I have studied problem solving and the arts of strategy for decades, and their application to schools for more than 15 years. Simply, school organizations have gotten strategy wrong; we have been active but ineffective problem solvers. During times of relative stasis, that is a condition we can live with; during times of dynamic change it is not. If we want educators and schools to shift from static mindset to growth mindset, we have to re-build our toolkit.
With all due respect to the strategy thought leaders of the past, those time-tested methods are no longer effective. From the board room to the principal’s and headmaster’s offices to the classroom, we have to leave behind those worn out methods and adopt a new way of finding and solving problems, of creating innovative opportunities, of re-tooling our organizational mindset to flourish in this time of change.
This is the first of a six-part blog series on the shift from traditional strategic planning to what I have started calling “zero-based strategic thinking”. It is relevant to teachers, administrators, trustees…and students. My thinking is completely intertwined with, and influenced by, that of Bo Adams, with whom I am presenting on this subject at the National Association of Independent Schools conference later this month. Bo and I have been collaborating on the evolving nature of strategic thinking and implementation in schools for nearly five years, and that collaboration is bearing real fruit. His work at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta is setting a new standard for how schools create and implement a transformed vision of the learning experience, particularly at the classroom-teacher-student interface. My focus has been at the organizational level, and as I work with both private and public school teams we see just how much more effective and inclusive this new approach to strategy can be. This blog series is based on a slide that Bo and I will use for the first time at our NAIS presentation next month, and that I will use a few days later at a workshop I am leading for the National Business Officers Association.
Here is the shift; it is relevant if you are a chief executive, principal, department chair, classroom teacher, or any other adult or student, working with others to solve a problem, or to find the right problem to solve:
- From brainstorming within the frame…To questioning that expands the frame.
- From coalescing ideas around what we have done…To building vision around what we might do.
- From covering all the bases…To imagining what school looks like without “bases”.
- From creating a comfortable action plan that angers no one…To designing capability that amplifies innovation.
- From preserving traditional roles and silos…To building a sustainably dynamic learning community.
In the rest of this series, I will go into more detail about each of these shifts and how they apply to your forward leaning work. I will also build on these in my book that will come out later this year, and in my upcoming calendar of workshops with school teams around the country.
This excites me greatly, Grant! The shift in thinking/mapping is long overdue, especially when everyone keeps talking about a “new normal” in independent schools. Though I am overly tired of that phrase, it does incite us all to ask questions about what other aspects of what we do require a new normal. You are dead on and leading the charge in strategic thinking, and colleagues such as Bo and others are also doing similarly in learning.
What I am hopeful for is that this type of thinking and discussion shifts the cultures of independent schools (all schools, for that matter) to a “new” place. I can envision similar conversation about the shifts required in these other aspects of schools: time, schedule, consensus, collaboration/isolation, place, traditions, parent-teacher partnerships, public/private partnerships–I could go on and on! It is an exciting time to be a part of schools!!!
Thanks, Angel. I think we are on that cusp. Schools have fallen into the trap of trying to evolve new paradigms using the same tools. We listen to “experts” who were successful in the past…under very different and more static conditions. I think and hope this will change!
[…] I have studied problem solving and the arts of strategy for decades, and their application to schools for more than 15 years. Simply, school organizations have gotten strategy wrong; we have been a… […]
I’m very excited about this, too! The one about “designing capability that amplifies innovation” while not being paralyzed by fear of angering someone opens a whole ‘nuther question: how to bring into the discussion those you may anger and whose cooperation — and collaboration — you need.
Great question, Cynthia, and I am not one who believes there is a recipe that works in every situation, so I would have to know more. But one thing we do know is that when people are authentically engaged in a process that starts with questions, dreams, aspirations, and vision, and understand what is driving decisions…what Bo Adams calls the ethnography of the organization, they are much more likely to be able to buy into the results. That is why this is a revolution in process, not just a different way to enforce bad strategy.
This is outstanding conceptualizing – I love the ideas, the energy, the moving-beyond the historical thinking. Pushing beyond the routine boundaries — great stuff. How does one then “rebuild” the airplane while it remains in flight – i.e., how do the same school folks, deep and steeped in routine/tradition, reconstruct teaching & learning, without losing courage, direction, and commitment to change?
Suggestion: each person has to ask — is all this about teaching, OR is it about the learning of the individual learner. If the latter — then virtually ALL the questions, dreams, aspirations, and visions may have to be radically reconstituted. If the latter — everything changes on a dime, mid-air. If not, there’s not even a crash – just a slightly different droning of newer jet engines. Nonetheless, I truly applaud what you all are doing! Stephen Kennedy, former head of school
Thanks, Steven. My sense is, and this is the nature of my work now, that much of what “school” has provided in the past is in the process of reconstitution, whether we school people like it or not. Clearly we need to look at who and what we are through a different set of windows than we have in the past. If you un-retire, we can work on it at your next school!