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Success by (Graphic) Design 






For any journey, knowing where you want to go and how to get there from where you are is critical. It means the difference between success and failure in accomplishing your mission. This is particularly true for school districts.

Schools share a common mission — enabling all students to acquire the skills, insights, knowledge and understanding that will prepare them to take advantage of the opportunities and meet the challenges in their future lives. Accomplishing this mission is a journey that requires specific, clear directions — not unlike the guidance provided to a traveling motorist today by global positioning technology. A GPS system offers the traveler a constant reminder of his or her destination and specific, up-to-date directions as to how to get from here to there.

Mapping Our Mission
The value and usefulness of the guidance provided by a GPS framed our thinking during the summer of 2009 when a group of teachers and administrators in the Greensburg Salem School District in western Pennsylvania defined a pathway for our students. Our GPS stood for Guiding Pathway to Success, and it defined our school district’s mission, values and beliefs while establishing a road map for student achievement. We developed an illustrative graphic to capture the idea that success for students will come not by chance but by design.

To make the design relevant, it had to be well-known and understood by all stakeholders and actually serve as a guide for the work we do. The idea of creating a graphic originated from our experience as teachers. We found research that supports the idea that graphic designs depicting complex processes are much better remembered than written text or verbal directions.

To develop the graphic, we initially identified the key components we needed to depict — our mission (the starting point of our journey), our goal (the end point of our journey) and six benchmarks that had to be reached if we were to fulfill that mission and meet our goal.

Our next step was to identify appropriate icons for each of the key points of our journey and to develop a logical sequence for the benchmarks of the journey.

Appropriate Icons
Because selecting the correct icons would determine the effectiveness of our graphic representation, we chose representations with which our stakeholders could relate:

The Schoolhouse. Our mission, empowering all students with the knowledge, skills, insights and understandings they need to be successful in their futures, begins at the schoolhouse door.

The Bus. The vehicle for the journey recognizes our fundamental belief that a collaborative effort of all the passengers on the bus — students, parents, school staff, and school board and community members — is essential for a successful journey.

The “Change” Road Sign. There can be no improvement without change. Preparing students for their future means we must change what we teach, how we teach, how we assess and how we respond to the data from those assessments.

The Fork in the Road. What do we really believe about students and how they learn?

There are two divergent choices: We can believe ability is innate, or fixed, or we can believe it is malleable and that effort creates ability.

The Bridge. Student learning is represented by crossing a chasm of unpreparedness. The bridge structure represents the four areas we can most directly shape — the school environment, curriculum, instruction and assessment. The bridge piers represent the two key supports for learning — our district culture (what we believe and value) and our structures (our policies, procedures, practices and programs).

The Tunnel. The tunnel represents the need for reflection. Thinking critically about and reflecting on our actions and then making the necessary changes are essential processes in completing our journey.

The Sunrise. The sunrise, labeled “All Students Are Smart,” symbolizes the dawn of a new journey for students. Our success ultimately will be measured by our students’ post-secondary success.

A Daily Reminder
Once the GPS graphic was finalized, we had to find a way to introduce it to our staff and other stakeholders and then to embed it as a viable working guide for our journey. We used students, staff and community to help us develop a video actually taking the journey depicted in the graphic.

The 28-minute video and graphic were used as the basis for our opening in-service day. It also was shown to the board of education and the community.

The graphic and video became an important tool in our new-teacher induction program and in faculty professional development activities throughout the following school years. Each teacher was given a mouse pad printed with the GPS graphic, and colored posters were placed in each classroom and learning area to keep the vision in sight daily.

Thomas Yarabinetz is the retired superintendent of Greensburg Salem School District in Greensburg, Pa. E-mail: tyarabinetz@comcast.net. Thomas Shipley is the retired director of secondary education in Greensburg, Pa.

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