High-Impact Planning: 4 things leaders and leadership teams need to know

Failing to plan is planning to fail! We might all agree with this truism but let’s take a reality check. Several school leaders, at all levels of leadership, either don’t plan or insufficiently plan. How do I know this? From my work in a wide range of schools in diverse contexts, and with multiple school leaders and leadership teams over time.

1. Clear components of a high-impact plan

I am not talking about strategic plans or annual plans. I am talking about a high quality implementation plan which specifies and details how a particular strategic or annual goal and its targets will be attained in a specific period of time. I often call this a ‘Project Plan’, which includes and clearly states the strategic actions to achieve the goal and targets, when each action will be concluded, the criteria to evaluate the success for each action, and

key personnel who will be responsible for each strategic action. Sounds common sense? Unfortunately too many schools don’t have a high quality implementation plan for each of their critical teaching and learning improvement goals.

2. Plan for high-impact, don’t hope

Wishing and hoping for improvement is not going to drive high-impact success. Wishing and hoping will most likely bring some success but not the high-impact that could be achieved with a strong implementation plan that is collaboratively developed, concise and explicit, agreed to by key stakeholders, widely communicated, and reviewed thoroughly each quarter to measure progress and identify challenges. The alternative approach is to muddle along and hope everyone will be on board with the improvement, akin to the blind-leading-the-blind approach to leadership.

3. Include milestones to know impact

What about milestones? To be effective a high quality implementation plan for an improvement project or goal must include and state when each milestone will occur. In effect, at each milestone you hit a pause button to evaluate how the project’s progressing against the success criteria stated in the plan (see above). You then inform relevant stakeholders of what you’ve found out. Milestones help to keep people committed to the project, feel good about its successes, and are opportunities to engage others in designing responses to the project’s challenges. Typically for a project, a milestone is reached, evaluated and reported on each quarter in a school year.

4. Identify planning steps for high-impact

What do you consider when designing an implementation plan for a priority project or goal? I’ve developed a ‘Six Step Strategic Improvement Process’ model to help. You will see in the model there are six key planning steps to consider and that Step 5 is the development of an implementation plan. This means that the foreground to an implementation plan is Steps 1 to 4, with how you intend to respond to those steps included in the actual plan. Finally, Step 6 is vital for keeping track of everything, and of critical and ultimate importance – what is the project’s degree of impact on student learning and how do you know this?

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