- Reflect on and clearly define your program’s vision and mission.
- Create a plan for drafting or editing your program’s vision and mission statement.
- Identify ways to communicate your vision and mission statement to families and the broader community.
- Examine how to align your vision statement to your program’s policies and practices.
“Leaders are people who talk about, write about, and model their vision.” - Muñoz, Boulton, Johnson, & Unal, 2015
Vision & Mission Statements: What’s the Difference?
Vision statements and mission statements together are an important foundation for any organization, including childcare and education programs. A vision statement is something that describes the “big picture”. It might be made up of several statements that summarize the core values of your program, highlighting what makes you unique and what you are striving to provide to children and youth, families, and the community through your work. A mission statement gets a bit more specific—mission statements describe the actions that you and the staff at your program have committed to carrying out in order to bring the vision to life (Butcher, 2016).
In the table below, you will find a few examples of portions of vision statements and mission statements that go together.
|Vision Statement||Mission Statement|
|We strive for all children, youth, and families to feel valued, cared for, and safe.||We create learning environments that meet physical safety requirements and that promote responsive relationships among staff members, families, and children and youth.|
|We strive to create an inclusive environment that is welcoming to all.||We use evidence-based practices in order to provide each and every child and youth the opportunity to meaningfully take part in high quality learning environments.|
|We strive to always be improving and innovating to provide the highest quality childcare.||We engage in continuous quality improvement through ongoing professional development for all direct care staff members to expand their teaching practices.|
As you can see, vision statements and mission statements go hand in hand. Think about these as complimentary pieces that show how you “talk the talk” and will “walk the walk.” In other words, creating a vision and corresponding mission statement helps with a careful balancing act: making sure you are working with a big picture in mind without getting lost in the weeds and the day-to-day tasks of managing and operating a program.
Why Does My Program Need Vision & Mission Statements?
Vision and mission statements ground the work we do. Below is a list of ways that a well-constructed vision and mission statement can impact your program:
Creates a shared goal and sends the message that every member of the learning community contributes to carrying out the vision and mission.
Vision and mission statements help you and the learning community reflect and act on your “why.” The process of editing or drafting a vision and mission statement really pushes you to put pen to paper and be explicit about the core values that drive your work and all the ways that every task—small or large—can work toward building the future you see for your learning community. As pointed out by early childhood leader Susan MacDonald, having a clear vision statement helps you move away from being busy every day to being engaged every day (2016). It helps you feel like your tasks and responsibilities are moving you and your program toward something. This can have the same effect on staff members—clear vision and mission statements (created with input from staff members) can help the focus shift from getting through the day to thinking about how their work contributes to making the program’s vision come to life. This mindset supports motivation and engagement, which means your vision is helping you cultivate longevity in your program and continuity in your staff.
Communicates important values to current and prospective families
Families trust you and your program’s direct care staff members with their children every day. Your vision and mission statement communicate to them what you and program staff members are committed to doing to ensure their child is happy, safe, healthy, and thriving. While the statement itself isn’t enough, it is an important aspect of building trust—particularly if you include a mission statement with your vision statement that clearly shows the actions you will take to achieve your vision. Remember also that your vision statement can be something that sets your program apart. It communicates important information to prospective families and can help with efforts to increase and maintain enrollment.
Provides a touchstone for decision-making.
Your vision and mission statement can help to guide your decisions about policies and what to prioritize in your program. When making decisions, a part of your process can include reflecting on the vision and mission statements and thinking about if and how various policy decisions would or would not move your program toward those goals. It also helps with communicating your reasoning behind decisions. Your vision and mission statements provide a set of standards on which your policies and practices must measure up against.
How Do You Edit or Create a Vision Statement?
First and foremost, a vision and mission statement must be drafted and reflected upon with your entire learning community. These statements act as a guide for everyone’s actions and responsibilities in the program. If you want staff members to be committed to and motivated by the core values reflected in your vision and mission statements, you need to get their input on what exactly those values are. In the section below, we will walk through a guided process for developing and editing your vision and mission statements. As you follow this process for editing or drafting vision and mission statements with your staff, keep these important topics or factors in mind, which you might consider including in your vision and mission statements:
- Child and youth well-being, happiness, and safety
- Child and youth development and skills
- Family engagement, respect, and support
- Social justice and anti-racist education
- Continuous quality improvement
Also consider features of your program that are unique or particularly important to you and your staff. Perhaps your program is situated within a larger community center and you want to highlight your commitment to fostering partnerships with the other members of that center to provide resources to families beyond childcare or education services. Perhaps you have a relationship with a nearby teacher preparation program and you pride yourselves on supplying high quality placements and mentorship for pre-service educators completing practicum requirements. Maybe you and your staff feel committed to taking part in research that expands the field’s knowledge about high quality care and education for children and youth. All these features make up your programs’ identity and can be included in your vision and mission statements. If you are new to your program or are unsure about what unique features you might consider including in a vision and mission statement, do some digging! Learning about the history of your program—who founded it (and when and why), what communities it serves, and how it has changed and grown since it first opened—can provide you with rich information that can guide your vision and mission statements. It is also a great way to connect with staff who have been at the program for a long time!
