I recently published a thought piece on the web with some tips for those leading strategic planning in their schools, which is a term 3 activity for most school leaders. The Ministry has recently changed the format and timeframe of the traditional School Charter, and strategic planning now looks a lot like the approach advocated by Springboard Trust over the last 10 or so years (new guidelines for School Planning and Reporting - Te Whakangārahu Ngātahi).
These guidelines now require school leaders to think strategically about their future investment in time and resources in initiatives that are going to make a difference, over and above what they are mandated to do as a matter of course. With extremely limited discretionary time, resources and budget this remains a real challenge for most of Tomorrow’s Schools.
With this in mind, the following are a number of the “tips” that I argued were important:
“In a context of constrained budgets and staff with limited discretionary time, school strategic planning is as much about identifying what to prioritise, as it is about deciding what to stop doing, or reducing the expenditure of time, energy and resources required”
I got some immediate feedback about the irrelevance of these suggestions as schools have to “do everything” and there is no discretion to choose not to do a particular set of activities or indeed to enhance what the school is already doing well.
I would like to dig into these helpful observations as I believe this is a misguided response which lies at the heart of a malingering stasis in the school sector which is suffering from a sense of complete “overwhelm” at the moment due to all the changes that have been mandated in addition to all of the mandates that school leaders already are compelled to discharge.
Without higher order strategic thinking and without the collection and analysis of data and evidence, the stasis will prevail. Instead strategic thinking can help to unlock collective energies to pursue improved learning outcomes, even in the context of significant change and constrained capacity.
Effective strategic planning requires us to consider the following factors:
Taking stock of our context and environment, allows us to anticipate what might come down the tracks to directly or indirectly affect our schools and community. The coming election, the relentless use of social media, the teacher shortage, the levels of socio-economic challenge amongst our families are all relevant examples.
Identifying our strengths, constraints, opportunities and risks enable us to maintain and even enhance those elements of our kaupapa that are having a positive impact on learning; as well as reach into the gaps and think creatively about how we might overcome our resourcing, funding and capability gaps and mitigate our risks.
Engaging all groups in our school community to deeply understand their aspirations for the school and learners, as well as their potential contributions and levels of engagement so that we shape our plan collaboratively and take our community with us on the change journey;
Focusing on a few carefully selected strategic goals (or objectives) OVER and ABOVE the activities that we are mandated to do helps us to channel our constrained capacity for maximum impact on learning.
A three year timeframe is useful as a planning device when crafting the strategies and initiatives that will deliver to these goals, as this allows us to think aspirationally over a multi-year timeframe instead of incrementally on a quarterly basis.
Writing success statements (or setting targets) for each strategic goal also enables us to take stock of where we are now (current state) and describe where we want to be at the end of the three year period (future state) and think about bridging the gap between these states.
Developing a set of relevant measurements (of both progress and outcomes) and collecting data at the start of the timeline as well as at key milestones during it, is critical to keeping the focus as well as enabling course corrections if things are not going to plan.
Finally, keeping the community engaged and informed about progress and celebrating positive outcomes as well as acknowledging when we have not got it quite right, is an ongoing and significant role for school leadership.
It should be noted that strategic decisions should be based on insightsderived from good data collection and analysis. It is not about being data driven, but rather data informed:
"Organisations that are data informed ensure that their understanding of people, contexts, and other contributing factors influence the decisions that they make” (iQ The RIMPA Quarterly Professionals Magazine | June 2022 p.33)
This is often a crucial part of the strategic planning process that requires the systematic collection and use of actual data to inform strategic decision making rather than relying on anecdotal stories that might give rise to a possibly misguided sense of reality.
I love working with school leadership teams and boards to help shape the strategic thinking and document strategic aspirations and would be delighted if you would like to contact me (via the Te Kete Hono website) for a further discussion about your school.
For reference, here are my original suggestions, which I stand by, as to how best to go about the development of a strategic plan that has buy-in from your community:
1. Involve your board from the beginning to identify what problems need to be solved and what opportunities for improvement should be prioritised.
2. In a context of constrained budgets and staff with limited discretionary time, school strategic planning is as much about identifying what to prioritise, as it is about deciding what to stop doing, or reducing the expenditure of time, energy and resources required
3. Be bold to throw yourselves forward 3 years and envisage what will have changed, and then work backwards from there to plan what needs to happen to achieve those changes.
4. Understand the context in which you are working - using a PEST analysis framework is a useful way of thinking about this
5. Each school is unique and the plan is an opportunity to play to your strengths and identify how to further enhance these to benefit your learners and support your teachers
6. Develop innovative ways to capture voice from your key stakeholder groups - surveys, digital polls, focus groups, student led conferences, whānau hui all present opportunities to understand their aspirations, what they value about the school and what they would like to see improved.
7. It is useful to consider the risks that might derail or diminish the effectiveness of your plan - risk identification is the flip side of strategy development.
8. Keep governance separate from school leadership when strategic planning - the board's role is to articulate outcomes and targets and the leadership team, with its pedagogical expertise, is best placed to identify the work programme to achieve these.Then of course the board should review and approve this programme of work and hold the lead team accountable for its delivery.
9. Measurement of outcomes is now a requirement of the planning process - working out what to measure, how to collect data, and what to aim for is possibly the most challenging part of the process. Remember to establish your baseline in year 1 so that you can identify shifts over the course of the 3 year plan.
10. Things change so the plan needs to be reviewed and adapted at least every year - the anticipated outcomes should not change too much, but the pathway for achieving these could be very different, especially if external factors change dramatically (think Covid).