Five ways to encourage strategic thinkers
Be explicit about your strategy. Many personnel in schools, and certainly school principals, complain there is not enough time to think. Make clear to staff that you value and encourage thinking as much as you value completion of day-to-day tasks. Encourage staff to read and present new ideas as a regular session in staff meetings. Present ideas yourself and lead staff discussions. Provide an ideas box for students and staff. Gather information all year round so you constantly have relevant and timely data to inform decision making.
Provide time. Often school staff meetings begin with information sessions with time for thinking and professional development tacked on the end if there is time. Much of the information could be supplied on paper, via email or in one on one conversation to the relevant people. If information can be delivered by alternative means, it should not be included in the staff meeting. Turn staff meetings on their head! Start with professional development, reports from staff who have discovered an interesting piece of educational research or with a group reading of an article relevant to professional learning. If there is time left over, then provide information, although not if can be provided some other way.
Reward your creative thinkers. Look for ways to reward your creative and strategic thinkers. Provide opportunities for them to lead an important change. Provide time for them to attend meaningful professional development that focuses on ideas. Provide release time from class to follow up on a piece of important research.
Review board priorities. How much of your school Board’s time is focused on strategic matters, including monitoring the progress of strategic projects? How much time is spent in hearing verbal reports on matters already supplied in written reports? How much time is spent on operational matters which are not the business of boards? Look at your board agenda and change it to a strategic thinking focus. Allow questions about reports but do not allow the complete presentation of a report that board members should have already read. Listen to board concerns about school operations but continually remind board members that operations are the responsibility of the principal, not the board. Make central to each board meeting, one of the strategic priorities of the school. Provide a report on progress and reassure the board that strategic targets are on track while also discussing as a group the issues that might face the school in future.
Communicate. How much of what happens in your school is communication, and how much information giving? Review the information that leaves the school and the meetings and conversations that take place. How much is providing information that could be conveyed in some other way? How much goes to all people, when only a small number really need the information? Almost every review done in every school finds that one of the major problems perceived by stakeholders is no one communicates! And this is largely true. Schools generally supply an inordinate amount of information, but do not provide meaningful communication. And where there is little meaningful communication schools miss the opportunity to collect all of the ideas and strategic thinking that is out there. Encourage strategic thinking by constantly providing forums for the exchange of ideas and opportunities for meaningful dialogue which sparks creative solutions to issues facing your school.