4 Steps of Strategic Planning for School Leaders

Dejected, forlorn and without hope, he says nothing, he does nothing, just watches the nightmare unfold, as the nations’ team tumbles into humiliation at the hands of novices.

He is dismissed from his post with the media shouting loudly that he simply did not have a plan, no strategy in place to deal with the situation on the field. He just sent the team out doing what they always did and hoped it would be enough. It wasn’t.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”

– Professor Michael Porter

Roy was and still is a good leader. He has enjoyed success in many situations where others would have struggled, but he did not have a strategy to take the national side past the level they had reached previously. Those in his leadership team around him were not able to bring any positive influence to bear so that the outcome could be different. Without an effective strategy, a shipwreck occurred and all was lost.

Effective school leaders are masters of strategy, it’s not that they have left the operational aspects of school behind, but they have developed insight and skill in understanding the frameworks and nuances of strategic planning and execution.

bulb light-2

Davies and Ellison (1999) suggest that schools should engage in three types (or levels) of planning activity and integrate them into a cyclical process through which they can manage their strategic development over time. This model has been updated by Davies (2006) as follows,

Short term

This refers to one or two-year planning and the creation of operational school development plans. These short-term plans need to be focused on practical and achievable areas of school improvement and need to be driven by specific operational development teams.

Medium term

This refers to the strategic analysis used to create a strategic intent for the less predictable areas of medium-term planning. It also refers to traditional planning processes to produce strategic plans for definable and predictable areas of development. Medium term plans are best put together, monitored and reviewed by a standing group that meets regularly to manage the various strands of the school’s strategic plan.

Long term

This refers to future thinking to identify longer-term fundamental shifts in the educational environment and provide a future perspective. In larger schools, this process may be promoted by ‘research and development groups’, set up as task-and-finish groups.

A strategically-focused school is one that is educationally effective in the short- term but has a clear framework and processes to translate core moral purpose and vision into an excellent educational provision that is challenging and sustainable in the medium to long term, Bennet (2000).

School leaders do not need to devise new frameworks for strategic planning, this area is well researched and readily available, we need to be courageous and forward thinking to employ strategic models, even though we may be in the midst of firefighting within the school community.

Strategic school leaders rise above the managerial daily school life and view the school and its future from a different perspective. Using a framework, school leaders can plan and implement a strategy to secure improvement, build capacity and enter into new territory. The following is adapted from a framework by Davies (2008).

plan table

Stage one: Generate intents

Generate a list of three to five strategic intents. These are intended to be significant changes and challenges that fundamentally move the school forwards.

For instance:

• Moving the entire curriculum of the school in a new direction across all key stages.

• Joining a new academy trust or federation.

• Cementing literacy, numeracy or business enterprise at the heart of the school ethos. Leaders, you must state your purpose, sum this up in keywords to guide day to day operations and as the foundation for future decision making.

• What is our core business in relation to this intent?

• What are we trying to accomplish for our students?

• What is our reason for existing?

Visualise the future… be courageous and think big! To write a statement of intent for each area answer this question, ‘What will this area of school look like in 5 – 10 years from now?’

Whatever you visualise should inspire you and others.

Stage two: Capability/capacity-building

For each intent (separately), list the early capabilities/capacities to be built in order to move towards achieving the intent. Each intent will then be taken separately to be developed (perhaps by different groups of staff or staff and other stakeholders).

Leaders, here you lead the analysis that helps the organisation look critically at itself. Tools to help you? the good old SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Or my favourite, MIC:

• What should we keep doing? Maintain

• What should we tweak? Improve

• What should we overhaul or start again? Change

Leaders, there had been no doing as yet! You are leading the leadership thinking across the community, facilitating focused dialogue with staff and stakeholders.

Neglect this collaborative thinking stage at your peril. Profiling will play a role here too. Find out about your staff afresh, find out about your students afresh, what are their needs? wants? training requirements? levels of morale and issues therein? Do this for each of your strategic intents.

strategic bulb

Stage three: Strategic processes to build intent

Take each capability/capacity to be built at stage two separately and set out the strategic processes which will be required to build it. In each case, this will involve the strategic processes of conceptualising; engaging; articulating.

