Planning school improvement is a time consuming process, it can take months or, in some cases up to a year. Yet despite the time commitment invested and the development of, what we may think, is a carefully constructed plan, there may still be some shortcomings. One flaw that is common to many school improvement / strategic plans is that consultation has not been wide enough and key stakeholders may have been excluded from the process.

We know that consultation takes time, there are voices that we may not want to hear, as they get in way. These may be our reasons, amongst others, for not including important people in the planning process. In saying that, excluding key stakeholders and failure to consult widely is done at our peril. When the final plan is unveiled, its vision, values and goals are not owned by the school community if this step has been missed. To a point, they feel that input has been limited to a few and this is their plan as opposed to our plan.

Those involved in executing a plan struggle to comprehend something that they were not part of creating. They struggle to grasp the roots of the plan: Where did it come from? Why do we need it? Who developed it and, crucially, what does the plan require of them and why?

Participation of a variety of people in the school improvement process is vital to ensuring most voices get heard; there is the opportunity for input and to be listened to. Students, teachers, support staff, parents and even the surrounding community can all provide valuable feedback and insights into the direction of where the school needs to head including present challenges and needs.

So, how do we make the planning process more inclusive? Meetings, surveys, drafts, sounding boards, representation and interviews all can contribute greatly to the information that is collected and the decision-making process that goes into forming a plan. We know, however, that we cannot take on every idea and respond to every piece of feedback, so it is important to ensure those participants we include in our planning process have a clear understanding of what is happening and how the process works, starting with an appreciation of what consultation actually is and is not. This is supplemented by regular updates on the planning process throughout, so that once the final plan is determined there are no surprises to those who have given their time to be involved.

Remember that being asked or being invited into a process from the start makes everyone feel included and is more than likely to get buy-in to the work that lies ahead.

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