Effective Practices : Long-range and Strategic Planning
Planning Section 2
1. Does your school have a strategic plan? If yes, when and how was it created? If no, why not?
2. Is a particular individual or group charged with ensuring that the strategic plan is reviewed and updated on a regular basis? Describe who is responsible and how the review process takes place.
3. Creating a lesson plan for a year (or eight years) requires a great deal of planning, yet teachers sometimes assume that planning activities for the school are not “their thing” or limit their participation. How has your school encouraged teachers (and any other reluctant segments of the school community) to participate in the planning process? Do you have examples of ways in which school-wide strategic planning has directly aided/impacted the pedagogy, curriculum or teaching work?
4. How is the strategic plan communicated to the school community?
5. Which person or group is charged with ensuring that the strategic plan is translated into operating plans and objectives for groups and individuals? By what means do you ensure that the strategic plan is implemented?
6. Does your school also have a long range plan? If so, how do these two plans work together?
7. Describe the key elements of the philosophy that informs your policies, practices and procedures in the area of strategic planning.
8. What is particularly effective at your school in relation to your strategic planning?
9. If you could change any aspect of your strategic planning process, what would you change and why?
Does your school have a strategic plan? If yes, when and how was it created? If no, why not?
All of the schools surveyed indicated that they had a strategic plan. However, one school acknowledged that what it calls a strategic plan is in reality a long term vision rather than a strategy as the work plan that is normally developed to support the implementation of the strategic plan was never created. All of the schools surveyed were highly supportive of the strategic planning process, as this approach allowed the variety of good ideas and projects that lived in the school community to be brought together, and a shared planned developed for making those ideas a reality.
The processes used by schools to create their strategic plans vary slightly, but most follow a fairly similar seven step path.
- The first step is preparatory in nature. Agreement is reached between the College and the Board as to the reasons for planning and members of the strategic planning steering committee are selected. The steering committee outlines a “plan for planning”, and collects the historical information about the organization that is relevant to the planning process.
- In the second step the committee revisits the organization’s statements of vision, mission and values to ensure they are current and appropriate. If such statements do not exist then the planning committee ensures that such statements are drafted.
- The third stage includes the gathering of information from internal and external stakeholders in the school community, and the creation of a list of current and previous strategies. Information is gathered about program effectiveness. The result is a list of the key issues which the organization must respond to, and a database of information that will allow the planners to choose priorities and strategies to address these issues.
- The fourth phase is an analysis of the way in which the organization’s strengths and weaknesses interplay with the opportunities and threats facing the organization. Priorities are established and core strategies developed, goals and objectives created and long-range financial projections developed.
- The fifth step is the actual writing of the plan. A draft plan is presented for review, amended as needed, and the strategic plan is adopted by the school.
- The next step is the creation of an annual operating plan and an annual budget for the school that ensures that the core strategies are a primary focus of human and financial resources.
- The final step is an evaluation of the strategic planning process itself, and a regular process to monitor and update the strategic plan.
In most schools the planning committee is composed of Board, College, and administrative staff members. It is also helpful when parents or other friends of the school who have experience in strategic planning can be part of the steering committee. Several schools underscored the importance of remembering that the task of the planning committee is to create and manage the planning process. It is not to be the source of all information and perspectives about the school, nor is it to work independently of the wider school community. Team members should be selected for their strategic thinking skills, be well respected by and connected with their representative groups, and be trusted by the wider school community as being able to view the school as a whole. Creation of the strategic planning committee is an important task that cannot be left to volunteerism.
For guidance on the second step in the strategic planning process, please see section 1 on Statements of Vision, Mission and Values.
Good strategic planning work in a Waldorf school is as much a community building exercise as it is a planning task. In the third stage the planning group collects the perspectives of many members of the school community on the strengths and weaknesses of the school, and the opportunities and threats that face it. Most schools held a series of meetings with various stakeholder groups in the community, encouraging wide spread active participation in the creation of a picture of the school. Some planning groups managed this through a day long community meeting; other planning groups held several meetings with a variety of smaller groups. Community wide meetings can be extremely powerful opportunities to build community, but the large size of the group means that the school will need to have a capable facilitator to manage the group process.
