CAIS's Mission: Walking the Walk

November 30, 2011
Dear CAIS Families,
On October 20, 2011, I sent a communication to the CAIS community entitled CAIS 2014—An Overview, in which I provided a broad outline of our school improvement process.  I identified five “Areas of Focus,” and promised to follow-up on each one.  I’d like to expand on one of these areas, “School Identity and Culture.”   One of our goals within this area was to adopt a new Mission Statement.  On November 22, the CAIS Board of trustees sent a communication to the community that explained the process by which we reviewed and adopted the Mission Statement below:
Embrace Chinese
Become your best self
Create your place in the world
I have re-posted the Board’s communication on my blog; you can read it by clicking on “Announcing CAIS’s Revised Mission Statement.”
Two other goals for the current school year that fall under “School Identity and Culture” are to: 
  • Develop a program to insure the community understands the new Mission
  • Unpack the Mission to determine program implications


I’d like to explain to you the process by which we will achieve these two goals.   I want to answer the questions: “What is ‘Mission’ and why does it matter?”  and “How can we ensure that daily life at CAIS is mission consistent?”
What is “Mission” and why does it matter?
The statement of an organization’s Mission ought to answer this question: “Why are we here?”  It should express the core purpose for which an organization exists.  Without clarity of purpose, then it doesn’t really matter what we do as a school.  With clarity of purpose we can make deliberate decisions about what students should learn, how teachers should teach, the kinds of teachers we hire, the types of families we admit, the priorities reflected in the way we construct our budget, how we assess the progress of our students, what kind of co-curricular programs we support.  And so on. 
Looked at from another angle, if we are making Mission consistent decisions, then an outsider ought to be able to walk into our school (after following proper sign-in procedures with NCIS security guards, of course) and recognize our Mission by observing the daily life of our school.  It should be apparent, for instance, where the school stands on the continuum of such issues as:
  • Variety or conformity
  • Collaboration or competition
  • Independent thinking or memorization of discrete facts
  • Reaching potential or meeting absolute external standards
  • Process or product
  • Globalism or provincialism
  • The future or the past
  • Individuality or obedience to authority


And so on.
In other words, if the things that actually happen in the school are consistent with what wesay should be happening, then we are living according to our highest purpose.  We are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.  Is there anyone who does not think this matters?
How can we ensure that daily life at CAIS is Mission consistent?
How do we deliberately weave the Mission into the daily life of the school?  In the coming weeks and months we will embark on a process of answering this question.  But before I explain how, I’d like to first answer another question:  Whom am I referring to above when I say “we”?  When you read the Mission Statement, you will notice there is no explicit grammatical subject.  Who should embrace Chinese?  Who should become her best self? Who should create his place in the world?  The answer to these questions is all of us: Parents, faculty and staff, studnets, the Board of Trustees.
  • When parents choose CAIS for their children, they must commit to embracing Chinese language and culture.
  • Faculty and Staff at CAIS must be committed to becoming the best practitioners that they can possibly be.
  •  Students are expected to work hard and persevere so that they reach their potential and become their best in those areas that interest them most.
  • The Board of Trustees, through sound strategic planning and financial management must ensure that CAIS creates its place among educational institutions around the globe.


And so on.
A few weeks ago the Educational Leadership Team met and discussed at length what our school would look like if we lived our Mission.  What would it mean for students?  For faculty and staff?  For parents?  For the Board?  This information was collected in a large matrix.  This Thursday, December 1st we will meet as a faculty and go through a similar exercise.  Small groups of faculty members will answer questions such as:
  • What should students know, understand and be able to do if they truly “embrace Chinese”?
  •  If we want students to “become their best selves,” what kind of teaching and learning strategies should be employed?
  • In order for our school to “create its place in the world,” what kind of professional development does our faculty and staff need?


The answers to these and other questions will be entered onto our matrix.  Before the Chinese New Year, all of our students will have the opportunity—in home room, in advisory—to talk about what the Mission means to them, and to answer questions about what daily life at CAIS would look like if we lived according to the Mission.  These activities, which the division faculties are in the process of designing, will include both Chinese and English language components. Our students’ responses will be captured by their teachers and entered into the matrix.  In the coming months we will have similar exercises with other stakeholder groups—including all of you, our parents (look for information on how to participate after the New Year).  All the answers will be captured in the matrix.
Once a broad range of community stakeholders—the “we” who collectively constitute the grammatical subject of our Mission Statement—has had the opportunity to reflect on the implications of our Mission, the school leadership will begin to analyze the data looking for patterns, identifying commonalities and developing a “list” of those ideas that resonate most with the community.  This will, in effect, constitute a statement of community aspirations within the parameters of the Mission that binds us together.  We will then embark on a process of comparing our aspirations with the school program and improvement plans as they actually exist.  In some cases this will be a matter of connecting the dots; a particular community aspiration will correspond to specific elements of the school program that already exist or are in development—Bingo! (or 中了!), we are Mission consistent.  In other cases, no doubt, a particularly compelling manifestation of our Mission will be conspicuously absent, and we must challenge ourselves to set concrete, deliverable goals and program plans to bring the school into closer alignment with our Mission.  Expect to see these new goals next fall in the 2012-2013 progress report on CAIS 2014.
In this way we will ensure that the CAIS Mission guides the work we all do on a daily basis.  In other words, we’ll “walk the walk.”