Strategic planning is a process in which it is well worth investing time. Although the process is lengthy and new to many school administrators, the power that lies within is enormous. Asking essential questions of teachers, staff, parents, students and community members is both enlightening and empowering to all involved. The process that is detailed below provides a framework and guidelines for working through this process of strategic planning so that professional development, intervention programs, strategies and actions are intentional and therefore, school improvement efforts will effectively move the school toward intended outcomes.
Issues needing to be addressed in schools are often very complex and are deeply rooted within many levels of the system. For example, when addressing the issue of poverty, strategies must be implemented at many levels, including the individual student, parent and teacher level; the school building level; the district level; the community level; and the policy level. The more levels that are addressed by a given strategy or intervention, the more likely that positive change will occur.
DETERMINING THE NEEDS AND STRENGTHS
The most effective way to determine the needs and strengths of a school community is to listen to the different perspectives of the many stakeholder groups. Conducting focus groups is often an effective and time-efficient way to solicit the ideas and suggestions of stakeholders. This grassroots approach has many benefits, including empowering each group to be part of the solutions. When we take the time to ask the right questions and then really listen to the responses, we often end up with a wealth of knowledge and many creative solutions!
SELECTING INTERVENTION STRATEGIES
Once critical needs and issues have been identified, the team must determine which intervention strategies will be employed in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Interventions can take many forms, including programs to be implemented (PBIS, bullying-prevention, etc.) or professional development to be provided. In research, the concept of identifying a set of underlying assumptions about how one will move an organization from its current state to its desired future is known as a theory of action (Ottoson, 2009). Strategies and interventions must be grounded in research and best practice. However, it is important to take into account the realities and limitations of the school environment, as well as the inter-dependent relationships that must exist in order for complex change to occur.
DEVELOPING THE ROAD MAP
A logic model, or strategic plan, provides a big picture view of the needs and chosen strategies, as well as short- and long-term outcomes. This model serves as a simple way to organize the vast amount of qualitative data from focus groups into a simple plan of action. Actions taken will be more strategic and systematic, therefore resulting in better outcomes. The diagram below illustrates the components of a school improvement plan.
In terms of the day-to-day operations of the school, much more detail is needed in order to identify people who will be responsible for taking action and the specific data that will need to be collected in order to monitor progress and evaluate outcomes. A table, such as the one below, can be created to provide the necessary details for implementation.