortunate reality in education is that what gets tested is also what gets taught. Not that what we test is wrong, but it’s limited.
I always say that there was this popular phrase for a long time that was “having a laser-like focus” in education. That’s important because without that focus then you’re all over the place. But at the same time, that laser-like focus can become tunnel vision if we’re not careful.
I think that one of the things that I care a lot about is making sure that what we focus on reflects our greatest purpose.
School is not just here for academic reasons
This is a statement that ruffles a few feathers, and this is probably where my niche is in this field, but I’m not sure that the purpose of education is solely academic.
The research that I did when I was writing my book was all about, “What is it that changes the trajectory of a society? What is it that changes the trajectory of an individual?”
If that’s 90% academic, then great. We’re on the right track as public educators.
But if it’s not, then we need to be really careful, because if what we’re testing is what gets taught, and we’re solely testing academic measures and that’s actually not what leads societies and individuals to be successful, then we’re going to be going down the wrong path.
3 Fold purpose of schools
1 – Academics
I have this conceptual framework in my book, and it’s something that I share sometimes on Twitter. It’s a triple Venn diagram, and academic achievement is only one sphere or circle in that.
2 – Foundational Skills
The (second one is) those foundational skills, those soft skills people talk about like perseverance and teamwork and creativity. Those are seeming intangible, but actually are pretty measurable qualities.
3 – Intrinsic Drive
The other circle, the third circle, is intrinsic drive, and that’s the piece that I talk about that we’re missing a lot.
When you look at things that are integral to individuals’ and society’s success, it’s really that piece about students
- getting super passionate about what they’re doing,
- feeling like they have something to contribute to society, and
- feeling like they matter and matter in a unique way and not just a way that’s a number on a data point somewhere on a chart, somewhere in a school.
You’re actually an individual that people are seeing, you’re cared about, and you’re known.
For me, if we’re going to be purposeful about our work, then we need to be purposeful about what it is that’s really going to make a difference in education for students.
It’s not solely academic.
If I am pushing any agenda, that’s the agenda I’m pushing.
How to improve student performance
Vicki: Give us a 30-second pep talk about focusing on what will actually improve the trajectory of kids.
Amy: Well, I don’t know if it’s a pep talk…
But I’m all about multiple measures. I’m not about moving backwards in education and not measuring at all, just making kids “feel good.”
I think that we can’t do things the way that they’ve been done in the past. That hasn’t been proven to be as beneficial as we’d like them to be.
Let me give you a little caveat here, because I think that we’re really hard on the field of education. A lot of things we’ve done have come to fruition in society and actually made a positive impact. We’re not quick enough to give credit where credit is due.
But, that being said, it’ really important to have holistic measures. We are too quick to dismiss that because it seems impossible. But we forget that a really easy measure is asking students. We can measure a student’s motivation level and intrinsic drive. We can measure their soft skills with their own self-assessment or rubrics that teachers have. And we can certainly measure their academic achievement which we’re already doing.
So what I would like to see happen is to have these holistic measures that allow schools to capture not only how their students are doing academically, but also
- how they’re feeling and if they’re able to think creatively,
- have a global perspective,
- have solid oral and written communication,
- be good leaders,
- be good at teamwork and digital literacy,
- be flexible.
All of those things that are shown to actually be more important than technical or academic skills in the workforce. I think that we should put equal weight on those things. Then we’ll get an accurate reflection of what our schools are doing. Once we start looking at those things, schools will start paying more attention to those things. By virtue of paying more attention to them, students will in turn rise to their worth.
Vicki: OK educators. So, let’s get out there and let’s have a more purposeful education in our classrooms and in our schools.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Dr. Amy Fast is an assistant principal at McMinnville High School in McMinnville, Oregon. She is the author of It’s the Mission, Not the Mandates and is a rising thought leader in the field of education. Her focus is on public school policy and practice that ignites students’ passions and inspires them to pursue their purpose–both at the national socio-political level and at the grassroots school building level.
Social Media: @fastcranny
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