In the fourth step of strategic planning schools used some version of a SWOT analysis. In this activity the organization lists its own Strengths and Weaknesses as clearly as it can. It then makes a list of the Opportunities and Threats that exist in its operating environment. An example of an opportunity might be to add a high school or to build enrollment in the middle school, while a threat might be the large number of other private schools in the area. Strengths might be an experienced core of class teachers or a strong and active parent association, while a weakness might be a lack of clear and timely financial reporting.
The school next looks for ways in which it can use its strengths to take advantage of the opportunities or counter threats. Similarly, a school identifies areas where internal weakness reduces or prevents its ability to take advantage of opportunities or to fight threats. This analysis of the interplay of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats allows the school to create a list of possible strategies that it might employ in the coming period. These strategies are more than just goals - they are based on a realistic look at what is needed and what is possible, hence the term strategic planning.
Next a school prioritizes each of the possible strategies it has developed. The relative priority of each strategy is determined by looking at several factors. In one school the factors considered in setting the priority for each possible strategy were the strategy’s perceived urgency, the importance of various issues as developed in a community wide survey, the strategy’s ease of implementation, and its cost.
With the relative priority of each strategy in hand, the planning group next writes a draft strategic plan. In addition to listing the broad strategies and the basis for their selection, the strategic plan may also include a listing of the primary body, committee or individual that is responsible for driving the strategy to its completion. One school found that it was not well received when the planning committee assigned responsibility to various bodies and individuals in the school. In their experience it was better to ask the various bodies (Board, College, committees, etc.) to identify who the owner of the various action items should be before including this information in the second version of the draft plan. It was not that individuals or groups were unwilling to take on responsibility for one or another item; rather it was just too much for people to process when they received the plan in its entirety complete with ownership for individual objectives.
This draft is presented to the key stakeholders in the community for feedback. In one school the draft plan was sent to the College and the Board, and it was also discussed in the separate kindergarten, lower school, high school and administrative staff meetings. The administrator, who was also the chair of the strategic planning group served as the point person for this phase, and went to a large number of meetings so that some items could really be talked through in detail. With this input in hand a revised plan was presented at a joint meeting of the College and Board. Additional feedback was received, adjustments were made, and the plan was approved.
As the school enters its next round of budget preparation and operating planning for the coming year, the key strategies identified in the plan become the basis for measuring what will be included in the budget and how human and financial resources will be allocated.
One school noted that the adoption of a strategic plan helped it deal effectively and positively with community members that were champions of non-priority projects. With an approved plan in hand it became possible to thank these individuals for their interest and support of the school, to share with them the current set of priorities for the school, and to let them know that their ideas would be considered in the future as part of the ongoing strategic planning process.
An essential part of the strategic planning process is monitoring and review. The first part of this process is to review the strategic planning process, identifying what worked well and what could be improved the next time the work is undertaken. In this way a school community can learn from its experience and ensure that the most effective parts of the process are carried forward into the future while those items that worked poorly or were overlooked altogether can be better addressed in the next round of planning.
The schools also indicated that it is important while the plan is still fresh to agree upon a time and a process by which the school will determine if the strategic plan is continuing to serve or whether it needs updating. In most schools this responsibility falls to the Board, although the administrative group and the College are important partners in this decision to update the strategic plan. Typically schools create strategies that have an expectation of completion in two or three years, and this becomes the regular cycle for updating the strategic plan. Other schools adopt strategies with a longer time frame (e.g. open a high school). In these cases new operating objectives are created each year but the strategic plan is intended to serve for a longer period of time and is updated infrequently.
The schools surveyed also indicated that it is important to designate a person or a body to follow up on the progress of the various groups throughout the year in meeting their respective objectives. This responsibility has been delegated in a variety of ways in the schools. In some cases the school has chosen to add this monitoring to the job of the administrator, with the expectation that the College and Board will be notified of any significant delays in meeting agreed upon goals. In another case the Board president had served as the chair of the strategic planning committee, and she was then asked to monitor the progress of the various objectives. In several schools the administrative committee was given this assignment. Often times it is this person or group that has a sense for when the strategic plan is nearing completion, and is charged with requesting that a new planning cycle be undertaken.