Now, the leadership team get writing, still not doing as yet. Don’t be hasty, the pre-work is the equivalent of digging a deep foundation for future success.

Conceptualising: what could this look like for the school and for the staff involved? What can you as leaders see that others cannot?

Engaging: facilitation of the conversations, motivating others and encouraging participation in the wider dialogue.

Articulation: orally with staff, in writing to staff, laying down the structures of the strategy.

Leaders, set objectives that give action to the statements of intent and contain the goals to be achieved.

Effective goals set out clearly in relation to performance:

• How much
• What kind
• By when
• By whom

Assess your resources, assess your need for and then secure support.

Make sure your goals and objectives build upon your strengths, shore up your weaknesses, capitalize on your opportunities and recognise your threats.

Stage four: Implementation

What is the next step? Take decisions about implementation (or not), Is the school ready to?

• Move to phased implementation?
• Move to full implementation?
• Abandon the ideas as non-feasible or no longer appropriate?

Or does the school:

• Require further development and capacity/capability building in this area?

Now and only now should you start doing!



About our Community Expert

DianaOsagi_BlueCircle-1Diana Osagie
Community Expert | CEO Courageous Leadership Consultancy

After 16 years in senior leadership including six as a secondary headteacher, Diana is now one of the UK’s most recognised education leadership coaches.

She specialises in helping leaders and their teams develop their inner layer of courage; essential for true leadership and resilience.

Building relationships for an effective leadership team

I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot, together we can do great things – Mother Theresa

When I calculate the hours I have spent at work with my senior team, I’m staggered at the numbers! On average we spent 2340 hours together per year. Over the course of my headship, that’s 14,040 hours with a group of individuals that helped me change the lives of young people in our part of the world.

Can I say I loved every minute of it? Not without fibbing.

Can I say that I knew and loved my team? Absolutely.

Knowing your team is critical to the success you will experience together. With young peoples lives in your hands; it is even more crucial that as a leader, you get to know your team on a deeper level to ensure that you build a structure that promotes a thriving team culture.

leaders bulbs

As a leader, you have to complete a myriad of tasks but getting to know your team is one where you will not regret the time investment.

Why should we know our team? Surely everyone is here to do a job, we all get paid, everyone is professional and knows what needs to be accomplished. That may or may not be true, but you still need to know your team.

Let me suggest these reasons why:

1. Because you are in a relationship with them, and all relationships need nurturing

If you don’t know them and they don’t know you, what is the likelihood of your relationship thriving? If the relationship does not thrive, what is the likelihood that they will genuinely follow you as a leader?

2. You need to know they want the same thing as you for the school

Let’s assume they do, then you all need to have the same interpretation of the journey that is necessary to achieve the vision and objectives for that term.

3. You need to know their values

What is important to them? What do they think is trivial? What motivates them as a person? (not as a leader, but as a man or woman).

By knowing this, you are more likely to understand their point of view (note I did not say agree with it). However, if one team member is motivated by immediate praise, why would you wait until the end of the term to say well done?

4. Assess strengths vs. weaknesses

You would be wise to deploy them to their areas of strength whilst they work on their areas of weakness. You cannot do this if you don’t know them as people. They might be the Head of the curriculum, or be in charge of Key Stage One. They might be the person who analyses the data, but their title does not tell you much about their qualities and talents. You need to get to know them to find that out!

Juliet Erickson (2005) gave helpful team traits to steer leaders as they get to know their teams.

Using this framework, take some time to think about your team and plan ways to utilise their strengths in fulling the vision of your school community.

coggs leaders

Scenario #1.

First, we have Marcus or Maya. You know them, they are a people’s person. Great at making relationships and are always asking how decisions or procedures will affect the staff or pupils. They are wonderful at collaborating and are always saying yes!

They try to involve others and will build on all the ideas from everyone in the team. They are on your side; you can see them in the meeting if you close your eyes. You like them.

Building rapport with these guys?

