Aligning Your District’s Initiatives: How to Achieve Coherence & Impact
Our schools operate at a rapid pace as they are dynamic environments with a number of moving parts. As leaders, we are continually attending to matters of teaching and learning, making sure our curricula are rigorous and standards-based, checking in on culture and learning outcomes using data to measure results…and much more. Undeniably, there is a long list of priorities. To execute these work streams well and to best serve our students, we must engage in responsive strategic planning. Too often, districts create multiple plans that don’t guide or prioritize the needs well, creating chaos, resulting in a lack of a true roadmap.
Many districts benefit from developing a comprehensive 3-5 year strategic plan. By establishing a robust planning process, you can deepen your understanding of stakeholder needs, build coherence across district initiatives, prioritize efforts to maximize value for students, and define success metrics. It is important for other school-based or district-wide plans to fit well with the overall comprehensive and responsive strategic district plan.
The planning process is key. Consider asking yourself these questions as you establish your planning process:
- What does your district do well?
- What did you learn from previous planning cycles?
- Do you want to lead the process yourself, or be a participant?
- Which stakeholders are essential to include to get buy-in and increase the likelihood of a successful implementation?
Given the current educational environment, we advise you to build part of your plan around your professional learning strategies as these are critical to achieving positive outcomes for our students. This piece of the plan should empower your instructional staff to continue sharpening and elevating their collective competencies. Other critical aspects of your strategic plan may include a technology strategy, a curriculum review and adoption strategy, and MTSS strategies to support Tiers 1, 2, and 3 interventions. But of course, you and your stakeholders will work together to identify the top areas of focus for your plan.
Reflect on Values and Priorities
It is incumbent, as a leadership team, to accurately identify the number of initiatives that are operating and ensuring work streams are aligned and working together in supporting the vision, mission and goals of the district. Often, we can lose sight of our mission and priorities. By engaging in a comprehensive planning process, we can get our entire community aligned on our path ahead to ensure we are supporting our teachers and students in the best way possible.
Engage your community
As you kick off your strategic planning process, think about how to intentionally engage your community and identify their priorities. First encounters with your community are critical – they set the precedent of how you will engage them throughout this process. We have developed and refined a process for community engagement that we think can be applied to any project. Our Stakeholder Engagement Guide identifies the key steps and a variety of methods that schools and districts can use to get input and facilitate buy-in from students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members.
The planning process should reflect a leveraged productivity model. This occurs when districts and schools are highly strategic in how they spend their time, allot resources, and approach the planning process. It involves a focus on key themes, common goals and high-impact strategies predicated on research and best practices. When the process is productive and inclusive, it can be very positive for the district, creating a surge in energy serving as a catalyst for engaging stakeholders, resulting in a high-impact plan which reflects district priorities and values.
Research Supports Purposeful Planning
Michael Fullan’s research on coherence supports the concept of aligning and focusing your work by examining the dynamics and components of your organization. In particular, his first quadrant of Focusing Direction is defined as “not just a matter of having uplifting goals, rather it is a process of continuous engagement.” (1) Translated, this relates to the importance of all stakeholders possessing a strong working knowledge of the why, how, and when behind the strategic plans of your district and the importance of continually monitoring key outcomes and the fidelity of implementation. Fullan further outlines the elements of Focusing Direction to include being purpose driven, creating goals that impact, having clarity of strategy and finally, all supported by change leadership
Planning in action!
PLC Associates is currently facilitating a planning and alignment initiative with Brentwood Union Free School District in New York. The district is well-known for their innovative and insightful approach to educating their students and continuously building an engaged culture. Brentwood, located on Long Island, has over 18,000 students, features two high schools, four middle schools, and eleven elementary schools. The district is auditing and examining their strategic plans, with a focus on creating connections and making sure that each plan is clearly focused on achieving specific and explicit outcomes. According to Betsy Smith, the lead PLC School Improvement Process Facilitator, “the district is in the process of identifying essential organizational and educational themes that operate as an umbrella driving their strategic vision. In this way, goals and action steps are tightly aligned which creates a streamlined set of strategies and processes that predictably lead to stellar results. We think about planning with the anchor and kite analogy. The anchor grounds the district firmly to its vision, mission, and goals, while the kite serves as a symbol for both the district and students to soar and realize their lofty goals.”
Getting Started Conduct an Audit and Put Together Your Strategic Planning Team
To conduct an audit, work with your leadership team to identify all current district and school levels initiatives and review them together by asking the following questions:
- Do we need to shift our initiatives to better reflect our district priorities?
- What are the major themes or areas of focus across the initiatives?
- Are there plans that have proven ineffective and need revision or “strategic abandonment?”
- Are resources properly allocated and aligned for maximum impact?
- How are we doing as a team measuring results of initiatives and being data driven, reflective, and iterative?
- Do we see any duplicative strategies that need to be reorganized or revised?
- What is missing that we need to add to our overall strategic plan?
You can then bring the findings of this audit to your strategic planning process to ensure strong alignment. This is a great start to the planning process! Check out our strategic planning guide for other key tips to creating inspiring and responsive strategic plans.
(1) Michael Fullan Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems
(2) Stephen Covey The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People