One school noted the helpfulness of a book in their strategic planning work. It is Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations by Michael Allison and Jude Kaye, John Wiley and Sons, Publisher.
Is a particular individual or group charged with ensuring that the strategic plan is reviewed and updated on a regular basis? Describe who is responsible and how the review process takes place.
As noted above, the schools used a variety of approaches to ensuring that the strategic plan is reviewed and updated on a regular basis. In one school the planning group (Board and College chairs and the administrator) met weekly following the adoption of the plan to ensure that progress was being made. Each member of the planning group was given oversight responsibility for a portion of the plan. The College chair was primarily responsible for program enhancement and faculty governance issues, while the Board chair focused on site and Board development. The administrator focused on all remaining areas of the plan. At the end of the school year the administrator went through the plan and put together an outline showing what had been accomplished and what was still needing to be done in year two.
In another school the executive committee (the administrative committee plus the Board chair) is charged with directing this process on an ongoing basis. This executive committee meets monthly. There are check points built into the plan that the Board president reviews on a regular basis. Status reports are previewed at the weekly admin committee meeting, and then presented to the Board. The Board signs off on the check point before allowing the delegated group to move forward on the next step of the plan. The Board president in particular is driving this work through her membership in the executive committee. She is the one who calls the committee chair to follow up when it appears that progress is not being made or if there is some other snag. At times the result of these conversations is that a date or some other aspect of the objective may need to be changed. These changes require the approval of the Board.
Most schools report that it is the Board of Trustees, in partnership with the College, which is responsible for determining when there is need to rejuvenate the strategic plan, and it is the Board who will form the new planning committee.
Creating a lesson plan for a year (or eight years) requires a great deal of planning, yet teachers sometimes assume that planning activities for the school are not “their thing” or limit their participation. How has your school encouraged teachers (and any other reluctant segments of the school community) to participate in the planning process? Do you have examples of ways in which school-wide strategic planning has directly aided/impacted the pedagogy, curriculum or teaching work?
Schools noted that teachers were able to participate in a meaningful way in the strategic planning exercise, especially in those areas that dealt most directly with program elements. Not everyone (teachers or others) is a strategic thinker, so it is necessary to identify educators with strategic thinking skills and who are leaders in the faculty to participate as members of the strategic planning committee. This participation on the committee by faculty leaders allows those faculty members who are less “planning oriented” to feel that their interests and perspectives will be heard and held.
It was also noted that teachers can and must participate in the conversations that allow possible strategies to be developed and in the creation of methods to weigh the relative merits of each strategy. In this way the faculty voice is clearly heard, and the skills of each individual are used in the best way.
How is the strategic plan communicated to the school community?
The strategic plan has both internal and external value. It carries a message of the school’s ego being, and shows that there is a living intention in its identified goals and objectives. The strategic plan was brought to all-school meetings for presentation and discussion, and made available as a document in the school office. It is included on the school’s web site, and excerpts from the plan are included and updated in schools’ weekly bulletins.
The highlights of the strategic plan are included in the annual report, as this is one document that people inside and outside of the school community read.
In one school the strategic plan is also used at the yearly leadership breakfast in the fall. Leading donors, parent volunteers and other key parents are brought together to recognize and thank them for their many contributions. The strategies for the year are talked about there. This enlivens the year’s strategic planning work, and garners the support of key leaders, and future leaders, for the work the school is undertaking.
The plan is also helpful when a school representative speaks about the school and its future goals. Donors in particular are interested in knowing that a school is intentional in its actions and on what basis their gifts to the school will be used.
One school shared some valuable advice on this front: “Although only ten percent of the school community may really care about the details of the plan, the whole school community must be kept informed or people will feel hurt and angry over being excluded. Having a well thought out communication plan is a key to success, and needs to be part of the strategic plan. Don’t start implementing until the communication plan is accounted for!”
