Updated: Jan 7
Strategic planning is a vital part of organizational growth. Schools seeking to improve teaching and learning conditions must begin by developing a thoughtful strategic plan. Your strategic plan is how your team knows what they’re working towards. It can help you better allocate resources and communicate about your initiatives with the community. While strategic planning is vital to driving continuous improvement, we should be applying the continuous improvement process to our strategic planning as well! In this post, I want to provide eight simple strategies to improve your strategic planning process.
1. Build a core team.
Your strategic planning process should be led by a core team of dedicated believers. Strategic planning should not be led solely by a building or system administrator. It is not a solitary task. Rather, your core planning team should include leaders, teachers, non-certified staff, students, parents, and community members. Ideally, your team would include at least one person from each of those categories. This person’s job is to represent their constituency throughout the planning process and to ensure that the voices of their constituency are incorporated into all strategic planning activities.
2. Seek outside advice.
While your core team is sure to be knowledgeable and dedicated to your institution, outside voices are vital to effective strategic planning. Tools like surveys, focus groups, and public hearings are all great ways to engage the broader community in your strategic planning activities. Make sure that each of your core constituency groups are represented and have an opportunity to share their thoughts. It is also important to follow good focus group principles to ensure that you aren’t accidentally influencing the thoughts of your advisors. Let your advisors speak freely. Your job here is to listen and take notes.
3. Include students.
Schools exist to ensure the success of our students. That is why we all get out of bed every morning. We should listen to them and include them in our strategic planning processes. Not only should they be a part of the core planning team, but they should have opportunities to provide input on the plan itself. When the plan is complete, students should have access to it and know what is in the plan. They should have opportunities to learn about the various initiatives that are underway in a school and should have some ownership over those initiatives. Students can also be included in the program evaluation processes built into your strategic plan. It is a great way for them to apply their knowledge in a real world context.
4. Be transparent.
Transparency is always the best option when leading a public entity, like a school. Don’t write your strategic plan in secret. Open your meetings to the public and allow them to listen as your core team reflects on their improvement planning activities and debates the ideas. Consider posting working drafts to your school’s website or sending portions home in your weekly newsletters. By keeping your stakeholders informed of your strategic planning processes you will build trust and nurture an open atmosphere within your school.
5. Engage with the teachers’ unions.
Teachers unions are not the enemy of the public schooling, in fact, its quite the opposite. Most teacher union members and leaders are dedicated to enhancing public schools for all students. They should be engaged in your strategic planning processes. Consider how your strategic planning outcomes may impact the employment agreements in your system; or perhaps how the employment agreement can be leveraged into a part of the strategic plan itself.
6. Search the research literature.
As you start to identify problems that you want to address through your strategic planning, engage with the research literature to find new and innovative solutions. It is highly unlikely that you are the first school to face a particular problem. The research literature can help you see how other schools have faced similar problems in the past and help you design solutions that have a greater chance of success. If you need help with that, check out the resources I have made available for free in The Repository.
7. Consider qualitative data sources.
Education has become obsessed with quantitative data and the results of annual standardized testing. While these data points are incredibly useful to the strategic planning process, planning teams should take time to consider other qualitative data sources as well. One source of qualitative data that I think is very underutilized by schools is social media. Hop onto Twitter and do a quick advanced search for your school name or for common hashtags that your school promotes. The comments made about your school by your community can be a valuable source of data that can inform your planning processes.
8. Embed program evaluation into your plan.
Program evaluation should not be an afterthought. Quality strategic plans should include clear and concise evaluation protocols to help everyone on your team understand the progress that you are making towards your goals. Your evaluation protocols should include clear timelines, responsible parties, and easily understood metrics.
I hope this short post has given you some food-for-thought as you seek to apply continuous improvement principles to your own strategic planning processes. Just like other processes in our schools, our strategic planning processes are only as strong as we make them, and we should reflect upon them and improve them with each cycle. Good luck on your journey friends!