If you are drafting a vision or mission statement for the first time, or if you are revisiting existing statements, the steps and guiding questions below can help you get started (MacDonald, 2016; 2017; LeeKeenan & Ponte, 2019):
Share your goal for drafting or revising with staff members.
Send out any current versions of a vision or mission statement and some information about why you are prioritizing reviewing it as a team. If your program does not have a vision or mission statement, send out some examples from other programs to give staff an idea of how vision and mission statements are structured.
Start with the big picture
Ask staff members to reflect with you about the following:
- What makes you proud to work at this program?
- What makes our program unique?
- Whar are key words that come to mind when you describe our program and how you work with and care for children, youth, and families?
- What are your core values that show up in how you interact with children, youth, and families? How do you want families and children and youth to feel when they are in our program?
- What would be your one wish for our program moving forward?
An engaging strategy for sparking these discussions is to make a virtual or physical “word wall.” Ask staff members to respond to one (or more) of the prompts above using just a few words. They can do this on a sticky note and stick it on a big board, using note cards that you collect at the end of the meeting or online using a shared file or virtual whiteboard tool, such as Canva. After you collect these, reflect on where common themes appear and offer staff opportunities to share examples or explain why they responded the way they did. Take notes and think about what the core values are that seem to give your team its “spark.”
Draft one to three sentences that represent the common themes that emerged from your brainstorming sessions.
This will be your vision statement. This is something you might do in collaboration with your leadership team (such as an assistant director or coach) or with a committee of staff members who have signed up to engage in this work past the brainstorming phase. Look back on the key topics and features outlined above, see if everything you wanted to be included is represented. For each sentence that you draft for your vision statement, write a corresponding action item. These will become your mission statement. Make sure that your mission statements reflect actionable steps that your staff can take to bring the vision to life.
Words matter! Review your draft statements and think about the language used in them and what that language conveys.
It is important to consider whether the language you use in the statements are inclusive; make sure that terms you use don’t inadvertently leave someone out (for example: use terms such as “families” or “primary caregivers” instead of “moms and dads” or “parents”). Remember, your vision statement acts in part to tell people “Who belongs here?” and we want that message to clearly read that everyone is welcome and belongs here. Other considerations include using person-first language where appropriate (e.g., children with disabilities vs. disabled child) and language that represents a strengths-based approach (Sweet, 2018). Strengths-based language sends the message that all individuals have unique strengths that they bring to their learning environments, as opposed to focusing on things they are “missing.” Sometimes these differences are subtle, but still very meaningful. An example of strengths-based language might be using the term dual language learner instead of English language learner. The term dual language learner conveys a message of an individual child’s strength (they are learning to communicate in two languages) whereas English language leaner implies that they are missing a specific language they need to learn (Soto-Boykin et al., 2021).
Share the draft statements with your staff and ask for feedback.
Do they represent the core values they shared with you? Is anything missing? Remember this is a vision for the entire learning community, it extends beyond just the direct care staff. Include all members of the staff in these conversations. Leverage the unique knowledge they have about the program and what they see and value in their day-to-day role. You might also consider getting feedback from other stakeholders. Perhaps your program has an advisory council or a family board. Consider sending a feedback form along with your drafts to get feedback.
Reflect on the feedback that you receive, and work with your leadership team or committee to finalize and share your statements.
It may take several rounds of feedback from various stakeholders to finish your statements. Your statements should be brief and easily digestible. Once you have finished your statements, plan for how you are going to communicate and share your statements. Places where your full vision and mission statements can be published include:
- Your program website
- Parent and staff handbooks
- The “about” or “info” section of a social media page
- Flyers or advertisements for enrollment at the program
- Job postings for future staff
- Posters visible throughout the program, especially in the entry or in rooms where you meet with families and staff members
More than Words: Bringing Your Vision & Mission Statements to Life
Planning and writing are only just the beginning! You must actively work to make sure your vision and mission statements aren’t empty words that don’t translate to the day-to-day interactions and happenings of your program. Once you have a vision and mission statement, an essential next step is to confirm that your program’s policies are clearly aligned with the values you highlighted in your statements. Work with your staff committee to review the written policies in your program handbooks and reflect on if and how they are in alignment with the core values you and staff members have identified as being key to your program’s identity. Look out for potential misalignments, and plan for how that policy can be updated or changed. Below are some examples of policy statements that are aligned and potentially misaligned with core values and visions.
