The Strategic Plan: Your Opportunity to Design for Sustainability

  • Published March 16, 2021
  • / By Kathleen Hanson

In this challenging time, it makes great sense for school leadership to reexamine their existing strategic plan to determine if course corrections are needed due to the effects of COVID 19, The Black Lives Matter movement, and other societal shifts we have experienced. Having a well-developed strategic plan is an asset to a school, and while things have changed dramatically, having the plan in place during this crisis will help you give precedence to initiatives that are most pressing. Since the strategic plan’s great opportunity is to design and problem solve for sustainability and relevancy, the revisiting of the plan is critical and can offer inspiration to members of the school community.

Since March of 2020, leaders in schools have been forced to be more tactical or reactionary in their decision making as opposed to the more customary strategic approach. As school leadership examines their current plan, they will likely recognize that their attention to implementation has stalled, and for very good reasons: Significant resources were deployed to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff during the Pandemic – all while delivering a strong education.

School leaders were faced with unanticipated challenges that forced them into reaction mode.

  • The immediate and crucial need to provide a credible remote learning experience, which for some schools was a challenge both in terms of technology infrastructure and faculty training. There was also pressure to deliver a remote learning experience that met parents’ expectations for quality.
  • The Black Lives Matter movement brought into focus questions around the experience of students and alumni of color. While these conversations are absolutely critical to delivering educational excellence to all, the movement came at a time when communications were already strained by the still new shift to remote work and virtual meetings.
  • The unexpected financial hardships of currently enrolled families required more financial assistance from the school.
  • While unanticipated, but positive, many parents whose children were in public or non-tuition charging schools moved to independent schools to ensure their child’s safety and continued education. This segment of the population requires ongoing stewardship to ensure they are engaged with the school’s mission and vision and understand the value their children are receiving from the move to the independent school model.

Now is the time that school leadership should ask the question “What will be required of us to successfully recover from this pandemic as well as the other challenges we are facing?” Once leadership answers that question, it is imperative that they revisit their current strategic plan and ask themselves “What are the urgent areas we must address?”

  • Is your current strategic plan, which was designed to ensure relevancy and sustainability, adequate for today and tomorrow’s challenges? If not, what is missing?
  • Are your core goals still appropriate and doable, given the school’s current position?
  • Are the research results amassed during the current plan’s development still germane to the immediate and changing needs? Do you need to understand the current views of parents, faculty, staff and involved alumni?
  • Will this crisis prevent you from achieving some of the strategies in your plan, at least in the near term?
  • What is coming up over the next few months that will require adjustments or a different approach and allocation of resources?
  • Are there new opportunities you need to capture now?
  • Is your financial situation requiring heroic philanthropy? What approaches will net the greatest outcome?

Focusing on the current plan and adapting it to meet the challenges of the coming year requires authentic conversations among Boards of Trustees and Leadership Teams. Some schools are planning shorter term to get to a well-defined stable position, while also thinking longer term to capture new opportunities. And many are taking lessons from this past year and learning that some quick, smart decisions turned out well.

As you make adjustments to your plan, communicate to both internal and external constituencies. If priorities are shifting, the internal community needs to understand the rationale behind it.

Updating your plan provides you with an authentic opportunity to communicate with donors and others who are supporters of the school. It provides a chance to let them know that you are on top of the issues and engaged in wise and far-sighted planning.