Strategic Planning in Schooling Contexts
Six Insights for Effective Planning and Implementation
I have developed these six insights for effective and manageable strategic planning in schools and schooling systems. They are based upon many years of working with schools and schooling systems in helping them to review their purpose and mission and to execute their planning for the future. The points are provided in summary form with catalyst questions for further reflection. I am happy to elaborate upon this to assist your context.
1) Time on task
The schooling sector does not operate 48 – 52 weeks per year like most other service organisations or businesses. The school year is technically 40 weeks. In reality, schools get around 35 – 36 effective weeks a year in which to implement strategies. This requires the limiting of key directions in strategic plans for both manageability and achievability.
What can we realistically take on board over a 3-5 year period that can be effectively implemented and evaluated?
2) Existing rhythms and patterns
There is an established rhythm and cycle to a school year and there are characteristics and demands associated with each of the four terms, some of which are locked into annual calendars. These include reporting cycles, sports carnivals, fundraising activities, representative requirements, external testing regimes, and religious, cultural or social events. This needs to be acknowledged and understood for timing the introduction of new initiatives or directions.
How do we fit into, accommodate or challenge current rhythms and patterns to assist effective implementation strategies?
3) Condensed hyperactivity
There is condensed hyperactivity in the school day. This can be frenetic for staff and students sometimes, especially when there is preparation for major school events or when participation in external requirements, such as sporting or testing regimes, is necessary. Many schools have significant co-curricular commitments that engage students, staff and parents beyond the ‘normal’ school day. This also needs to be appreciated and recognised when planning for the introduction of new strategic directions.
What is the proper or realistic pace for effective change in our context?
4) Annual workforce transitioning
Consider the students as the workforce in schools. Reflect upon a school that consists of six-year levels. On an annual basis two thirds of the workforce are in major transitions; the lowest year group is transitioning into the school’s workforce and culture. The highest year group is transitioning from the school workforce to the next phase of education, or to other options. A school is always reculturing itself and this needs to be accommodated in applying new initiatives and in embedding them coherently into a school’s culture and rhythm of operation. Enculturation into a community and the reculturing of its members takes serious time and commitment if it is to work well. Such efforts in transitioning also include the parent community and some staff members who may also be transitioning in their careers. Each year we have a different community!
How will we monitor our implementation strategies and processes to acknowledge the transitory reality of our school community and to enable persistent reculturing?
5) Local culture
The staff, student, parent and local community cultures need to be reflected upon and understood when considering strategic planning in schools. Are there particular characteristics associated with a school that might impinge, positively or negatively, on the shaping or implementation of new or clearer directions? The staff of the school, especially, is a key group to bring on board with strategic planning. It is this group that is often the primary implementer, or ‘owner’ of aspects of the strategic plan. In some contexts the processes for engaging staff might take longer than in other contexts. Parent and student expectations also need to be discerned, reflected upon and not presumed.
How will we continue to keep the Strategic Plan at the forefront of our work?
6) Educational and formational focus
The processes associated with the development of, implementation and review of a school’s strategic plan need to have an educational orientation for the stakeholders and act as an aid in assisting their formation for engaging in the school’s mission and directions. The processes for engaging various stakeholders and reflecting back to them the emerging consensus can be as important, and in some contexts more important, than the final product. Schools are not factories, nor the producers of clones or robots. The dynamics associated with assisting learners to develop and grasp concepts are the same dynamics upon which school strategic planning is to be orientated – educative and formative over time.
Well-organised and well-considered processes can assist the various stakeholders to name, or rename in more contemporary ways, the school community’s:
- vision and values
- identity as expressed in today’s terminology and symbolism
- mission and purpose
- key directions for the next 3-5 years
- processes and strategies for reflecting upon and evaluating the implementation of these key directions.
How will we continue to educate and form our community for mission? How will we acknowledge, critique and celebrate our progress?
I trust you will find these six insights to be a useful catalyst for local deliberations.
Damien F Brennan