Every school district leader should ask him- or herself an important question: “Does every initiative in my strategic plan positively impact every single student in my schools?”
If the efforts defined by your strategic plan DO NOT impact every student, then a significant adult problem exists. The responsibility to fix the problem, which exists in many districts across our country, falls squarely on the superintendent.
Dr. Sally Zepeda and I draw particular attention to superintendent beliefs and the alignment of their strategic plans:
When leaders espouse their beliefs about educating all children, many questions emerge including, for example, 1) Is this the right work? and 2) Is the work across the system affecting all children? In many systems, the work is defined in the strategic plan but is diluted to the point where there is very little impact from the lack of shared and clearly understood expectations.
While alignment among leadership and staff is vital to the success of strategic initiatives, coherence in the systems you put in place is also key:
To affect all students requires coherence in the systems. Monitoring systems to assess both implementation and effectiveness ensure alignment. Superintendents must have confidence that the work of the district has the fullest impact on all students to ensure that students in the system are no longer marginalized.
Disconnects in strategic planning occur for many reasons. Confusion around the initiatives and the terminology surrounding them can weaken their impact at the classroom level.
As initiatives are being rolled out, leaders need to ask two key questions:
- Do teachers and leaders fully understand the initiatives themselves along with how the initiatives impact their work?
- Are the expectations for results clear and understood?
Bottom line: If these questions cannot be answered, then students will never see significant changes in the classroom.
Waiting for the end results without a clear monitoring process is the biggest gamble that leaders often make–and it’s not a good one. Establishing clear metrics for monitoring strategic implementations and the ability to make mid-course changes is often more critical than waiting for the results. Discussions on strategic plans require leaders to articulate the fidelity of implementation along with the results.
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Finally, regardless of the processes you have in place, a poorly conceived plan will produce poor results. My recommendation is that you designate time simply to read through your own strategic plan, ask yourself questions, and decide where issues may arise.
Shannon Stage from ONStrategy outlines a framework to help leaders assess the effectiveness of their strategic plans.
- Purpose-driven: A plan based on a mission and a real, true competitive advantage is key. Without it, what’s the point of the plan or the organization?
- Integrated: Each element supports the next. No objectives are disconnected from goals, and no strategies sit all alone.
- Systematic: Don’t think of the plan as one big document. Instead, give it life by breaking it into executable parts.
- Dynamic: The plan isn’t a static document but a living one.
- Holistic: All areas of the organization are included. Don’t plan based on departments first because you risk limiting your thinking. Plan by thinking about the organization as a whole entity and then implement on a department-by-department basis.
- Understandable: Everyone gets it. If anyone, from the top of the organization to the bottom, doesn’t understand the plan or how he or she fits in, it won’t work.
- Realistic: You can implement the plan. Don’t overplan. Make sure you have the resources to support the goals you decide to focus on.
To my colleagues: 1) How effective is your strategic plan? 2) Is it window dressing or substance? 3) Is it doable and understandable? 4) Does it have a positive impact on every student in your district?
It is your responsibility to be relentless in asking the tough questions to ensure everything you do has real impact in the classroom.
How does your school or district ensure its strategic plan has real impact for every student? Tell us in the comments.
For more insight into the emerging role of leaders, read The Emerging Work of Today’s Superintendent: Leading Schools and Communities to Educate All Children. Dr. Philip D. Lanoue and Dr. Sally J. Zepeda’s goal in writing this book published by Rowman & Littlefield, and as a joint publication with AASA, is to engage superintendents and leaders by asking different questions about their roles in leading schools and communities.