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Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Building a Strategic Plan for Your District

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This is a guest post by Teresa Daulong, Battelle for Kids' Strategic Measures Specialist. Teresa works daily with large urban school districts across the country to help every employee understand their impact on student success. With 16 years of experience working with organizations to improve performance, she believes that creating systems of shared accountability is the key to success both at home and in schools everywhere.

How do you get your team focused? Do you have a clearly defined strategy and end goals? In sports, coaches share their strategy with their team at the start of each season and adjust it before each game based on past performance, conditions, and resources. Strengths and weaknesses are carefully dissected, plans for improvement are made, and rewards are presented. A team is unlikely to be successful without a clearly-defined game plan.

So, why not use this same approach in our schools? Change is difficult under the best of circumstances. When district teams are all working toward a set of shared goals, it can build understanding, promote collaboration, improve efficiency, and accelerate school improvement efforts. Educators are more likely to support change when they have a clear understanding of why and where they are going.

Parents may ask their children to, "Please take out the trash," only to be met with, "Why?" (along with a generous amount of whining and complaining). However, when a parent puts the request in context-- "The garbage truck will be coming shortly, so please take the trash out before it arrives"--they are more likely to see action. Likewise, making the connection between an employee's or department's role and the organization's strategic vision helps to foster acceptance and participation. Showing teachers, principals, or central office staff how their work connects with the district's larger educational-improvement goals encourages teamwork. And teamwork leads to success. People intrinsically want to follow a defined plan to reach an established goal.

Take a moment and look, really look, at your organization's strategic plan. First, do you have one? If so, do you view it as a living document? When was the last time you read it? When was the last time it was reconfigured or rewritten? Does your staff even know it exists? Are you communicating it regularly? Are your goals and measures of success posted in scoreboard fashion for everyone (internal staff and visitors) to see? Do you frequently sit down with your team and review its contents? Do your goals have measures associated with them that let you know when you are being successful or need to focus on improvement? Most importantly, does every staff member know how and why they fit in and how they can make a difference?

Dorothy followed the yellow brick road and ultimately reached Oz. Have you created a yellow brick road for your team? Does your team even know the yellow brick road exists?

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