May 5th Edition

Making Practices Practical: Being Mission Driven

By Dr. Danielle Bosanec, Chief Academic Officer, Pewaukee School District

In a series of articles that explore research-based, high-leverage practices, AWSA connects with leaders across the state to learn how to continually improve student learning. This article is focused on being mission-driven.

Understanding the true purpose of the work one does helps move individuals and entire organizations toward achieving a vision greater than themselves. It connects what we do to why we do it. 

Fullan & Quinn (2016) describe this purpose as a shared moral imperative. If this moral imperative receives support and buy-in from staff, parents, and the community, the mission becomes a tool to define actionable goals for the organization.

Here is what we learned from some of Wisconsin’s top educational leaders. 

Missions serve as decision-making guides

Let's face it—schools are busy places. There’s not always the time to have every decision vetted by everyone, nor is it always reasonable to do so. In all cases, the school or district’s mission should serve as the definitive decision-making guide. 

Amy Levek of the Whitefish Bay School District explains that the more you speak about the mission, “the more it becomes that march for decision making.” The mission can and should be the foundation for equity, inclusivity, citizenship, and academic achievement.

Additionally, curriculum, instruction, and assessment should all be directly tied to the school's mission (McTighe and Wiggins, 2007). When considering the mission as a decision-making guide, a clear path forward emerges when school leaders are facing an onslaught of challenges. 

Usefulness comes through alignment, application

Having a mission and leading with purpose are not new ideas. Decades of research support being mission driven and highlight the consequences of not having a clear vision. In 1998, DuFour and Eaker noted that a school without a compelling vision is “a major obstacle in any effort to improve schools” (p. 64). Being mission driven is a basic tenet of leadership and organizational success. 

Still, consistently leading based on the mission is commonly lost in organizations. Thus, it is important to understand what being mission driven is, how to consistently lead through a mission, and what a successful mission-driven school does.

A simple internet search provides countless resources for how to develop a mission statement for a school or district. Most of these resources focus on the development of a cross-section team of staff members, who identify core beliefs and then work to craft the mission and vision. This is an important step, as the collaboration to create the mission can build buy-in and support for the direction of the school. 

However, many resources stop after the development of the mission. The words in a mission statement are only relevant if the actions of leaders and staff members align to that mission. Jayne Holck of the Cedarburg School District explained that the mission is a barometer for measuring if you are doing things for the right reasons. 

Keep the mission at the forefront

Once a mission is developed and implemented, making decisions based on the mission becomes the work of every stakeholder. However, it is the leader’s role to keep the mission at the forefront of everyone’s mind. A leader must identify their own “why,” and then make it explicit to staff through communication and action (Schroeder, n.d.). 

Amy Ashton from the Oshkosh Area School District explains that the mission must be what you are always looking for in the school. It must be what you model and say as a staff member. The mission must be present throughout the school in tangible, physical displays, as well as in communication, behavior, and expectations. 

Celebrate the mission

While the leader is responsible for keeping the mission at the forefront, a school will not be mission driven if only the leader believes in the mission. Leadership must be distributed and all staff must be responsible for making the mission come alive in their environments. 

With a shared purpose, there is always another leader willing to step up to the plate when you need to keep pushing the organization forward. Give those leaders a chance to shine! When a student or staff member models the mission, celebrate it. Reinforcement of the attitudes and behaviors that meet the mission clarify what staff and students should be doing. 

Keep data at the forefront, as well. Data can offer a helpful way to see if the practices in place are providing results that meet or do not meet the mission.

QUICK TAKE: Being mission-driven starts with a leader who embraces having a clear focus for achievement. A successful mission is one that staff and students are able to live and breathe. It is actively a part of how the school operates, requiring alignment and actions to meet the vision by the members of the school community. When the mission is evident, point it out and celebrate it! 

Special thanks to the educational leaders who contributed their thoughts to this article: 

  • Amy Levek- Whitefish Bay School District

  • Jayne Holck- Cedarburg School District

  • Amy Ashton- Oshkosh Area School District

Each of their schools has demonstrated a) high growth in reading and/or math scores in the past three school years or more with strong to exceptional proficiency, or, b) reading and/or math proficiency in the top 10% in the past three years or more with strong to exceptional growth, or, c) a school comprised of a high-poverty population, with high growth in reading and/or math in the past three years or more, or d) gap closure on reading and/or math.

Note: If you are looking for support to grow your or your leadership team’s capacity in a high-leverage area please review which AWSA academy might be right for you on page 7 of the Professional Learning Catalog.


DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Fullan, M., & Quinn, J. (2016). Coherence: The right drivers in action for schools, districts, and systems. Corwin.

Gabriel, J. G., & Farmer, P. C. (2009). How to help your school thrive without breaking the bank.  ASCD.

McDowell, M. (2018). The lead learner: Improving clarity, coherence, and capacity for all. Corwin.

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. 

Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Schroeder, J. (n.d.). Update Article: Your "Why" as a Critical Driver of Change. Retrieved from

Wodatch, J. (2016, November 01). 5 Strategies for Creating a Mission-Driven Learning 

Community. Retrieved from

May 19th Edition

Decision-Making Protocols for High Performing Teams, Tammy Gibbons

Assigning people to teams is a start, but true collaboration doesn’t simply happen by putting professionals in a room together.  As many Wisconsin schools send teams to professional development on collaborative teaming and study ways in which teams operate to fully maximize a school’s vision and mission, often there are some simple strategies that are missing and overlooked but may have a large influence on the team’s productivity and impact.

Read more.

Does Restricting Student Apparel Restrict Student Speech? Recent Guidance From a Wisconsin Federal Court, Heidi Tepp

Can a student wear a pro-gun shirt to school?  The answer is not entirely clear.  While students have a constitutional right to freedom of expression which extends to the messages they wear on their T-shirts or other clothing, their rights are not absolute.

Read more.

Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Special Education, Daniel Parker

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin schools have had to adapt, and in some cases, transform their systems for conducting comprehensive special education evaluations, developing individualized education programs (IEPs), and providing special education and related services. 

Read more.