Deeply Embedding Vision.

Growth was looming.  At the close of 2019, Hamilton Christian School was on the precipice of significant growth.  As leader of two previous schools that had grown significantly, I was well aware of the excitement that growth would bring.  However, I was also very aware of the challenges this could bring.  Some challenges we would not have control over.  New Zealand was already facing a shortage of teachers, and the economy was likely to face challenges.  When the economy struggles, Christian schools often do also.  Parents suddenly need to prioritise mortgages and food over school fees. 

I was determined that our vision and culture would not suffer through growth.  So often, during times of growth, the energy and focus are directed at the immediate urgent matters.  Recruiting, the orientation of students and staff, building projects, timetable changes, behaviour management and onboarding new families are all important.  Eventually, when school leadership finally lifts their gaze from the immediate urgent, they look around and find what the school has become.  In the absence of intentionality and attention, culture shapes itself. 

It was time to take time out and articulate a plan. 

As a school community, we had a strong vision for our student’s experience of learning and how teaching would be shaped.  A strong vision for how technology would enhance and engage learning, not just entertain.  And, a strong vision for both discipleship

and how our students would experience Christian education during their time at Hamilton Christian School. 

The solution would require this vision to be well articulated and for it to be touched regularly by everyone responsible for its implantation.  We also wanted to be able to teach its implementation across the school so that we could share areas of best practice with those who needed support. 

Our solution included two important tools, a bespoke teacher planner and an implementation matrix. 

The teacher planner was a very practical tool and many teachers were already using a commercialised hard or virtual version of it. However, this planner would be specific to our school and our vision.  

The planner has three very important and intentional parts.  The non-negotiables, the weekly planner with the question of the week, the game plan and the Professional learning record.  It also has blank class lists with grids (which teachers find handy for many reasons), staff birthday lists, a general notes section, important school dates and a yearly planner. 


The front of the planner details our vision and non-negotiables for pedagogy.  There is a page on intentional ICT use, a page or two on our discipleship programme, a page or two on design for learning requirements, details of our vision for Christian Education and more.   But not too much, just 11 pages.  And, one of the pages only has these words: 'It is not what students learnt today that informs tomorrow's lesson, it is what they learnt’. 

The details in the front end of the planner are not suggestions or even aspirations, they are our DNA as a school, the non-negotiables.  They are what set us apart from other schools and give Team Leaders and Heads of School absolute clarity as to where they can lead without a need to ‘check in’ with other leadership.


Team Leader to Teacher: The middle section of the planner is the empty week-by-week template where teachers can plan their groups, classes and make notations of how sessions have progressed.  Much like any other teacher planners, the days are divided into a number of periods each day.  However, unlike commercial planners our school planner includes special events, staff birthdays and, importantly, the question of the week. 

The question of the week is a question that points back to the vision.  Every team leader orally engages with their team about the question of the week.  The question of the week is never addressed through email.  The conversation is the key.  Most times, the question of the week is discussed together at weekly team meetings, but there are times when the question of the week is best discussed one-on-one. 

The added bonus of discussing the question of the week is that each member of the team gets to hear how different members of the team are engaging the relative aspect of the vision in other their class.  This becomes an authentic opportunity to learn from each other. 

Critical to the question of the week is a strong relationship where teachers can freely express not only how they are applying the vision in their classroom well but also how they may be struggling with this aspect. 

From time to time, through the question of the week, team leaders come across a teacher who understands the aspect of the vision but fundamentally disagrees with it.  In this case, the situation is elevated to a leadership team member who can navigate this indifference. 

At our school, a Team Leader’s role is to support a teacher to enact the school’s vision, and the Head of School’s role is to support a teacher when they choose not to. 

Head of School (Principal) to Team Leader: A Head of School will meet with their Team Leaders later in the week.  In this meeting, they will discuss the Question of the Week from two perspectives: firstly, how does each Team Leader respond to the Question of the Week personally, and secondly, how did each team respond to the Question of the Week?

Critical to the process in this stage are two very important factors: 

  1. The finer details of the vision are addressed frequently and EVERY teacher is a part of the conversation (not lecture or email trail)
  2. Patterns were formed through the discussions between Team Leaders and Heads of School. 

STEP 3: The Implementation Matrix

Tracking the Implementation: While the vision is being touched regularly, it is important to track progress as a whole school.  To do this well, we use a device called the Vision Implementation Matrix.  The matrix has just four columns.  The non-negotiables of the vision are on the left column, followed by a column called ‘Me’, a column called ‘Team’ and a column titled ‘Strength/Next Foci’. 

The continuum that is used for tracking the vision’s non-negotiables for the Team Leader and their team is a four-point scale defined by; Nothing, Know, Understand or Do. 

The Implementation Continuum:

Nothing: I (or the team) have no recollection of this concept; the vocabulary is foreign to us.

Know: I (or the team) know of this concept and have heard it being explained.  Not yet intentionally experienced in my or my team's classes yet. 

Understand: I (or the team) understand this aspect of the vision and could run a workshop on it if required. This aspect will sometimes be present in my class (or the team’s) but not consistently.

Do:  This aspect is very much experienced by the students I (or my team) have responsibility for.

Once the Team Leader has completed the matrix, it is time for two last questions. 

  • What are two aspects that we have made significant progress on since our last meeting?
  • What is the one aspect I need the team to focus on in the next 12 weeks?

The value of sharing this part of the process amongst the wider leadership team is significant.  As one Team Leader or Head of School shares their areas of greatest progress it often overlaps with another team’s Next Steps.  This allows us to learn from each other through shared best practices. 

STEP 4: Review the Vision and Non-Negotiables 

The final step in this process is the annual review of both the planner's front end and the question of the week.  In this part of the process, it is important to review what parts of the non-negotiables are business as usual, not needing such specialised attention and the new parts that need to be included. 

At school this year, we must push into some new concepts with absolute intention.  To be sure that our student's learning experience matches the school's vision for them. Shortly, I will take the new concepts we have been talking about for up to a year already as a school and have our wider leadership team compose the new pages that will go into the front of the planner and the support questions scattered throughout the planner. 

Last year we discussed including a page on Vygotsky’s, Zone of Proximal Development. We frequently used this concept to reinforce our vision for meaningful lesson design.  However, as it was already mentioned as a non-negotiable and its information was universally available, we decided against a lengthy inclusion in our planner. 

This year, we have decided to include pages on, ‘The Village Mentality’, ‘The Four Step Plan’ and ‘The Game Plan’.  Each concept is mentioned frequently within our culture but is somewhat unique to our school.  Therefore, we need to have a common understanding of the vocabulary of each concept and the procedures that support them. 

We will also look at the current front end of the planner and decide as a team if there is anything ready to be taken out of it.  This will create space for the new non-negotiables of the vision while not having too much that teachers must wrestle with at once. 

The simple task of vision casting is a blunt, painful and ineffective tool.  Vision needs to be embedded deeply within an organisation.  This can only truly happen if it is addressed regularly with those at the chalkface, monitored regularly, supported from within and constructed together. 

Key Elements of Vision Sustainability Through Growth:

  • Articulation of vision and non-negotiables
  • Regular touching of vision at all levels of staff (Question of the Week)
  • Tracking of implementation of vision (Vision Implementation Matrix)
  • Review of the vision and non-negotiables  

This vision implementation and review cycle is visualised through the following image.   

 DCL Vision Implementation