Suggested Guidelines for Conducting Visioning Sessions
by Bob Thompson
Setting for the Meetings:
- Meeting site: Preferences for choosing a site (in decreasing order):
- Out-of-district e.g. another district, hotel meeting room, bank boardroom, etc.
- In-district but in neutral site, e.g. church, bank or other non-district location
- In-district but not in board room, e.g. high school library
- In the boardroom but not at regular seats, e.g. tables where audience usually seated.
- Room set-up:
- A very large table allowing plenty of elbow room (or several smaller tables arranged un “U” shape with facilitator at a table in the open end of the “U”
- Comfortable chairs
- Two big tablets on easels with dark colored markers (black, blue, dark green, brown) and masking tape to hang sheets on wall
- Shuffle the seating order (alphabetically usually works) so every board member is sitting by a member that they do not sit with in regular board meetings
- Convenience items:
- Writing tablets with pens/pencils for each member
- Lots of refreshments (coffee, soft drinks, candy, fruit, etc.)
- Board members and the superintendent
- Under unusual circumstances you may want to bring one or two others into the meeting but they must sit at the table. Do not allow any “observers”.
Time/Date for Meetings:
- Set aside 4 hours, although you may finish earlier
- Meet when everyone can be there. (However, if someone is resisting and won’t agree to a date, go ahead and set the meeting time and date and meet without him/her).
- Saturday morning is usually the best time to meet but start early e.g. 7:30 or 8:00 and have breakfast brought in. Note: If you start later the early risers on the board will start some other activity (e.g. mowing the lawn, etc.)
- Evenings are also good but start as early as you can (e.g. 5:30 or 6:00), to catch board members on the way home from work (i.e. before they go home) and serve them dinner. (If they go home to eat dinner it is sometimes hard to get them back to the meeting.)
Conducting the Meetings:
- Must start on time and end on time (usually no more than four hours)
- Don’t allow any item of business on the agenda other than to develop a vision for the district. Any other business item will distract from your visioning session.
- Have a skilled neutral facilitator. Often such people may be available from your Regional Education Service Agency (RESA). You may also borrow a facilitator from an area company or perhaps a local minister has had such training. But it should never be an employee from the district – unless it is the superintendent – regardless of the skills that employee may have.
- The person you choose to facilitate the discussion:
- Must have group facilitation skills, i.e. can keep the meeting moving and on track and, if necessary, to serve as a disciplinarian to stop side conversations or other disruptions.
- Has no interest in the outcome of the meeting
- Can remain entirely neutral
- First Visioning Meeting:
- State the purpose of the meeting, i.e. to start discussion about where we want the district to be in (set a date of no less than five years and no more than 10 years.)
- Begin the brainstorming session. The rules are:
- Every idea must have the author’s name beside it.
- Every idea is a good idea. Write it down.
- No one may challenge, question, or edit an idea other than the author. The only question that can be asked of the author is to get clarification to ensure you understand what the author means.
- When brainstorming is complete, see if you can group the ideas into categories.
- Dismiss the meeting and email copies of the session to board members within two days.
- Second Vision Meeting:
- Review the list from the previous meeting and:
- Edit the list (Remember, only the author can edit his/her idea. Other board members may discuss it and suggest changes and/or deletion but only the author can change or delete it).
- Add new items to the list
- Develop pros and cons of each idea including the cost of implementation
- Third Vision Meeting:
- Edit the list to modify, add to or delete items from the list. (Now a majority of board members can accept, reject, or modify items listed by other members).
- Prioritize the list
- Agree on the top two or three ideas
- Develop indicators for success of each idea, i.e. how the district will be different at some point in the future if the idea is adopted and works as intended.
- Develop a list of steps (strategies) that must be followed to implement each idea.