|Vision or Mission Statement||Potentially Misaligned Policy||Aligned Policy|
|Create positive, inclusive environments for all children and youth.||Families will be asked to pick their child up early if they have aggressive behaviors in the classroom. Children or youth with more than three instances of aggressive behavior will be asked to leave the program and cannot enroll again until the behavior is resolved.||If challenging behavior occurs in the classroom, families will meet with their child’s classroom team and create a plan to support that child in their classroom environment. This might include consultation and support from the program leadership, a mental health consultant, special educator, or other service provider.|
|Create an environment where all families feel comfortable and welcome.||Families may only be in the classroom during drop off, pickup, and special events.||We have an open-door policy; families are always welcome to join in our activities or observe in the classroom at any time.|
|Encourage and support family engagement.||We host family events on the third Wednesday of each month at 5 p.m. to share resources and updates about the program. Families are expected to attend at least three times a year.||We host family events throughout the year. These are scheduled at varying times and days of the week to ensure all families can attend at least three times per year at a time that works for their schedule. Child care is offered free at these events.|
There may be some policy changes that you and your leadership team feel need to be made right away because they reflect practices that could lead to safety issues or developmentally inappropriate practices that are harmful to children. Others may not need to change right away, and you can engage in a fully shared decision-making process with your staff to decide on a reasonable solution. Remember, you can’t change everything overnight—this process takes time. Consider this guidance from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) ethics statement about policy changes:
Ethics Principle 1.11. If we [the program] determine that a policy does not benefit children, we shall work to change it. If we determine that a program policy is harmful to children, we shall suspend its implementation while working to honor the intent of the policy in ways that are not harmful to children.
When you identify a potential misalignment or a policy that needs to be changed, consider whether it is something that needs to be immediately suspended or can stay in place while you work to change it. Engage program staff by identifying who would be affected by a change in a policy and asking for their input, thinking about:
- What purpose does the policy serve?
- What about the policy currently works?
- What about it does not work or is not representative of the program vision?
- What are some potential alternatives that would allow the policy to serve the same purpose but would be in better alignment with our vision and values?
- Do we need to learn more about the best practices associated with this policy in order to make an informed decision? If so, where can we go for those resources? Who could we consult?
- What is our timeline for implementing changes to the policy?
- How will we communicate the change in policy with our learning community?
Supervise & Support
Watch the video below to hear program managers reflect on the importance of a unified vision statement and how having one helps the whole program community strive to meet shared goals.
As new program manager, there are several key practices that you can implement within the first few months in your role to support a strong program vision. These practices are also applicable to more seasoned program managers as you reflect on your program’s current vision and mission statements and consider appropriate revisions.
- In your first 30 days:
- If your program has a vision statement, review and reflect on whether it addresses all the components outlined above and consider if it is time to review and edit as a full staff.
- In your first 60 days:
- If your program does not have a vision or mission statement, create one collaboratively with your staff. This is a great opportunity to engage in a shared decision-making process (see Lesson 1). Be sure to get input from all staff (direct and non-direct care) and consider getting input from families and other stakeholders about what is important to them.
- In your first 90 days:
- Plan for communicating your vision and mission statement, think about how it is represented on your website, in the physical environment in your program, and in your day-to-day interactions and communications.
- Evaluate your written materials (such as handbooks and manuals) and consider whether the language in them accurately reflects your values and vision. Develop a plan and timeline for implementing adaptations to make them align as needed.
Review the ethical code of conduct for program administrators from NAEYC. This document highlights critical guiding principles for program administrators to situate their policies and actions within the areas of (1) supporting children and families, (2) supporting staff members, (3) supporting the community. Think about if and how these principles are reflected in your mission, vision, and core values statements as well as your policies.
In addition to thinking about how your policies reflect your program’s vision and mission statements, it is important to think about your day-to-day actions. Are you “walking the walk”? Use the attached values and actions table to reflect on how you can represent your program’s vision every day when you interact with staff members, families, and children and youth. For example, if in your vision statement you highlight the value of making every family feel welcome and supported, you might list day-to-day actions such as learning children’s names, greeting families at the door each day, and learning something unique about each family as your day-to-day actions that reflect this value. You can also encourage staff members to fill out a table that reflects on their own interactions with others in their classrooms.
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Derman-Sparks, L., Nimmo, J., & LeeKeenan, D. (2015). Leadership Matters: Creating anti-bias change in early childhood programs. Exchange, 37 (6), 8-12.
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