  • If you are late you have good people reason.
  • Show that you are aware of how others will be affected by what you’re proposing.
  • Talk about your personal experience where relevant.

Scenario #2.

Then we have Denise or Dan. They are Mr or Ms Focused. They get to the point because they can think quickly and will ask questions about benefits and outcomes.

They can be assertive and confident (sometimes a little too assertive you think), but they are invaluable as their actions tend to get others focused and things get done. You like them.

Getting the best of them?

  • Be punctual and keep the meeting short. Be prepared for a variety of possible eventualities and questions. Start with a point or outcome you want.
  • Use evidence or backup that is very specific and factual.
  • Make your message well-structured.

Scenario #3.
In the corner we have Analytical Alice or Abdi; ‘give me details’ they say. They need to understand the thought and rationale behind everything. How detail and data are presented is important to them and they can get frustrated if others show a lack of clarity or depth into the detail.

You do like them, but sometimes they seem like they are holding back the pace as they ponder and force others to ponder the data or detail (did I mention they like detail?).

Getting the best out of them…hmmm, tricky:

  • Be pointed and technical.
  • Don’t rush the pace, take your time.
  • Don’t use words such as intuitive, think, believe, feel.
  • Do use words such as rational, know, prove, demonstrate and analyse.

hand pick

Scenario #4.

Now we notice Alan or Asmara. They are all about the process. Let’s get this done, get it done right, on time, on budget. They want you to decide a course of action, set up the timeline and don’t mess with it! If things go off track, they can seem overly upset about that.

They spend their time ensuring that people are on track and doing what is expected of them. Sometimes they are called complete- finishers. You depend on them, you like them.

To get the best out them…

  • Be able to answer questions in a direct, brief and decisive way.
  • Make your questions incisive, so that you know what you’re talking about. Don’t bother too much with small talk.
  • If you write an email, say what you want in the first brief paragraph, including any next steps you may have discussed.

Scenario #5.

Now we have Joanne or Jermaine. They are so creative, innovative and imaginative that they sometimes seem quirky! They are great at problem-solving, seeing how things could be and going off at a tangent to explore new ways of working.

They make meetings fun and provoke others to think differently. You like them a lot.

To get their strengths to the fore…

  • Wait to begin the business side of things until you see they are ready.
  • Be warm friendly and talkative.
  • Don’t rush go at a relaxed pace, avoid a sense of urgency.

Bring in the big picture early in the meeting, then use the rest of the meeting to bring the picture to life.

Scenario #6.

What about Rita or Richard? They are experts in their field. They are valuable members of the team, but their contribution tends to be in one specific area and that’s where they focus their questions too.

They might come across as selfish, as they only want to talk about that one area, or they may seem dismissive if the conversation does not include that area. You do like them, but they can be hard work!

Getting the best out of them?

  • You get what you are given and like it!
  • Just remind them from time to time to slow down so that everyone else can keep up!

leader boat

Successful schools have at their heart, thriving relationships. We can see the importance of investing time in understanding your team members and using that knowledge to help them perform at their best.

Two key components of any relationship are:


This is no different for relationships in the workplace.

So, whatever you do to get to know your team better, it needs to be centred around building trust and developing clear genuine channels of communication.

Let me put a caveat here…when you choose to trust someone you open a door of vulnerability for yourself. This does not mean you should not open the door, but you do need to be wise.
For example, don’t lay out every single mistake you have ever made in your professional life in the first meeting, because you want to be transparent and build trust!

Second caveat… trusting someone does not mean, not holding them to account, not monitoring their performance or having high expectations!

In this article, we started by looking at the relationships. Good leaders always start with people. Next time we look deeper into the structures and ways of working of an effective school leadership team.



About our Community Expert

DianaOsagi_BlueCircle-1Diana Osagie
Community Expert | CEO Courageous Leadership Consultancy

After 16 years in senior leadership including six as a secondary headteacher, Diana is now one of the UK’s most recognised education leadership coaches.

She specialises in helping leaders and their teams develop their inner layer of courage; essential for true leadership and resilience.