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Aspirational Vision and the Power of Us

How an Aspirational Vision and Appropriate Goal-Setting can Embed a Culture of Gratitude in Public Education

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Schools have a wonderful opportunity to build lifelong skills that support a student's education, and their psychological and emotional well-being.  Far from being fringe, or liberal, practices such as mindfulness and gratitude transcend ideology and their benefits are rooted in sound data.  Imparting these practices in the classroom is currently challenging based on the nature of goal-setting in education.  However, with the right approach, practices supporting well-being can be integrated directly into the structure of school.

School districts and schools often create lofty visions like: "The mission is to be a continuously improving, learning community, providing quality services to enable all children to master the knowledge and competencies necessary to function skillfully throughout life."  In reality though, most educators don't know of the vision, and more importantly, don't know how to impart that vision into their daily practice.  The vast majority of teachers want to do right by their students, but receive surprisingly little support in learning improved practices based on current research and data. Teaching, oddly, is surprisingly professionally isolating.  Once the bell rings, a teacher is alone in their classroom with their students, not itself a lonely proposition.  But teachers often don’t have the tools to best make use of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and how to have true meaningful conversations about the day-to-day challenges in teaching.  That is, PLC time is often focused on lesson planning and common assessments, and not on delving into modern educational practices, and evolving as educators.

Instead of developing visions in isolation, school districts could grow a vision, that is then supported by SMART goals.  The vision above provides many nice expectations for what the district hopes to achieve, but then daily teaching practices aren’t measured based on goals that help achieve the vision.  Instead, we ought to set specific goals that focus on not only some measure of academic achievement, but also related to “function skillfully through life.”  Suppose a goal for the year is that “All students and staff of x school will spend five minutes per day on mindfulness meditation for all of the 2017-18.”  Moreover, the school’s principal can then model gratitude, and make it an aspirational part of the school’s mission.

As most organizations, including education systems, do not connect visions to over-arching goals, and daily practices in a systematic fashion, the opportunity to impart real change is often lost.  The very tangible possibility that an organization could realize, more specifically in education, is that if faculty, staff, and students are brought into a conversation about the community’s vision, and appropriate goal-setting is done, that the entire community can focus single-mindedly on achieving the stated goals.  The school district leaders have a responsibility to educate the community of WHY gratitude and mindfulness are important.  Lay out a vision.  Invite conversations.  Collaborate on how to achieve the stated goals.  Have clear markers of success, and be explicit in explaining how we measure said success.  Then, we can start to build a culture of excellence that teaches how to instill well-being practices in our daily lives.  Change is often hard, but with inspired leadership and active community participation, change can be exciting and compelling.

Idea Title

Aspirational Vision and the Power of Us

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

Developing an aspirational vision allows a school district to set goals and actions that will help realize true meaningful change in how students and staff interact. School leadership can then model gratitude and help mentor faculty and staff to integrate the language of gratitude into the classroom. The wonderful benefit is that: students can carry this mindset with them through life, teachers, through ongoing practice become more natural mentors, thus able to better mentor students, and further, the entire community will undoubtably be more successful as well-being practices become internalized.

Who are you innovating for?

Specifically, this innovation will be used across multiple districts in New Hampshire to benefit students, faculty, and the broader community.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

K-12 schools in New Hampshire.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

I envision bringing a vision and mentorship concept to the New Hampshire principals and superintendent organizations. I hope to then take on the mentorship role, based on my own organizational leadership background, and working to provide tools, and reflective sessions, at no cost to the schools.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

There are several obstacles that may need to be overcome. 1. Developing a rigorous concept, backed by scientific research. 2. Conveying the concept successfully to principals and superintendents. 3. Ensuring that I am able to create a model of mentorship that can be sustained sufficiently to achieve the desired goals.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

I will seek to have one district where I can test my mentorship prototype with superintendents, and school leaders for several months. I then would use the learnings of that trial to develop a more rigorous system. Specific goal-setting would be done with the district at the start of the trial (it is critical to include the district in the goal-setting and to not develop non-collaborative goals).

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

I would immediately seek to meet with the GGSC to build the specific mentoring curriculum. I would also seek out a mentor at the GGSC who I would check in with regularly to ensure that I adhered to the specific goals of the grant.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

I had a wonderful opportunity to be in leadership roles in industry. In that time I was exposed to several concepts that helped fuel my growth as a leader. One was the Mindset by Carol Dweck, another was the Toyota Kata method of developing leaders, finally was learning how deliberate application of Maslow's hierarchical framework could support teams. Personally, I was also exposed to the mindfulness, the GGSC, and other organizations dedicated to well-being.

Tell us about yourself

Raji Gupta (teacher) I am in my third year as a high school teacher after a career in industry, where I had the opportunity to lead large teams. I was relentlessly focused on not only achieving organization goals, but also developing the whole-being of my team members. I endeavored to model healthy reflective behavior, and to lead in a way that made my team members' growth a high-level goal.

Where are you / your team located?

Windham, New Hampshire

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Public education

Company / Organization Name

Windham School District (Windham, NH)

Website

http://www.sau95.org/

Tell us about your experience

My background is in organizational leadership. Amazingly for me, I was gradually exposed to more and more concepts related to gratitude, mindfulness, and meditation. As I was exposed to these concepts, I was captivated enough to experiment with them in my life, learn, and then follow the trail to the next concept that could fuel my growth, while also using the concepts to help those around me.

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