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Why Now May be the Perfect Time for Strategic Planning at Your School

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

This past week I had the pleasure to speak with a talented school leader at a young, but thriving school. As many school leaders are this time of year, she was a bit stressed. She probably had about 100 things on her to-do list before her school went to spring break. On top of that, she and her school had their first accreditation process with a new body looming. As a school that is under a decade old, there was a great deal of understandable uncertainty on the school's part about what the next six to twelve months in the process would look like. This school leader called me to see if I would be willing to help the school with its strategic planning process. I sensed there was almost some embarrassment when she said the following: "We have never done a strategic plan before."

As I continued to listen to this brave and dedicated school leader, I thought to myself "you have no need to be embarrassed. In fact, after what the world has just gone through, we should probably all be engaged in some significant strategic planning process this spring and summer; " And while management guru Peter Drucker may have smarmily stated "Culture eats strategy for breakfast," I can think of at least FIVE SIGNIFICANT REASONS WHY A FOCUS ON STRATEGY NOW CAN IMPROVE YOUR SCHOOL CULTURE.

REASON #1 START A REFLECTIVE PROCESS: After what those of you in education have encountered during the past year, it makes sense that reflection takes place. If you are not purposeful about these reflections, you can continue on toward burnout. We recommend setting significant time aside to do so. When schools do this with a third-party firm such as RoundTable, the time becomes more meaningful. In a sense, time spent in a strategic planning process with significant reflection can serve as a Capstone, much like we offer our seniors at some of our schools.

Another good reason to do this with RoundTable and our team is that we are in conversations with a significant number of other schools. When you and your team reflect, we can help decipher if what you are going through is isolated to your or your region. It may be helpful for us to share the stories of other schools as you reflect. Ultimately, you know that great educational practice includes significant reflection. Let us help.

REASON #2 CELEBRATE YOUR FACULTY AND YOUR WINS: Everyone needs an authentic celebration. Certainly, your faculty need it. Certainly, they deserve it after the year they worked through. If you are an independent school like many we serve at RoundTable, you probably have been on campus "live" for most, if not all of the school year. You have to admit the odds of that were low if you think back to May, June, and July when you prepared for this year. Nevertheless, your team pulled through. Why not praise them and throw a celebration with your strategic visioning sessions?

Now is also the time to double down on recognition and celebration ceremonies for your faculty and staff no matter how tired you may be of extinguishing fires. In a Harvard Business Review article from May of 2016, David Novak, the retired CEO of Yum! Brands shared that "82% of employed Americans don't feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions." He added that "40% of employed Americans say they'd put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often." You might be saying "we already do an end-of-the-year recognition lunch." Maybe you didn't read the above. We cannot recognize the contributions of our people enough. RoundTable uses a Design Thinking process called "Roses, Buds, & Thorns" as one of its activities in strategic visioning. The Roses are the things we can celebrate and they become even more tangible in this process. During this strategic visioning process, you can celebrate your folks, what they have come through, the learning they have undertaken, and their staying power. It will pay manifold and help fuel the full strategic visioning.

REASON #3: LEVERAGE THE LEARNING. I imagine it was impossible not to have learned much this year if you were in a school. Asynchronous, synchronous, online, in person, remote, brick and mortar, LMS, machine learning, Zoom, Teams, Go to Meeting. Those were just a few things we learned in the pandemic classroom. RoundTable has worked with schools that were purposeful in leveraging the learning of the faculty so they could capitalize on all of the efforts of their faculty to get a handle on pandemic learning. One school developed a new online academy to accentuate its brick-and-mortar offerings and develop a wider market of students. Another school envisioned becoming the remote learning leader for its denomination identity. It assessed how they might offer denomination-specific learning to students across the country via synchronous remote experiences. They could do this because their faculty were knocking it out of the park with synchronous online and hybrid instruction. Finally, another school we work with is dipping its foot into the water with a micro-school concept whereby satellite entities with the DNA of the school offer families smaller, more intimate experiences that better suit the students. None of these things would have been imagined at our traditional schools over one year ago. They are here now though. The most strategic of schools will capitalize on these opportunities and further their sustainability.