Which person or group is charged with ensuring that the strategic plan is translated into operating plans and objectives for groups and individuals? By what means do you ensure that the strategic plan is implemented?
In most schools general operating objectives were included as part of the strategic plan. Some schools also included key benchmarks or check-in points as part of their plan, making it relatively simple for follow up on progress to take place. The strategic plan was supported in the schools’ annual budgeting process so that adequate resources (both human and financial) were made available to ensure the successful achievement of the objective. This approach to the strategic plan meant that each body, committee or individual was then left free to develop the detailed operating plans they felt were needed and appropriate to ensure delivery of the broad operating objectives laid out in the plan.
Does your school also have a long range plan? If so, how do these two plans work together?
Several schools noted that they had a ten year imagination that they used to inform the strategic plan. However, none of the schools had a long range plan in the traditional sense. In this approach the world is assumed to be fairly stable and predictable, and that little will change over the next ten years that would affect how a school would choose to reach its goals. While long range planning can be useful in environments that are relatively stable and predictable, schools today are finding that the world around them is changing too quickly to allow operating plans to be developed more than a few years in advance. For this reason schools have chosen to use a strategic approach informed by a ten year imagination and statements of vision, mission and values. One school described their approach this way, “The long range imagination is a ten year dream for the school. The strategic plan focused the school on what was achievable in two years.”
Describe the key elements of the philosophy that informs your policies, practices and procedures in the area of strategic planning.
Relative stability in the operations helps a school find time to focus on creating a strategic plan.
Be realistic about the time it takes to create a plan. A small group can create the plan, but getting broad input takes time.
Take advantage of the good work done by others. Find out how other schools have done strategic planning and benefit from their experience.
Strategic planning can be a wonderful community building exercise. It should not be driven by one segment of the school (the faculty or the finance committee for example). It should truly be a community wide project.
The core of the strategic plan needs to be the pedagogy and the vision of the teachers. It needs to have good leadership and participation from the faculty. The board and admin can bring process, but it serves the mission of the school best when the focus is on education.
Select your committee members carefully. Don’t form the committee based on volunteerism. Participation by the core pedagogical leadership is a must.
Move into action quickly-focus on action rather than on planning. The process must have integrity as well as efficiency. There is no one recipe for producing a strategic plan. Approaches must be varied to match the situation in a given community.
People want to feel good about what they’re doing. They will honor a process that is inclusive, but also want the process to be efficient. They will gladly follow a process that is well led and well intentioned.
There must be three or four people who will be involved fully in the process, including representatives from all key bodies if the plan is to be realized. Otherwise the plan goes in the drawer and no action takes place.
Remember that the plan is just that-a plan is a plan, but things can change and a school needn’t be stuck with a plan if it no longer serves. Review and revision are important parts of the process.
The first question is, “Are you ready for strategic planning?” Be clear and honest with yourself about what the prerequisites are for successful strategic planning, and with where your school is at right now.
Collaboration and being inclusive is very important to the process.
Pick the right person to lead the process. It must be someone who can really lead process, but who is completely neutral as to the result. The leader is in a real position of authority, and everyone must feel safe in his or her hands.
Have fun. This is hard work, but it can be fun, and must lead to a product that can be enthusiastically embraced by all.
A management of change plan should be developed up front along with the strategic plan. A communication plan is an important part of the management of change plan. It is necessary to understand the various constituencies, identify where the various bodies may have difficulty in accepting or supporting the strategic plan, and then to create conscious ways to support them as the plan is implemented.
The committee should incorporate strategic thinkers. If there are not enough of this type of thinkers on the group the work can be frustrating or take longer as people will need to be educated as the work proceeds.
It is essential to have a methodical approach, and to have a vision that guides or informs the strategies.
Focus on the critical 3-5 items for the school. A strategic plan with more items than that is not realistic, and leaves people feeling frustrated when items aren’t moved ahead. This frustration can even undermine the community’s trust in the planning process. Sometimes low hanging fruit is tempting, and there is an urge to include more than 3-5 items for a given year. These “easy” goals that are not key strategies should be communicated to the various committee chairs as opportunities to be considered once the strategies have been accomplished, but never included in the strategic plan.
