If you are embarking on a new initiative or need a re-boot on a current one, developing a common vision is critical. However, you most likely do not have several days to devote to a strategic planning session complete with future searches, consensus building, and trust falls. So if you need a quick process for extracting what matters most to people and creating a shared vision from it, try the following process.

Write A Story

When we attempt to change a program or a process, we are changing it for the benefit of a person or a group of persons.

First, be clear on who you are primarily attempting to positively impact.

For example:

  • Is the new math program intended to better engage students or to make lesson planning less complicated?
  • Is the new drop-off procedure intended to increase student safety or to get parents on their way faster?
  • Is transforming your school into a STEM academy to increase parent interest and boost enrollment or is it to ensure more students pursue higher level math and science in high school or college?

It may be difficult to identify the primary group — especially if you are implementing a new instructional program — but decide up front who is the primary beneficiary.

Second, decide when story-writing will take place.

In order to maximize time, this activity can be done several days prior. Staff members should email you their story prior to the start of the meeting. However, in order to ensure everyone does it, you may want to make it a fifteen minute agenda item during your meeting. Just let people know ahead of time so they can be thinking about what they may want to write.

Third, arrange for everyone on the team to write electronically.

After the stories are written, they need to be electronically transferred to you for compilation. You can do this by having each person write their story in an email or by using Google Docs. If your school system does not already use Google Docs, email is the easiest.

Fourth, have each person on the team write a short story from the perspective of the person or group that will be impacted.

The story should be about the experience you hope they will have engaging in your new program or process.

For example:

Tell me a story about:

  • Your favorite math lesson.
  • The ideal drop-off lane.
  • A day in the life in your STEM academy.
A Sample Story

Read Aloud

Depending on the size of your group, this can be whole group or in small groups. What is important is that every story is heard by someone. Every voice needs to be spoken aloud and their ideas shared.


Copy and paste all stories into one document. Do not worry about formatting or spacing.

A Sample Story Compilation

Create A Wordle

Now the magic happens! Before you gather your team, navigate to Make sure it works on the computer you will be using during your meeting. Often, you will have to update Java. You DO NOT want this to happen with a room full of people staring at you. Also, it works best on Internet Explorer or Safari.

Project the Wordle webpage so all can see. Copy and paste the compilation from all of their stories into Wordle, and bam!

A Sample Story Wordle

The more a word was written, the larger it will be. Often you will have common words such as teacher, school, day, etc. be very large. Since those are usually the standard “school words,” don’t focus on those. The next level is where you will begin to see common themes emerge. In the example above, you can see “groups,” “engineering,” “feedback,” and even “homework” coming to the forefront. This gives you a great visual to start developing summary statements.

Develop Summary Statements

Have group members call out the larger, significant words. Write them on large sticky notes or a white board. Then have people group themselves by each word. For example, have a group for Feedback, a group for Engineering, a group for Plan, etc.

Each group will then draft a summary statement around that word and post it under the sticky note or white board.

Sample Summary Statements

A Shared Vision

The summary statements can be discussed and revised throughout subsequent meetings. But you now have a shared vision that was crafted by all members of your team. Their own stories will begin to develop into a common story that has a common understanding and buy-in. Repeat the process, and watch how the Wordle evolves over time, and how the summary statements become richer.

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