Traditionally, there are several reasons why independent schools undertake a new strategic plan:
- New Head of School
- Haven’t written one in many years
- Ten-year accreditation coming up in two years
- Considering a change in direction (high school opening a middle school)
- Upcoming Capital Campaign
- A major transformation of the program (integration of SEL, DEI, PBL, and CBE)
- Regular planning cycle
Today, there is another reason that was not considered as recently as last year: considerable change in the external environment. The arrival of COVID-19 forced schools into a scramble mode to finish the 2019-20 school year. Now the 2020-21 year is in full swing, and schools are still in a mode that was designed to be temporary, at least according to the communication that goes to school community constituents. At what point do we decide that some of the programmatic and pedagogical changes we are making are not temporary, but Phase I of a new approach to teaching and learning that is more blended and flexible in nature, that appeals to the individual needs of students and fosters a mindset that is based upon mastery rather than relative achievement? The most reasonable response would be that there is no time to write a plan now, even though it might be very useful.
Strategic planning is really more about questioning and deep reflection than it is about producing documents. One can always transfer great thinking into written plans and roadmaps, but the impetus for great thinking and brainstorming is harder to come by unless we are shaken to our roots by a major disruption. The next part of the process is to formulate education strategies that are unique to your school and have measurable outcomes. It is the most difficult portion of the process for school leaders in light of the challenging characteristics of the independent school world.
Let’s examine those characteristics and call them Strategic Planning Challenges. There are five, and each colors the nature of the strategies you will define:
- The Inversion Challenge: Most organizational success is measured by outcomes. Corporations are driven by profits, the outcome of financial success over a period of time. Inversion of the success formula occurs when schools shift focus to make inputs and process a priority over outcomes. What are some of the conditions that push schools into an input- and process-oriented mode rather than an outcome orientation?