As the saying goes, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. This can be a big failing of many strategic or school improvement plans. There simply is so much that we want to accomplish, we want to put everything into our improvement plans and we want to fix our schools today not tomorrow. Our passion and commitment to providing the best possible education for our students can lead to many school improvement plans becoming big ‘to do’ lists with no real sense of method or strategy behind the items.
Even when the list of priorities has been formed, another problem can surface down the track. New projects sometimes begin that were not part of the original plan. These new projects add to what everyone is already trying to do and, furthermore, competition for use of a school’s finite resources intensifies. These new projects are easily justified by being clearly linked to the school’s vision, so the intention is good but the school’s priorities and plans begin to get muddied.
The result, a plan where some things get done but also a lot of incomplete items and much frustration, even disillusionment. So, how do we turn this around to ensure that our plans are focused and are executed more successfully?
- Distinguish between maintaining and tweaking versus taking on major projects: It is important to recognise all the things we are currently doing before taking on new projects. Sometimes, to start on a new project means stopping work somewhere else, as there are only so many hours in a day. Alternatively, more efficient ways of doing things need to be in place to ‘free-up’ time for the new and exciting work. If a new project requires the re-deployment of tasks, it is important to carefully assess whether any current and important maintenance work will be compromised. Quite often I see leaders in schools making minor improvements and tweaks to some of the things that they do; this all takes time and needs to be accounted for before major new work commences.
- Stop taking on new projects once the plan commences: Never mind how good the idea may be, there needs to be a strength of leadership in saying “no” to new proposals and giving undivided attention to the plan that so many have taken the time and care to formulate. Should a new project need to be taken on mid-course, then the school improvement plan should be re-visited and adjusted accordingly. What will be sacrificed to make way for this new idea?
- Avoid having too many new grandiose projects: Fewer is better, ensuring that adequate resources can be allocated to supporting your school reach its targets. Successful introduction and, more importantly, completion of projects inspires confidence, trust and the will of teachers to support new ideas. Time needs to be scheduled for the new projects, if other things that are vital and important to your school get pushed out of the way as a result, then perhaps there is too much on everyone’s plate.
Good school leaders, when working with their team, are mindful of the ‘sweet spot’ that they need to hit in terms of teachers and support staff being challenged to improve the school and progress forward. Missing the sweet spot can tip staff into a ‘danger zone’ of being overwhelmed with the task(s) in front of them and their ability to achieve the goal(s) set. Too much pushing from leaders can lead to misalignment with the school’s plan, whereas a carefully weighted pull can move everyone in the desired direction.