Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership

As a leader in my school and my system, how can I be much more intentional, purposeful, and deliberate in how we work to achieve improved student learning?

This has been a theme through our work all week. Dr. Elizabeth City worked with us this morning on “Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership,” and I think it is important to break that term down very specifically…

We need to be able to answer “Three Questions” about anything we are doing…

  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. How?

My own early definition of “Strategy” – a purposeful, intentional method to best achieve a specific outcome.

Dr. City offered a few ideas of her own about what “Strategy” often is…

  • Placing bets (or hedging our bets)
  • “The set of actions an organization chooses to pursue in order to achieve its objectives. These deliberate actions are puzzle pieces that fit together to create a clear picture of how the people, activities, and resources of an organization can work effectively to accomplish a collective purpose.” – Stacey Childress
  • A few carefully considered things to focus the systems work on that when put together, create a powerful engine for system improvement
  • A series of well informed, well educated bets
  • Balances problem solving with pursuing a vision
  • Evolves based on progress made, results and learning
  • NOT everything you do
  • NOT everything everyone wants you to do
  • NOT a sure thing
  • NOT something static
  • NOT a piece of paper or wall chart

Why does strategy matter? Does it matter?

A few days ago I would have grumbled about this question. Now I would say that Strategy is a tool that I can utilize to enable staff, parents, the admin team and myself to examine and make decisions beyond emotional responses. Strategy forces us to prioritize and make choices about what to do (and what not to do!) It allows us to marshal and focus resources and help our organization to move from where it is today to the brave and bold vision for student learning. Strategy needs to be both visionary and problem solving, or where do we want to go as well as what issues do we need to fix.

Unfortunately, Strategic Planning isn’t strategic if it:

  • Commits to doing too much
  • Tries to respond to everyone’s interests
  • Is static: doesn’t evolve based on learning
  • Sits on a shelf rather than driving our work

I have been the worst one to try to cram too much in our School Development Plan and let it be static, rather than using it as a driver for focusing and enhancing our work.

Working through this, I see our team has spent way too much time on wording and work that had very little productive value for our Strategic Planning process. I want to make sure we make it:

  • Targeted to improving student learning
  • Short and sweet
  • Easy to understand visually, like the CBE 3-Year Plan Overview chart
  • Addresses identified problems but leading to realizing our vision for learning
  • Everyone can relate their work back to it
  • Decision making is aligned to the strategy

Sounds simple, I know. It will be interesting to see how I can help our staff look at the School Development Process differently and developing Strategy differently. This must not be a worksheet activity or a make work project for us as a staff…

Work hard, learn tons!


2 Responses to Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership

  1. Hi Laurence,

    In looking at designing our Strategy for school development, I intentionally did the what (is the big picture outcome we are aiming for), the why would be making sure that this is the next right step for our school, and the what at the end as it should be the driver toward achieving the strategy, and must be in alignment.

    In real life, I would also think that this is not a linear process as much as a more iterative way of clearly looking at what needs to be done and making it happen.

    One of the big pieces I am taking home with me is that if our school utilizes our CBE 3 year plan along with our own School Development Plan (which should be in alignment) for decision-making, it will help not only me but our staff as well in making informed, strategic decisions about learning, budget, new initiatives, etc.

    Hope you are well Laurence! Great to hear from you!

  2. Laurence says:

    Your posts have been thoughtful, inspiring and engaging to read. Good to see your love for and of learning.

    I was just wondering about the three questions at the top. I would suggest, based on lots of experience, that we tend to frame our work in such a way, what, why and how. We get lots of the same form that order of thinking. Rather, I would argue we get somewhere different with our own thinking and how we influence others with the following same questions but changed order:


    That way, we start with our purpose not our actions. We get the emotional aspect of what we believe and do. We know form our purpose how we may accomplish “a purposeful, intentional method to best achieve a specific outcome.” This still deals with the emotional part of our brains – our acting brain. Finally, we can then rationalize the what. The what our rationalization of the why and how. Albeit simple, ad example might help.

    We are a learning organization that supports students in deep learning since there are fewer opportunities for young people to learn deeply in society (the why – purpose). We organize groups of students to work with adults, one another and content. Schools use schedules to offer students a variety of learning experiences throughout the day. We use technology to enhance multiple forms of representing content. And so on (the how of our purpose). We are a school, and we are involved in schooling (the what).

    Nice work Derek.


    Laurence Marks
    Graduate student on a Professional Improvement Fellowship

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