Strategic planning is a lengthy but extremely important process for all organisations, including schools. However, it is often pushed to the bottom of the priority list and not undertaken with the level of effort and expertise necessary to accomplish its objectives. Your school’s strategy underpins its goals and the direction of its resources; both tangible (monetary) and intangible (human effort), in order to achieve your desired outcomes. It is the document which defines and outlines your schools overarching focus areas (e.g., Academic Excellence, Student Well-being etc.), as well as the actions required to achieve these and the outcomes associated with success.
There are a number of important steps that must be undertaken when establishing your strategic plan to ensure that it is developed with appropriate rigor.
The first step in the strategic planning process is to gather data from key stakeholders. The best way to do this is through the development of a survey for each key group, to collect the most important and relevant information, opinions, and feedback. In the education sector, this would include gathering information from the Board/Council, Principal/Executives, staff, families, and students. Using an off the shelf survey, which has not been meticulously designed to take into consideration your schools specific circumstances, context, and history, is likely to result in data which will not be specific or useful enough to inform your strategic planning in any tangible manner. It is therefore vital that your surveys are designed carefully, by a suitably qualified expert in assessment design (e.g., business psychologist).
The next step is the analysis stage where data and information is analysed and key findings articulated and distributed to essential personnel for further assessment (if required), and discussion of results. Consultation will then occur with key personnel such as the Board/Council and Principal/Executives to discuss findings, conduct a gap analysis (comparing the schools current position with its desired one), and narrow down the scope of the draft strategic plan.
Once the draft plan has been created, additional consultation will occur with stakeholder groups. The consultation process can be lengthy, and should be handled in line with best-practice approaches and with your schools context and demographics in mind. Once final feedback has been gathered, the communication and change management plans can be created to guide the implementation and action planning stage.
The strategic plan can now be operationalised through action planning at the school-wide, Department, team, and individual levels and work can begin to accomplish the set goals and objectives.
The final stage of the strategic planning process mirrors the first, as performance and progress towards accomplishing the plan must be monitored and reviewed to ensure both accountability and return on investment. Data must be gathered from stakeholders at regular intervals during the operation of the strategic plan, and success measured against previously set, objective criteria. This is repeated again at the end of the strategic plan cycle to inform the next.
Managing Trust and Confidentiality
Creating and maintaining complete trust in this process is essential if you are going to receive honest feedback. However, stakeholders, in particular staff and families, sometimes hold concerns about how data is going to be gathered, stored, and distributed, and/or how confidentiality is managed during the consultation process.
Although many schools and their Boards/Councils have a range of skills and competencies that can be effectively utilised to spearhead strategic planning internally, there are a number of potential benefits to having your strategic planning managed in part or whole by an external party. Having an impartial third party handling your sensitive student, staff, family and school data will increase the transparency of the process and help to encourage all involved parties to be open and honest in their responses and communications without the fear of backlash and with the comfort of knowing their responses are completely confidential.
When choosing an external provider ensure that you discuss this with them at length as not all providers are made equal. As Registered Psychologists we are held to strict professional standards and a Code of Ethics, highlighting that your data and sensitive information will be treated with the highest level of privacy, integrity, and professionalism.