Strategy can be tricky, but it is an essential part of improving results and driving change in schools. It’s likely that your school has a strategic plan, but if you aren’t bringing that plan down to the faculty level it is unlikely that it will be implemented. At the end of the day, what happens in the classroom drives much of the action in schools. Whether or not your school’s strategy is clear and well-communicated, your faculty needs a strategy.
The problem with strategy
Strategic planning is often touted as a complex, demanding process requiring top tier consultants with MBAs, several empty whiteboards, and a deck of multicoloured post-it notes. There are lengthy discussions of vision, values, mission, purpose, and the subsequent confusion over which one of those words means what. Often the resulting statements are vague and amorphous, providing scant opportunities to develop any actions.
But strategy doesn’t have to be an onerous or tokenistic exercise. And it can be achieved at any level, from the board, through the school leadership, and down to faculties and individuals. Having a strategy simply means you have recognised the need for a set of guiding principles – some way to approach the overarching mission.
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Putting plans into action
On a faculty level, you’re the people who are largely responsible for implementing the strategy. You’re the ones adapting the overall strategy of the school, particularly the aspects of teaching and learning, curriculum, and pedagogy. But because strategy is often seen as a top-level affair, limited to the school executive or senior leadership team, it can often be difficult to bring the big ideas down to earth.
The answer: create your own strategy.
If your school has a clear strategic intent, with a mission and vision you can hang your hat on, great. Even if it doesn’t, your faculty can create one of its own. You don’t need hours of planning time, and you don’t have to use a single post-it note (unless you really want to).
Setting a faculty strategy
When it comes to strategy, I look outside of education. The business world has a lot to teach us about setting goals, expressing values, and developing strategy. Read around the topic and find something that resonates. I like the straightforward approach of Jim Collins and the “vivid vision” of Cameron Herold, but your strategic development should suit you and your team. There are some common elements along the way:
- Develop your vision, and clarify your values. For vision, I prefer a process where faculty members literally imagine what the school will look like in three or five years time, in their ideal world. Once everyone has articulated their personal vision, a statement can be drawn up that represents the whole group. From this, it is easy to define what people in the team value. I find this approach far more successful that starting with values, which tends to be an exercise in choosing and defending particular words (creativity, autonomy, etc.).
- Align to the school’s strategic intent. Whatever the level of your school’s strategic intent, you should be able to find areas to align your faculty strategy to. In an ideal world, this might mean a particular goal or strategic direction (such as “improve professional learning practices through clear teacher goal-setting and review processes” or “close the reading gender gap in the middle years”). If not, identify which broad areas to align to (for example “curriculum” or “teaching and learning”).
- Articulate how you’ll achieve the vision. This is why it’s important to go beyond the post-it sentence vision statement. If your vision is clear, it is much easier to define the pathway to achieving it. Depending on your favoured method of strategic planning, this might involve goal-setting, objectives, an action plan, or all of the above. I have found it useful to have short, mid, and long-term goals at a faculty level.
- Plan the implementation. One area where schools and businesses fall down is a failure to implement the strategy. Having a goal is fine, but if you do not take specific actions towards achieving the goal, there will be no forward movement. For each goal or objective, develop explicit steps that will enable to you to reach the outcome.
Putting it into practice
Although strategy is not as hard as it seems, it does require effort and consistency to pull it off. Here’s a partial example of the process above with an imaginary English faculty:
Vision and values: From the overall vision, one aspect might be, “there is a culture of reading at the school which encourages many students to read beyond the expectations of the curriculum.” A faculty value identified from this part of the vision might simply be “we value the practice of reading”.
Alignment: It will be useful to align the value of reading with the bigger picture. Many schools have a graduate learner statement or an aspect of their mission which includes lifelong learning – encouraging reading is certainly a part of that.
Goals and objectives: Getting more specific, a goal might be to “increase voluntary library borrowing by 30% over two years”. Easy to measure using library software, and a valid indication that more students are reading for leisure. The data you identify as a measurement of success should be focused and preferably from multiple sources.
Implementation: All faculty staff are responsible for modelling reading. Implement silent sustained reading time in classes. Hold book fairs, book week celebrations, author visits, and so on. All of these are practical and measurable steps which can be taken to achieve the above goal.
Your strategy should be highly bespoke, so there are many other elements which could come into play. Do you have any school-wide problem areas which must be addressed? Are there any demographic, socio-economic, language, or other constraints? How will your strategy ultimately benefit the students?
The final strategy of the faculty should be concise enough that it can guide both the head of faculty and the team members through their decisions for the coming years. It can be flexible to allow for change (like a sudden pivot into remote learning), but concrete enough that specific actions can be taken and measured. Ultimately, there are many benefits to a faculty-level strategy, including:
- A clear starting point for curriculum decisions
- Pathways for individual and group professional learning
- Alignment to the school’s ‘bigger picture’ mission and strategy
- Clarity for the faculty leader
- A smooth transition for new staff
If you’re a head of faculty or school leader and you’d like to discuss setting a strategy for your team, please get in touch: