Not long ago, a curious Grade 1 student at my school wanted to know more about my job. He asked his teacher, “So what does that office boy do?”
While I am not convinced that the question was answered thoroughly, it did create a good laugh, and netted me both a t-shirt and a coffee mug with the new title of “Office Boy”.
So, what do I do? Some years ago, I came to the conclusion that one of the most important jobs I have, besides taking care of people, is my role in the strategic planning process.
It became clear to me that vision and direction is crucial to a flourishing school and, as a result, offers all students profound, stimulating Christian learning opportunities. As background, books such as Mission-Directed Governance (Leonard Stob, pages 113-119) and Guiding Schools to Flourish (Henry Contant, Ed Noot, pages 17-21) provide great insights regarding the necessary ingredients to leading and developing your school.
Sadly, I have seen strategic plans that have been
constructed with the greatest of intentions, only to be cast to the fringes of
the organization’s growth and development—not intentionally, but rather as a
result of missing the presence of a well-positioned person paying close,
sustained attention to the process and product.
I believe that you, as a school leader, are the most effective person to guide, coach, and encourage the process, product, and implementation of your school’s strategic plan.
You, as leader, are one of the few people who best understands the myriad of decisions, discussions, and recommendations that happen in every corner of the organization. You hear the board’s conversations, you participate in staff room banter, and you discuss a variety of topics with parents in the parking lot, via email, and over the phone.
You have been blessed to have a “front-row seat.” Your words and actions matter. You choose what and when to say something both formally and informally. You have the ability to place the strategic plans on the forefront of everyone’s minds. You have the privilege of encouraging and challenging people. You are the one with the platform to put accountability structures in place and ensure that goals and timelines are being met. You get to see, highlight and celebrate strategic thinking and strategic movement.
What an incredible amount of privilege and platform, however these must be used with the right posture, including responsibility, prayer, servanthood, and humility. Let your prayer and posture as a leader mirror the intent of Nehemiah’s prayer when the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed:
“Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God,
Who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep his commandments,
let you ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer
your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants,
the people of Israel.” (Nehemiah 1:5,6a)
Wonder what specifically your role is in the process of strategic planning? Here are a number of strategic planning tasks and how your involvement will help the process.
Planning for Planning
You will ensure that strategic planning is on both your and the board’s mind. Promote an understanding that strategic planning is central to the school's development. The initial board discussion will include items like the timeline, strategic planning team composition, and choosing the professional who will lead the planning process.
Once the Board has made the decision to hire a planner, you and the planner will meet together to discuss items such as planning templates, planning stages, meeting dates and times, drafting process, and presentations.
As the process of strategic planning unfolds with your team, you will become an active participant, balancing the tension between listening and speaking. You can provide history that helps the members of the team to understand the context of various topics.
You will guide and advise the planner through the feedback loops that have been established. For example, as the planner looks for feedback from staff and community regarding the draft plans, you can serve as a support to ensure that the communication and implementation of those events are well done.
Decisions will need to be made regarding the process flow of the draft document. The document may move from the team to the staff and community, back to the team for adjustment, and onto the board for their reactions. After the draft has been presented and discussed sufficiently, the board will need to approve a motion for the plan’s adoption into a final document. That action then signals your involvement as the “keeper and implementer” of the strategic plan.
Implementation and Accountability
The next step involves the assignments and timelines of various tasks to specific people in the organization. Now that the approval of the plan is complete, the actions resulting from the plan are what drives the change and development of your school. Your role will include communicating to the person responsible for a task, charting progression towards the completed action, adjusting implementation speed as necessary, and reporting progress to the board and the community.
Celebration and Kudos
The completion of assigned tasks is energizing. The resulting growth will encourage the staff, the students, and the community. Don’t forget to celebrate along the way. Stop for a moment and acknowledge a job well done. A hand-written note, an encouraging word, and public recognition are examples of celebration.
So… what do you do? You take care of your school by ensuring that growth and development are part of its DNA. You empower people to participate in the planning and implementation of the strategic plan. You speak, direct, and encourage. You play a significant role in the life of your school’s strategic plan.
There! Should a curious Grade 1 student ever wonder about what it is that you do, you now have the answer!
George Petrusma is the South Toronto Region Cohort Leader and Principal at John Knox Christian School in Oakville, ON.