How Can Schools Plan Strategically?

Adapted from Making Strategic Planning Work

Nothing affects a school more than its ability to create and execute a strategic plan. A good strategic plan can improve student outcomes, keep great teachers, and enhance the reputation of school leadership. But knowing the right way to build a strategic plan is not common-sense. Many school leaders struggle with organizing endless meetings, generating dozens of objectives, tasks, strategies, and goals without direction. Most of the input for those meetings will not be touched after the plan was completed.


Acknowledging that unfocused leadership is common, our team will introduce practical strategic planning elements that can help school leaders link the values, mission, and goals of their schools with a set of coherent strategies and tasks designed to achieve those goals.


According to the ACSD research on school strategic planning, the following specific dimensions were of particular importance:

Monitoring

A high monitoring score means that the school conducts consistent and frequent (at least monthly) analyses of student performance, teaching strategies, and leadership practices.

In contrast, low monitoring scores are associated with schools that engage in the futile exercise of the educational autopsy—an analysis of last year's scores long after it's too late to do anything about them.

The keyword for great monitoring is frequent and timely.


Evaluation

A high evaluation score means that every program, initiative, and strategy in the school is subjected to one key question:

Is it working?

While schools that are performing under average would settle for descriptions in the passive voice ("teachers were trained"), schools with high scores in the evaluation are learning systems. Like a well-oiled machine, these systems push faculty members to constantly challenge themselves in the students’ best interest.


What makes these schools different from the rest is that their leaders can identify practices their schools have stopped doing due to insufficient evidence of effectiveness. Sometimes, people keep adding redundant intermediaries, essentially equating solutions to additions. Schools that have high evaluation scores do more by doing less, in this case removing ineffective learning and teaching practices when appropriate.


Expectations

Schools in which leaders and teachers believe that their work is critical to increasing student achievement perform significantly better than schools in which leaders attribute student achievement primarily to student demographic characteristics.


What does that mean? It means social context is related to student performance to some extent, but effective schools need to go beyond that. Teachers’ efforts must be the controlling factor in whether students retain and reproduce knowledge or not. This notion is strengthened by previous academic research as well as the current ACSD study. In Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) study, teachers were told that some random students were "late bloomers" who would make rapid progress in the coming year. Within a single school year, the chosen students had lived up to teacher expectations. Besides, those schools which expect students’ achievement to correlate with their demographic characteristics have lower scores, on all ends, than those which expect students to perform in alignment with teachers’ efforts.


Components of a Strategic Plan

  1. Identify key areas: Schools operate on multiple areas, and frankly, school leaders cannot give equal attention to all of them. So, they must prioritize what area is the most vulnerable or need the most attention per se. For example, student achievement and student wellbeing would be very high on that list. Teacher professional development is typically prioritized when it comes to the school and its strategic plan. Other areas that might need some planning and monitoring are school human resources, equity, and partnerships.

  2. Establish the vision: In each area that we identified, what's our overall vision? Ask yourself: where do you want to go with this, and what do you want to achieve long-term? Each key area mentioned above requires one vision to help set the action plan in the right direction.

  3. Set goals and Measure: This is where the vision above is executed. Vision, when realized, will transition into specific goals, accompanied by measurement of success.

An example of a goal with measurable content is

Basic:

  • By December 2020, all students in grade 8 will pass the PET Exam.

(Basic when-who-what goal & measure)

Extended:

  • By December 2020, 70% of students in grade 8 will pass the PET Exam with merits.

School leaders should include long term goals in the strategic plan. This set the direction for future schoolwide improvement and further solidifies its mission to do what's best for its students.


4. Create action plans strategies

Take a moment for this to sink in:

None of the steps you have done before this would matter if you do not have specific instructions for your action plans.

We already have our long- and short-term goals set. Based on those goals, leaders should research and synthesize evidence on best practices, what works, what does not work. For each department, school employees should collaborate with each other to co-write action plans, since involving everyone will give people the incentive to follow through.


Example:

  • By August. 31, 2021, school administration will review and improve its process for academic acceleration, especially regarding technology integration in teaching programs. (Basic when-who-what goal & measure)

  • By August 31, 2021, teachers will submit students’ weekly reports and record mock PET scores. The curriculum research and development team will review this data monthly to diagnose areas that need improvement, develop student-level strategies in regulating processes.

In conclusion, school leaders must decide whether the strategic planning process is a tool to improve student achievement (actions that add value) or an end in itself.

School leaders should embrace the importance of strategy by developing plans that are focused and brief and that provide consistent monitoring and evaluation. Most importantly, the teachers and leaders who implement strategic plans should begin the process with the confidence that their professional practices truly influence student achievement.

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