Every effective high school is built on a set of design principles that define how it will operate day to day, how members of the school community will work together, and how everyone in the school will pursue common goals and priorities on an ongoing basis. Design principles are aspirational, but they’re also practical. For example, a school that sees personalized learning as fundamental will also devote resources to using time effectively and to making sure the right tools are in place. Practical pieces like these need to be developed carefully and implemented over time—but establishing a principle at the outset and returning to it frequently helps make personalized learning a priority and a reality in all aspects of the school.
A school’s core principles are encapsulated in its mission statement, which answers simple but essential questions: “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?” A well-crafted mission statement conveys a compelling and clear purpose to everyone in the school community, and to external stakeholders such as supporters, allies, community leaders, prospective staff members, and future students and their families. You may need to revisit and even reiterate your mission statement over time, as you pressure test it to see if it lives up to the transformation you’re aiming for.
A mission statement is the North Star that keeps the whole school on track and traveling toward a common destination. The destination toward which any effective school must strive, of course, is students who succeed in all the key dimensions of learning: as masters of all fundamental literacies, holders of foundational knowledge, original thinkers for an uncertain world, generous collaborators for tough problems, and learners for life. We call these the XQ Learning Objectives. These are goals for every student, not just some.
A school’s design principles are an expression of how a school’s designers intend to enable every student to meet those goals and are grounded in a clear understanding of who their students are, what strengths and assets they bring to their learning, and what challenges they face. Now is a good time to revisit the XQ Design Principles, which articulate what research has shown to be the common characteristics of effective high schools.
“We’re a cause. Our mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. We know that lasting personal and social change comes about when we all work together. That’s why, at the Y, strengthening community is our cause.”
How can schools use a “profile of a graduate” to guide mission and design? This Starter Kit from MIT’s Teaching Systems Lab, based on a free online course, features examples, exercises, and videos to get you started.Explore
How did NYC Small Schools of Choice produce measurable results? An evaluation by MDRC found that creating tight-knit, student-centered schools, each united around a single mission, really worked.Read
Craft a mission statement for your school that will help everyone stay focused on what really matters most.
Step 1 – Research
Review the notable mission statements above. Think about how you would define your school’s purpose. Ask members of your school community what they think the mission of your school is and/or should be.
Step 2 – Share and Engage
Share findings with your team and discuss the following questions: