Feb 29, 2016

Strategic Planning or School Improvement?


Independent schools and colleges often mistake a strategic planning process with a school improvement plan. What’s the difference?There are significant differences between the two processes, their purposes, and the potential outcome of each. They actually lead to different outcomes and rely on a different set of data.  Here are three of the most important differences between school improvement and strategic planning.

  • Change Produced – School improvement produces tangible change that is typically incremental and evolutionary, while strategic planning often results in more dynamic and revolutionary change.
  • People Involved – School improvement is most often an annual, highly operational, and management-led process while strategic planning is reserved for generative thinking on a systematic basis involving the most strategic thinkers the institution can get their hands on.
  • Research Used – School improvement relies more on internal feedback generated by stakeholders, such as the “strengths” and “weaknesses” of a SWOT analysis or general “customer satisfaction” surveys.  Strategic planning, on the other hand, is more interested in the external environment, such as the “opportunities” and “threats” of a SWOT analysis or environmental and trend scanning.  

We often find that schools and organizations that are involved in strategic planning will mistake the process for a school or college improvement process.  They misread tangible customer feedback as a sign that the organization must respond tactically to every negative theme from stakeholders in a survey, rather than seeing the larger theme and generating insight and opportunity from it. Some things identified in a research report or survey are better off left for the management team to address.

As your school or college discusses strategic planning processes, make sure everyone is on the same page and shares a common perspective on the process, purpose, and potential outcomes of each.  

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