REASON #4 STRESS TEST YOUR SCHOOL: You may be thinking we are stressed enough. I get that. But nothing x-rays the fissures in a school better than a strategic process. When you get many people in the same room (or virtual conference space) and set on the table all of the Roses (things to celebrate), Buds (new opportunities), and Thorns (prickly issues the school has to work through), turf wars can appear. A strategic leadership team may need this process to identify these turf wars. Now is a great time to get them out in the open and have every member of the faculty/staff decide if they are hills worth dying upon. Allowing folks in an open process to voice these issues helps unlock the stress. It adds transparency. There is no question it can be messy, but again you and your people have been through so much. Perhaps at no other time in your school's history are your people more prepared to work through the mess if it means getting to some future clarity. The benefit of having a third party like RoundTable do this is that it, rather than you, get to take on the tension in the room. Additionally, our strategic planners have been in this situation many times before so we can identify the points of tension and message them purposefully for prudent outcomes.

Speaking of these tensions, my suspicion is that some of your folks may be hoping to go back to "normal" when the masks come down, social distancing is a bit more relaxed, and vaccinated individuals populate our campuses. However, those who would default back to strategies of instructional design pre-pandemic really would be doing a disservice to the students. Those contemplating retirement may be taking the opportunity to watch leadership and see if a back-to-normal approach will be tolerated. I would encourage that this strategic process and its timing would help flush out those with notions that we can go back, rather than forward. There were a lot of positives from remote and hybrid learning including flexible schedules, less rigid learning plans, more time for family socialization, more nimble use of technology, and ultimately, heavy emphasis on personalized learning. I do not think a faculty member would dare take a test out of a filing cabinet dated from 1999 and give to the class as an authentic assessment instrument. However, if they had any similar notions that a practice like that would be acceptable in the "new normal," a strategic planning session would not allow that to stand.

REASON #5 SHARED DECISION MAKING: If you have come out of the past year thriving as a school, you probably relied on your admin team and faculty to make some pretty heady boots on the ground decisions. RoundTable worked with schools that tried to do 100% of their classes online, synchronous during the month of April last year with a 7 period day schedule. Withing 2-3 weeks, these schools listened to their faculty, their students, and the parents of the students and shifted to modified schedules with less screen time. Other schools we worked with had rigid standards for family determination of on-campus, remote, or hybrid learning. They started with deadlines far out and wrote out long lists of expectations for who, when, why a student could learn from home. A few weeks into the school year, many schools pivoted, especially in the independent school space and focused on student need and comfort level. In many ways, this was a good thing. Survey data from families also served as an excellent window into the changing landscape of parent and student wishes for their education. The schools and the school personnel that listened garnered amazing insights into the future of learning, and in some ways started to model the personalized learning aims of the most forward-thinking education thinkers.

These strides made by schools could have only come from bottom-up and teacher-led schools with the best interests of students in mind. They were student-centered and flourished even when the odds were stacked against us looking back to May, June, and July last year. Going forward it makes sense to put these same teachers and admin teams in a comfortable strategic learning environment to chart a way forward that leverages these gains. Doing so will also double down on the recognition we owe the faculty as mention in #2 Celebrate Your Faculty and Your Wins. Likewise, it will help you identify the next generation of school leaders in your population. This is critical to the health of your school.

RoundTable Education leverages the combined experience of a talented team who together have over 75 years in private and public education at the K-12 and college level. Much of our experience has been at some of the best independent schools in the country where strategic visioning got them ahead. If we can help you with your process this spring or summer, we certainly would like to help. We can come to you or do it virtually if your community would be more comfortable.

In closing, let me ask you? Does a strategic process at a time like this sound outrageous to you? If it does, consider just how outrageous it would be as an institution to throw out all of the amazing learning your faculty, students, and admin team have encountered this past year. Now is the time to capitalize so you can prudently chart a way forward. Let us do the heavy lifting.

For a brief free consultation to see how RoundTable Education would be the right team to help you in your strategic visioning, set up a convenient appointment here.


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