Mission & Data Blog Guest Contributor:
Head of School at The Madeira School (McLean, VA) &
Head of School Elect at The Overlake School (Redmond, WA)
Great schools are vibrant, highly relational communities. There is innate balance between the institution and the individuals involved. As a result, it is sometimes difficult for schools to create short- to mid-term institutional goals that are concrete and measurable. If each member of a school community is seen as an individual, how can overarching goals be relevant for all?
Management expert Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great, “if you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” In schools where we frequently add programs (and related goals) and rarely take any away, it is important to simplify and streamline goals and priorities as much as reasonable.
I am a fan of Patrick Lencioni and the way he thinks and writes about leadership, team building, and organizational health in the business world. In Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni shares a story about a new CEO coming into a struggling tech firm. The company has hired top individuals in their respective fields, but the firm is still struggling. The tale engages the reader in a story that illustrates the dysfunctions of a team.
Midway through the story, the new CEO has built some relational capital among the team and they begin to discuss and debate ideas openly. But the forward momentum ceases when discussing what the top goal should be for the rest of the year. Different individuals put forth different, department-specific priorities. Increase revenue! Increase the number of customers! Decrease costs! Increase market share! Lencioni takes the reader through a showcase of how the new CEO gets the team to align on a single overarching goal.
This part of the book compelled me to think about goal setting in schools. More specifically, how we might set and define a single, relevant goal for all for a finite period of time.
What if, as school leaders, we engaged with a group (department, grade level, senior administrative team, board of trustees) and asked what the overarching goal should be for the group for the next week/month/quarter? What would each individual say?
What if we took a play from Lencioni’s book and facilitated a discussion to agree on one goal, determine what success would look like, and deploy the resources needed and actions we would collectively take to accomplish the goal? We would pilot a new way of thinking about goal achievement, identify what works and doesn’t, and iterate.
As school leaders, we must be lead learners. We must try new ideas and attempt new tactics in the same way that we ask students to. What better way to learn, build community, and try new ideas than with our goals and our teams?
Sample: Getting to One Goal
Inspired by Patrick Lencioni
Silos can unintentionally form in schools because goals are set in the relevant operational areas. People operate as a highly competent set of individuals in their own area rather than a team. As a result, sometimes members of the team can feel isolated in their own organization and feel like they don’t belong or are not involved in goals outside their realm.
Our job as leaders is to define the goals in ways that are simple enough to grasp easily and specific enough to be actionable. Likely, a school’s mission is not actionable enough. A goal needs to be more closely related to what teams do on a daily basis.
How To Facilitate a Single Goal for a Team
Frame the purpose: “we will establish the overarching goal for the rest of the week/month/quarter. If we want to do anything between now and the end of the period, what should that be?”
1. Break a larger team into groups of two or three. Ask each group to propose a list of goals that might serve as the team’s overarching goal for X period of time. Don’t quantify any of this yet, just create the list.
2. Report out: share ideas from breakout groups, then begin to discuss the merits of each and how they relate to all areas of the school.
3. Narrow down to top three (could be by break-out group).
4. Begin to signal closure to the conversation by announcing that the group is going to bring this conversation to a close in the next five minutes. Ask: does anyone here believe that the key to the next week/month/quarter has something to do with X, Y, Z (list what has been discussed.) If someone thinks we should be focused on something else, please bring it up now.
5. Ask to hear someone make a passionate appeal for the goal to be X, then Y, then Z. If no one volunteers, ask a person who advocated for it. (Does this mean other things aren’t important? No. But it does mean that the ultimate measure of the groups’ success will be what is decided on for that bounded period of time.)
6. Narrow down & guide the group: Someone tell me why this should be or should not be our collective overarching goal.
7. Once a conversation dies down, you should have a primary goal.
-Increase student participation in school events
-Positively and proactively engage with parents
-Focus on increasing teacher retention
-Assess viability of additional student safety measures
-Implement an action plan for a student mental health crisis
-Decrease student tardiness to class
-Release pressure/stress from students or staff
-Enhance school-family communications
-Refine campus housing allocation process (boarding school or day school with available student housing)
Allocate Resources & Measure Progress
This is now OUR collective goal for the next month, quarter, year, etc.
-What resources need to be deployed (or redeployed) to support this goal? Discuss and define.
-How are we going to know/measure that we’ve reached this goal?
Discuss and define.
-Schedule check-ins between now and the end of the goal period.
Overloaded by Goals
Many schools have a strategic plan with 3–5 pillars with 3–5 goals under each. Most Heads of School and Senior Administrators have 3–5 goals each year that are reflected in their team’s goals. All schools have a set of accreditation recommendations (or goals) to accomplish every 5–10 years. Then there is the reality of the day-to-day complex operation of a school.
How can you simplify what are 25+ potential goals into just one that your team selects to accomplish while keeping all the other operational balls in the air that are required for an independent school to function? Many have used the acronym SMART when goal setting, but what about SiMPLE?
Using single goals to root a team for a short period of time can be a powerful way to build community. Don’t forget to celebrate the accomplishments. So often this is an overlooked part of goal setting and achievement, and it is vital to maintain our vibrant, highly relational communities.
Gretchen Warner is Head of School at The Madeira School outside Washington, DC and Head of School Elect at The Overlake School in Redmond, WA. Gretchen is a courageous educational leader who is a trailblazer and lead learner. Keenly focused on high-impact teaching and learning and community connectedness, she uses research, data, and a lot of heart to lead independent schools into the next era of education.
As a strategy-driven tactician and human-centered systems thinker, Gretchen is skilled at facilitating strategic visioning, planning, and action. She understands the complexities of independent school management, having held the roles of Upper School Director, Dean of Academic Affairs, Dean of Students, Accreditation Chair, STEM Coordinator, science teacher, and coach.
While an expert in education, at her core Gretchen is an outdoor-loving nerdy scientist. She received her B.S. in chemistry from Virginia Tech and her M.A. in chemistry from The University of Virginia.
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