Attention, Vision and Mission Skeptics!

Anna Warren

New Year Image

For 20 years, Great Oaks Elementary has been the WOW place to learn and teach.   

How was the vision established?  Intentionally, and with intensity. 

I was the Assistant Principal at Great Oaks Elementary (GOE) when we “opened its doors” back in 1997.  When school started in August, however, our new building wasn’t ready to pass the punch list.  So, we began as "a school within a school", down the street from our new “WOW place”.

You’d think that distraction-dealing with the question “when will you move?”, all the logistics of keeping our new little Geckos safe and organized, and the list goes on…would be enough. 

Yet, one of my long time mentors, then the new principal at Great Oaks, still made vision setting a priority. 

We started the visioning work as we stepped over each other in our temporary buildings, asking our grade level teams to share at a faculty meeting an artifact that said, “this is who we are”. 

The next few weeks focused on hearing from kids and parents: What makes a WOW school?

The buzz in our makeshift office was all about the vision.  After our community rallied together during a long weekend in November, moving us into our sparkling new building, we met as a staff and voted on it:  

Great Oaks Elementary will be the WOW place to learn and teach.

But that was just the beginning.  

Proud of our new wall mounted phones and box TVs in each classroom, we went about the business of loving kids and families and learning. And, at every single faculty meeting, we talked about the vision. 

We took WOW to depths that I didn’t know existed.

In grade level teams, and then, eventually, coming to consensus as a staff (via long pizza parties, and even an invitation to camp out at GOE overnight), we defined WOW.  I don’t mean the Webster Dictionary sort of definition.  We took each word of what we wanted to be and we said, “What does that look like?”  We discussed and debated, “it feels like this”, “it sounds like that”. Everywhere, we spoke the language. Our favorite question: “Is that WOW?”  

And every day, we strived for this:  

  • When parents describe GOE, they will say, “WOW-that’s the best elementary school experience I could have hoped for for my child!” 
  • When the staff talks about GOE, they will say, “WOW, I would choose Great Oaks over any other place to work and teach.” 
  • And most importantly, our students will say, "WOW, that was the best teacher, best lesson, best lunch, best field trip, best Wellness Day- best elementary school experience!  

We spoke it and we lived it.   My own children joked, "WOW is MOM, upside down". WOW was our mantra. It was our language, our culture.  

But what about the WOW vision for today’s Great Oaks students, in 2016?  Those box TVs are dusty, and who needs a classroom phone? Is the vision statement outdated, too, sitting wrinkled and forgotten in an old binder on the principal’s bookshelf?    

Last week, I attended Great Oaks’ 20th birthday celebration. And, I’m happy to report-the WOW vision is still going strong. 

Vision and mission skeptics, I know what you are saying, “How can that be?” 

It’s tradition.

Back in 2006, when we celebrated Great Oaks’ ten year birthday, with the help of our neighborhood fire department and a local aerial photographer, we took a special picture, our little Geckos spelling out WOW.  For the 20th birthday, there’s a WOW photo, (this time taken by a drone). A long time faculty member told me, “we thought about doing a gecko for the picture, but in the end, we agreed, "it’s gotta be WOW".

It’s kid friendly.

The catchy school song, written by our music teachers shortly after Great Oaks opened, and capturing the mission of Great Oaks, as well as the vision, ended the student assembly at the 20 year celebration.  After the staff member picture was taken, we stood on the bleachers and sang it-loudly, enthusiastically, emotionally. 

It’s in action.

Most importantly, the Great Oaks vision is still alive because the leaders, the teachers, and the families live it, walk it and talk it.  It’s who they are, intentionally and intensely.  Defined by the inaugural staff in 1997.  Still going strong in 2016.

Happy 20th birthday, Great Oaks Elementary!

May you forever be, the WOW place to learn and teach! 


About the author:  Anna Warren was the assistant principal and principal at Great Oaks during its first 10 years, 1997-2006, and currently works with school leaders across the State in her role at Region 13 Education Service Center. Follow Anna on Twitter:  @AnnaLdrshpCoach.   

Sunday, October 30, 2016