Without an accountability structure the strategic plan doesn’t get realized. Clear governance structures, timelines for implementation, and good delegation are critical to successful strategic planning.
In independent schools, strategic planning and accreditation are often linked. This linkage ensures there is regular review and provides a responsible vehicle to respond to concerns raised in the accreditation.
Not only does a strategic plan give clear operating priorities, but it can also protect the school from spending a lot of time on an intriguing idea that is advanced but not a current priority of the school.
Goal setting, follow through, and a regular review of accomplishments is an activity that builds living ego awareness in the school.
As an organization matures there need to be processes in place that allow the school to be intentional and that instill and cultivate a learning community. Strategic planning processes allow a whole school to engage in this developmental work and to stimulate and experience the spirit of the school.
We must review where we’ve come from so that we can appropriately plan where we’re going. It’s helpful to do this in relation to the mission, vision and values we have identified for our school. It’s important to stop and appreciate how far we’ve come. Failure to do this creates a sense of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, while acknowledging the being we serve and appreciating progress that we have made is powerful and uplifting..
What is particularly effective at your school in relation to your strategic planning?
The step in which criteria were developed to look at various strategies was very useful. It taught people to evaluate possible courses for the school in a whole new way.
People paid attention to what they were asked to do. People took their action lists and made things happen. They were committed to making things happen as they had also participated in making the list of items to be accomplished.
Strategic planning renewed enthusiasm by allowing people to see progress, and to know what was really taking place. It gave them a form to measure progress against.
The planning process was a model of engagement. It allowed people to know what was happening in all areas of the school, but left them free of the burden of feeling that they needed to do everything themselves.
The school does a good job of getting commitment to the planning process up front with both faculty and the parents.
The school has done a good job each time at getting a committed team of people to work on the strategic plan.
Having the Director of Communications on the Team has ensured that a much better job is done of communicating the plan to the community at large.
This process allows Board and College members to really know what improvements are needed at the school and to work on those priorities together.
The strategic planning process is helping the school to manage its resources-people, finances, and so on. It clarifies for the whole community where the school is investing. It helps align the community, strengthens focus, and corrals positive energy to move in one direction so the school achieves more, faster. In the past various individuals had pet projects, and they were often heard to complain that the school never accomplished anything. This lack of progress was not a lack of good will, but rather was due to the school trying to move in many directions simultaneously.
A good strategic plan engages all constituencies in the process. Without each group having the opportunity to participate and buy into the plan, it would be quite difficult to implement.
The plan focused the school and brought all bodies of the school together around the most important (not necessarily the most urgent) issues. It focused the school community on the essential goals rather than those issues which may be the most pressing in the moment. As a result we accomplished more strategic goals in the course of our first year under the plan than in the past several years.
If you could change any aspect of your strategic planning process, what would you change and why?
The timing would be different. The school wants next year’s plan to be done in spring for the following school year, rather than waiting until late summer to start the process.
The planning process would be improved by allowing for community involvement earlier in the process. Time constraints did not allow broad community participation in this first round of planning. In addition the SWOT analysis would include a larger group of parents, rather than just the key parent leaders.
The majority of the team developing the plan should be strategic thinkers, well respected by and connected to their representative groups.
Some members of the committee in addition to the chair should have experience with a strategic planning process.
Focus on the critical top three strategies. Don’t get tempted by having too many items even if they seem “easy”.
Create a management of change plan that is documented and agreed to by the strategic planning committee at the onset of the planning process.
It would be great to have a brief brochure that includes the school’s vision and mission statements, its values and philosophy, and the long range imagination for the school. It could be updated each year with the current strategic goals.
The school used a consultant for its long range planning work so it didn’t feel the need for one when the first strategic plan was created. It is possible that a consultant could add something very helpful to the strategic planning process the next time it is done.
We’re happy with the process as it exists. We’re learning with every new team that works on the plan, so we’re supporting changes and improvements as they come but overall the strategic planning approach is working well at the school.