Take Two Days to Plan Your School’s Next Four Years

Two day for four year of plans. Decent value right? If you need to have a road-map for your school that lasts well into the future and is grounded in a hard self-study, just give yourself two days. School leaders, you all know how hard it is to find two days, but the value of having an extended road-map and deliverables established is so critical. So much of what school leadership does well is the development of a vision that has a solid plan behind it. The vision part is hard enough to develop and requires significant time, adding on the solid plan of action at the same time puts weight behind that vision. Here’s how you can get started.

Ingredients

  • Timing -Your leadership team
  • A quality outside facilitator
  • Two consecutive days
  • Developed messaging
  • A pinch of sugar

Timing

Let’s start with timing. Anytime when your building’s culture starts to get away from you is a good time. Keep in mind there is no reason to pretend things are fine. I know a few memes that do a good job describing this. Outside of dire need, you will want to examine your calendar and identify a spring date near the end of a school year that positions you to launch on the first day of teacher meetings, language and messaging complete and ready. You would also do well to announce that this is taking place and share very general findings to your staff before you leave to summer. This will help increase your impact, timed with the fresh new school year start we all feel.

Your Leadership Team

Get everyone you need on-board. Too big of a group is a problem, so aim to not exceed seven members unless your facilitator has a plan to provide authentic voice and contribution for a larger group. Having an important member of your team not participate may not seem like such a big deal, but you are risking their voice not being heard and having an important viewpoint missing. Please insist that everyone is there for those two days and don’t take no for an answer.

Facilitation

Look for either an in-district facilitator or a hired hand consultant. Both are likely to be removed enough to do a good job and be distant enough to facilitate without participation. I am a consultant and this is what I do. There is no magic for sure, so look for someone you trust and skills to guide your school’s self-study and planning. Facilitation from someone who is impartial and is focused on moving the ball forward frees you up to be able to focus on the tasks at hand and not on the hefty work of keeping the sessions going forward. Furthermore, the impartial nature of a good facilitator helps build trust from your team in the process, believing that their voice will be heard and that a more factual outcome is likely. In my experience facilitating internally and externally, the best I am able to do happens when I act as impartial as possible. That means primarily that I don’t contribute to the study or solution design, but rather I am completely focused on the process. That facilitating work is harder internally but is possible.

Method

I highly recommend these articles about the design thinking method, also known as the design cycle. The focus of the design cycle is to completely understand your problem before any ideas come forth. Doing this is difficult, but a dedicated focus on the cycle and good facilitation will make that a reality. Progressing without understanding the problem fully not only might lead you to the wrong answer, but will alienate your leaders and your teachers because the justification of all the work they are being asked to contribute stands on shaky ground, at best. A faculty will take a focus change better and respect it’s leaders more when an open and complete process to understand what is wrong has been done. The argument for why we are changing exists, bringing meaning to their hard work.

Two Days

Each of the two days will have a totally different purpose. The first day should be a comprehensive and thoughtful self-study. Use activities to develop and shape understandings of the current situation at your school. Study your programs, strengths, weaknesses, needs, data and more to make sure you have an authentic picture of your school that everyone can sign onto. The second day should be all about the plan for the future. Getting there meant your facilitator got the job done during the first day and continued excellence will allow them to help your school plan multiple years in a single day. You now know your problems inside and out, you have a central question to push forward with and the answers are right at the tip of your tongue. Let the facilitator play out the day to slowly and thoughtfully develop that plan with you. Being prepared for the two days is another important component as the deep study will require that all relevant data and information be available and complete.  

Outcomes for the first day should be a central question for future development that is clearly jumping out of your self-study. Trust that central question developed collectively and sleep on it if you must. By the beginning of the second day you should know and feel that this is the right inference to have come from your day of work. Outcomes for the second day should be your school’s macro plan that is actionable, broad and directly addresses the developed central question. In that plan, you should be able to see deliverables, responsibilities for individuals and teams, roles that need filling and you should see a meaty amount of work to be done. Finally, you should start to see your messaging that you will use out loud almost every day of the school year. That messaging that will keep you and your team focused.

Messaging

To give your plan life beyond a few powerful days with a facilitator you will need to build the language for this plan. In this picture you see that the school I was working with themed each year: cub, lion, king, pride. This is a direct effort to communicate meaning to the faculty and to the school community at large. The school is an international school in Ethiopia and the idea of a lion stretches well beyond their mascot. It’s a simple frame for the language that the school leaders intend to use daily, but it is also powerful because they truly mean to make the improvement that they stopped two days to plan, and they want their reporting program to grow from a cub into a pride. It’s also a kind of acknowledgement that they see that things are not fine and that they are at the beginning of a process that should yield dramatic improvement. Find your voice, practice delivering your vision, develop the vocabulary for it.

Sugar

Don’t forget to simile, laugh, cry and be real. Be real, vulnerable and open while you take off the facilitator hat and be the leader who is arm in arm with their leader team to improve the school together. Oh, and yes, have a bowl of something sweet around. I enjoy peanut M&M’s myself!

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