A practical example of how one school went about organising a collaborative and inclusive vision building process for the school and translated this into a strategic plan.
It started with a fair amount of ‘behind the scenes’ thinking activity to focus people on key themes that were already present in the school’s development plan. Questionnaires and analyses were used widely to inform thinking.
- Governors were invited to discuss and complete a STEEEP analysis.
- Parents completed a questionnaire which invited them to comment on current provision and future priorities.
- Teaching staff used a proforma to ‘score’ their individual feelings about different areas of the work of our school.
All these activities were followed by discussion and clarification which proved developmental for each group. By the time they came to formalise the vision and mission there was already a level of agreement even though it may have been expressed in a variety of forms.
Writing the vision and mission was a crucial piece of early work in our quest to becoming a learning school. In existing school documentation we had aims and objectives which probably looked much like many other schools’, cribbed from all sorts of places. We went ‘back to basics’ during a ‘Vision Day’ of hour-long workshop sessions. Governors, teaching and support staff and parent representatives were invited to participate in what turned out to be an exhausting but rewarding series of discussions. Each group was asked to
- ‘Draw a picture of how your school should look in five/ six years time. No words to be used.’
Having overcome expected initial reluctance to stick-people, each group managed to create a Picasso-like representation of the future of our school, worthy of being framed. What came as a surprise to us at the time – but not when we looked back and discussed the whole process – was the similarity of ‘themes’ which arose in all groups.
This similarity of ideas made the whole process of writing vision and mission statements a relatively straightforward exercise. The School Management Team pulled all the ideas together to create a first draft. The statements were organised to match the strategic diamond framework to ensure that all areas of school effectiveness had been included. Added to this was all the information we had gathered from questionnaires and analyses. We considered it to be very important that everyone’s contribution was recorded or could be identified in some form in this statement.
The first draft was discussed and further improved at Governor and Staff meetings. It was finally ready for publication some two months after the initial drawings. It has proved to be a sound piece of work for us and we have no cause to add to or refine it. The main sticking point was in our attempt to find a suitable school motto which would encompass our sense of purpose and direction for our school. Discussions went back and forth and were eventually put back to the Governors. After only a few more carefully considered minutes they came up with ‘Learning for Life’. That moment was wonderful. Its powerful meaning of lifelong learning as well as learning for living has been more dynamic than we could have imagined. All other pieces of the jigsaw fell into place easily. It was as if all thinking and purpose of discussions had been focused on that moment and the ease with which everyone accepted it as being the obvious statement for us meant it just had to be. The next task was to translate the vision into a five year Strategic Plan. In many ways this proved to be the most intellectually searching for us. We had been used to implementing projects but we were now being asked to think about creating measurable targets, time-scales, budgets, staffing and staff development implications with review dates and, above all, evaluation. We needed to shift our thinking.
For the next INSET school closure day we invited all staff, Governors and parent representatives as before to review progress and see if any issues had been overlooked. No glaring omissions were identified but it was a valuable opportunity to continue involving all groups in order to move to the next phase. Teaching staff were then taken through the process of translating vision statements into goals and targets. This was a time of intensive thought and challenge to develop a shared understanding of what goals and targets really mean to our school. By the end of the day we had come up with agreed goals, associated targets and several strategies which were developed into two alternative five year plans. At each stage of discussion it was apparent that there was a real energy directed towards achieving the school goals. When both strategic plans were shared it was obvious that going through the process had been as important as the final result. A common language, an awareness of the inter-relationships of each project, an understanding of the size of each strategy being proposed, increased a sense of teamwork from all staff.
The final-draft Strategic Plan grew easily from the shared sense of purpose and proved a relatively easy matter to sequence and prioritise. There had been strong elements of leadership in creating this shared understanding but at the moments of final pen to paper participants felt it was their own contributions which were being included. This draft was then offered to Governors and staff for further discussion and notes taken from each group before reaching final agreement.
In looking back over those months of work we feel fitter and stronger to meet challenges which face our school.
- There is a feeling of shared purpose, collaboration, of school identity and a secure knowledge that decisions are taken strategically.
- We are starting to have measures of our success rather than only having a feeling for it.
- We are more effective in targeting and developing key resources and we now have the means of identifying strengths and relative weaknesses in a systematic way.
- We feel that our school has developed a climate in which we are flexible enough to take on board the unexpected as well as being strong enough to resist any transitory ‘band-wagon’.