Moral leadership guiding school change and vision setting

(If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got)

A vision, although describing a desirable future, has its importance in the present by guiding actions and decisions that will create that future. School leaders have key roles in formulating the agreed vision, and implementing it, while being publicly acknowledged as the primary go-to person. Thus, a vision may be seen to refer to the shared values and aspirations agreed to by the members of an organisation, and it guides their present actions and decisions in order to create a desirable future. This is nicely summed up by Bennis and Nanus (1985, p. 89) who observed that “leaders articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid; then they invent images, metaphors, and models that provide a focus for new attention. By so doing, they consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom”.


Re-culturing a school requires a clearly defined and well communicated vision of an agreed future, which generates commitment, not compliance.

The notion of a vision has been defined in many ways: as an internal compass for an organisation (Conley, Dunlop, & Goldman. 1992); a force or dream guiding the development of a school (Chance, 1991), or more simply, it is a statement that describes an ideal future state. In a school, a vision refers to the stated priorities, preferences and directions of school initiatives and activities and, therefore, it is an important and integral part of the school’s planning.

In schools, a shared vision is an important statement about an agreed sense of future direction. While the statement has a guiding importance, it is the shared visioning process that gives the statement validity in the community’s eyes. The visioning process is an exercise in leading and listening for school leaders. Consequently, the school leader must be a superb listener, particularly when advocating new' or different images of the emerging reality. Effective school leader leadership is marked by a core philosophy (values) and a vision of how the organisation w'ishes to make its mark.

A major challenge in leaders’ efforts at articulating a vision is their pedagogic leadership credibility, particularly in getting stakeholders to believe in the change agenda that is being articulated. The reputation and relationship that the school leaders have with staff and within the wider community are deemed important considerations, particularly in terms of their perceived integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between the words and deeds of the communicator of the vision.

School renewal and change are more likely to occur when the school's leader, community and the teachers are connected to each other by a commitment to common ideals. In this respect we fully support Fullan’s (2001) assertion that leadership based on moral purpose coupled with change agency, with a focus on shared goals and a sense of common purpose, is the key to continuously renewing a school’s pedagogy and culture. Thus, our hypothesis is that change and renewal cannot survive unless moral purpose is strongly linked to change agency. School leaders who see themselves as leaders of renewal also perceived themselves as active agents of change and moral purpose.

Highly effective school leaders have positive, detailed and compelling visions of the future. The vision they articulate provides a sense of purpose and direction for the school. It is important to note that the school-based visioning process:

... is that it is not about being judged by outsiders, or trying to meet criteria that have been set by other people. Instead, it is a learning journey where teachers, students and friends of the school work together to take stock of what has already been achieved - in terms of those intangible, values-related ‘achievements’ often missed by national exams and inspections - and what is still needed. (PERL, 2014, p. 5)

It is this vision that provided a sense of direction and purpose for stakeholders in the organisation.

In the language of school and organisational development, the terms vision, mission and purpose are of critical importance because they represent public statements about present and the future. Mission and purpose are often used interchangeably in educational literature. A school’s purpose statement typically makes statements about the school cultural environment, optimising students’ learning, facilitating students’ movement to the next stage of learning, and establishing the foundations for good citizenship and a better society. The school’s purpose statement is a practical document that guides parents and staff about what is, or what ought to be, happening in the school. In contrast, the vision is a statement of an optimal future. Both the vision and mission are heavily influenced by the school’s statement of values. In terms of whole-school direction, the vision and purpose are seen as key strategies in the school’s organised response to a set of perceived needs. The vision and purpose can be seen as important parts of a change process, but they can also be seen as strategies promoting conservatism when the stakeholders view the current vision and purpose statements as iconic. The interaction between the school’s vision and the school’s leadership is of critical importance to the influence of the vision.

46 Moral leadership guiding change and vision

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