Budgets are tight. Staff are stretched thin. How can you ensure the plan you’re putting YOUR name on is the best possible path forward for your school?
By asking one simple question: How do we know?
Check out the webinar
“How Do I Drive Change?”
School leaders are responsible for building and passing budgets that have will have long term impacts on the well-being of both students and the communities those schools serve. But predicting the future is a dicey business.
That’s why we advocate every school leader learn when and how to ask the most important question of all:
Below we’re going to outline 5 variations on this question, each of which you need answered before you sign on to any plan, whether you’re the superintendent who will have to advocate for it, or the school board member who will have to sign off on it. Getting the answers to these 5 questions will ensure that your team has done the hard work that goes into building high quality, budget-conscious school improvement plans. When you’re done, you’ll know that the plan in front of you is:
- Backed by solid research
- Informed by data
- Vetted by local staff
- Aligned to goals
- Acceptable to your community
1: How do you know what the problem is?
In any good strategic planning process, real time should be invested in diagnosis. If your team tells you “we want to increase 3rd grade interventionists because scores are low,” ask them “how do you know the problem is in 3rd grade instruction?” If you hear “we’re changing the schedule because we think it will improve our high school math proficiency rates” ask “how do you know the issue is with the schedule?”
If your team has done their homework, they’ll be able to tell you how they diagnosed the problem they’re fixing. If they’ve been sold on a plan that worked somewhere else, or the hottest new intervention package, you’ll learn that, too.
Signs of good answers:
- Diverse input, not “our team likes…”
- Data analysis, not anecdotes
- Research, not brochures
- Linked to specific goals, not a generalized concern
2: How do you know this is the most important investment?
There are far more challenges deserving resource than most schools could begin to address. Prioritization is absolutely key. Part of the strategic planning process must be winnowing down the list to the highest value investments. Your team should have gone through this process and be able to defend their decisions.
A really common budget management approach is to take all the discretionary spending and give it a haircut. That is bad planning. A top shelf administrative team has to be willing to make tough calls in the best interests of the kids, even if it’s a call you *really* don’t want to make. That means knowing how and why some programs are going to make the cut and others aren’t.
Your team should be able to tell you:
- How did they go through the prioritization process?
- Who was part of that process?
- What data did they use to justify their choices?
- How did they weigh their choices?
This process is inherently complex, given the nature of mandates and grant requirements. If your team has done their homework, this will be a rich conversation and show you how well they understand their subject matter, too.
3: How do you know this solution will work?
Once you know your team has chosen both an accurate problem and the most critical problem, you need to know that their solution is the one worth your investment.
- What was their selection process?
- What variables did they include in that process?
- What resources did they consider, including internal resources?
- What are the implications and consequences of choosing this solution over other options?
4: How will I know it worked?
At some point, you will face the question “did it work?” Most often, this comes in the form of “should we spend that money again?”
The wrong way to answer this question is “I don’t know, I’ll go figure it out.”
Make sure your team plans in advance to answer that question as the money is spent, so you never waste money on the same wrong solution twice. Or keep solving a problem that you successfully addressed.
- When will we get a progress report?
- What are your benchmarks?
- What does success look like?
- What kind of feedback is built into the rollout process?
5: What CAN’T we live with?
This is a question that requires a really engaged board. The administrative team needs to know what the boundaries are, but they also need a board that’s keeping the big picture firmly in mind. A board that acts as a conduit between the administration and the community it serves is absolutely essential to ensuring you get the right balance.
The best solution might require a big bond, or a significant schedule shift that will have ripple effects through the community. What if the administrative team comes up with a bold, innovative solution that changes the structure of all classrooms?
Before you can launch a plan that could cause backlash, you need to know what the community is prepared to support.
Engage your community in exploring:
- What does a quality education look like for our community?
- What are our top priorities?
- How important are educational traditions?
- Do you have community leaders open to raising funds or not?
The strategic planning process is complex. It can be easy to feel out of control. Continually asking “how do we know?” is the best and only way to ensure that your team is doing the essential work to build a plan that will lead to real, lasting school growth and continuous improvement.
Check out the webinar
“How Do I Drive Change?”
Live Talk: February 9, 2017