Strategic Storytelling: A School Leader's Guide to Annual Strategic Planning

June 22, 2023
Strategic Planning
Data-Informed Instruction
Instructional Leadership
Dr. Ben Klompus, Jesse Corburn, and Denarius Frazier

On the first day teachers return to school in August, principal Denarius Frazier is waiting for them with a warm hug - and a plan. After catch-ups and welcomes, they review the “State of the School” - a presentation that captures that year’s big goals, focus areas, and the specific actions that staff will take to move toward their goals. This leads naturally into their August professional development.

And the best part is - most of the staff have seen this plan before. They know what it’s based on, and they helped to craft it. They are bought in to a coherent and shared plan for success.

Writing an annual strategic plan: it is both the pride and the bane of the school leader’s role. Sometimes filled with lofty goals, sometimes a bureaucratic exercise; sometimes a reflection of one leader’s singular vision, and other times, weighed down by input-by-committee.

How can school leaders create an annual strategic plan that works - one that guides their team on a path to reach their ambitious goals for student success?

In our experience working with thousands of leaders from around the country, we have found that the most effective leaders - like Frazier - see their annual strategic plan not as a blueprint, but as a story. This story is:

  • Grounded in data
  • Focused on a few, highly important goals
  • Clear on the actions staff need to take to reach those goals
  • Crafted with multiple rounds of input from the school team
  • Revisited at multiple points in the year to refocus their efforts and look forward.

It is a story rooted in each school’s unique mission, history, and culture, made real through photos and other reminders of the student lives that they will change. It is not just pretty words, but a concrete set of action steps and progress metrics that helps the team know if they’re on the right track. It is best started mid year, with lots of lead time to review data, plan, and revise. However, the basic process can be useful at any time - even mid-summer before the next school year.

A How-To for Creating Your Own Strategic Plan

 “Strategic Storytelling: A School Leader’s Guide to Annual Strategic Planning” is a step-by-step guide to annual strategic planning based on the work of school leaders who are leading their teams to achieve exceptional results for students.

Including worksheets, templates, and examples from actual strategic plans, the guide explains how to use data to identify your school’s most important priorities and name measurable end-of-year goals, actions to drive improvement, and progress metrics. It also describes how to organize your team to identify and create all the needed tools, calendars, and systems that are so critical to successfully executing the plan.

As Frazier says: “You’re really doing strategic planning now [in the winter] to be ready on Day One [in the summer] when every single stakeholder returns. This starts with you as a leader.”

To receive support and practice creating annual strategic plans amongst a group of talented peers, check out Relay's Leadership Programs. And to read more stories of leaders making progress on student achievement, wellness, and equity, explore Follow the Leaders.

Dr. Ben Klompus, Jesse Corburn, and Denarius Frazier

Dr. Ben Klompus is a former teacher, leader, and current Vice President of Innovation and Impact at Relay Graduate School of Education. Jesse Corburn and Denarius Frazier are former teachers, school leaders, and Assistant Superintendents at Uncommon Schools.