Stephen Covey suggests that organizations should “begin with the end in mind.” That’s good advice. Every educational organization needs a road map to follow in attempting to achieve its goals and aspirations. One of the best ways to do that is to develop and implement a well-thought-out strategic plan.
Strategic plans can be an effective tool for educators and administrators. Utilized correctly, they can provide students, teachers, coaches, staff members, parents, administrators and community members guidance on how the school district plans to achieve its short-term and long-term initiatives, achieve its annual goals and continuously improve student outcomes.
Engaging Stakeholders and Creating Buy In
One of the best ways to begin the strategic planning process is to gather a number of key players in the community (educators, students, parents, grandparents, community members, business owners, etc.) to first discuss the current pros and cons of the school district. Every school district has room for improvement – oftentimes in a number of different areas. Open, honest feedback and conversation is the key here.
This process is often best completed by the use of an effective facilitator/leader who can keep the conversation on track and moving forward without any hurt feelings. An effective facilitator can move the group toward a consensus-building process that results in a number of suggested and agreed-upon priorities and areas of improvement.
A strategic plan formalizes the school district’s mission, vision, values, goals and objectives. Ideally, it touches on a broad range of topics. Some common goals and topic areas of improvement include: Enrichment/Extracurricular Opportunities, Character Development, Assessment and Accountability, Curriculum and Instruction, Community/Parent Relationships, Facilities and Personnel/ Professional Development.
Creating Efficiency and Saving Money
School districts that have the support of their school boards in appropriately devising and implementing effective strategic plans ultimately create efficiency that translates into dollar savings. Most districts develop a three- to five-year strategic plan that identifies strategies, designates responsible parties, outlines appropriate timelines and targets appropriate funding sources.
The plans should be reviewed and monitored regularly. Then the achieved progress in each area should be communicated effectively to all stakeholders. Patrons want to take pride in their local schools, and it is easier for them to do that when they know about the school district’s achievements and successes. Positive, accurate and effective communication helps everyone track the successes of the school district so that it can then help spread the good news.
Pitfalls to Avoid
The development of an effective strategic plan can often be tedious and time-consuming. Too many endless meetings can often result in the old adage of “When do we get to stop planning and start doing?” Administrators and facilitators should monitor that issue and be prepared to lead the group toward consensus in a timely fashion so that the work can begin.
Common strategic planning discussion topics can include: Beliefs, Learner Profiles, Goals, Learner Outcomes and Specific Results. That’s a lot to cover, so facilitators have to be cognizant of not letting the loudest naysayers dominate the conversations and thus drag out the process far longer than anyone wishes.
Success Breeds Success
The teachers, coaches, administrators and school board members who have led the process of an effective strategic planning process often look back with pride on what they have been able to accomplish as a result of having that road map for success helping them along the way. Effective strategic plans have proven time after time that they can help create buy-in from all stakeholders, influence professional practices and lead to improved student achievement.
Dr. Darrell Floyd is Superintendent of Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma. He is also a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.