The 2020-2021 school year is right around the corner. But as back-to-school draws near, there are still so many unknowns.
With states across the country employing various strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—and with varying levels of success—it remains unclear whether students will be returning to school buildings, or instead picking up where they left off with remote learning at the end of the previous school year.
Regardless of what unfolds for any particular school, one thing is certain: preparing for learning in the new normal requires an unparalleled level of strategic planning.
Whether you’ll be spearheading a return to the school building this fall for your staff and students or a return to remote learning, creating an 80/20 Strategic Plan for executing your semester priorities will be of utmost importance.
In our recent report, Hyper Focus: How to Transform Schools, we outlined the cycle of continuous improvement that pushes schools to continuously refine their practices:
1. School assessment and data review
a) The Accelerate Framework is used to conduct a rubric-based comprehensive school assessment, identifying the school’s strengths, areas of growth, and opportunities
b) Student- and teacher-level data are analyzed
2. Creation of a semester-long strategic plan
a) The most critical “Big Rock” priorities are selected using the 80/20 Rule
b) The Accelerate Framework is leveraged to determine the entry points for change
c) Actions and initiatives that connect to the priorities are identified; if initiatives do not connect to the priorities, they may not be truly necessary
d) A set of metrics and milestones is developed in order to measure progress
3. Implementation of the strategic plan, with monitoring and course correction based on the data
4. School assessment and data review, with a root cause examination for any priorities not met
Amid the current pandemic, the cycle of continuous improvement outlined in “Hyper Focus” is especially important for identifying your school’s top priorities.
Let’s take a look at how the cycle can help facilitate your creation of an 80/20 Strategic Plan that sets rigorous “Big Rocks,” incorporates in-school and remote learning strategies, and communicates the plan to stakeholders.
The Accelerate Institute Guide for Planning Semester 1 Reentry
Step 1: Review Last Year’s Data and Analyze Plan Effectiveness
1a. Complete an end-of-year school assessment by reviewing the outcomes from the past school year. This includes gathering feedback from all stakeholders (staff, students, and parents) to analyze the effectiveness of the strategic plan from the past year.
You should summarize the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) that emerged in the execution of the past year’s plan. This will be the basis for determining your priorities for the new school year.
1b. Complete a Remote Learning Plan SWOT assessing the remote learning implementation at your school in the spring. Accelerate Institute refers to this plan as the “playbook.”
A SWOT of the playbook should include gathering feedback from all stakeholders (staff, students, and parents) to analyze the effectiveness of remote learning. You should capture strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and use those as the basis for your playbook revisions.
Step 2: Create Your 80/20 Strategic Plan
Create your 80/20 Strategic Plan for Semester 1 with three Big Rocks aligned to the summary of your work in Step 1. Set your overarching academic goals and utilize key results to set metrics that will be used to monitor the effectiveness of the 80/20 Strategic Plan.
Your 80/20 Strategic Plan should include strategies to manage a hybrid structure of remote and in-school learning throughout the year. The Reentry Thinking Guide, Remote Learning Thinking Guide, and Strategic Plan Sample (below) will support you in ensuring you have included clear goals and strategies for implementing your remote learning playbook, have established the progress monitoring and course correction systems necessary during implementation, and have included a communication plan with tight feedback loops with all stakeholders.
Reentry Thinking Guide
You must be intentional about the reentry of the school community back to the building and mindful of key considerations to ensure you are embedding the right strategies into your Big Rocks.
Within the context of the Accelerate Framework objectives, consider how you can effectively incorporate the major considerations of reentry into your 80/20 Strategic Plan for Semester 1:
- Reestablishing routines and procedures that incorporate social distancing guidelines and cleaning regulations in your area (Accelerate Framework objectives: Change Management; High-Performing Team; Constructive Environment and Aspirational Environment)
- Supporting the social and emotional needs of students, which could include addressing trauma they may have experienced due to the pandemic or the social unrest throughout the summer, fears over impending school safety precautions, and anxiety over disruptions to their normal routines (Accelerate Framework objectives: Constructive Environment and Aspirational Environment)
- Addressing unfinished learning and accelerating new learning that goes beyond remediation [TNTP] (Accelerate Framework objectives: Data-Driven Culture; Black-Belt Teaching)
- Reflecting on the last two months, how much new content was delivered, and for which students was engagement high/low?
- What learning is unfinished because it was not taught or mastery was not reached?
- How will you complete a diagnostic assessment on all students at the start of the year?
- How will you prioritize unfinished learning and standards for the incoming grade?
- How can you best leverage all staff to address the academic needs of students?
- What does that mean for adjustments that you need to make for remote learning in the fall?
- Reestablishing a communication cadence with all stakeholders that provides consistent clarity throughout the semester; the communication cadence should be intense in the beginning of reentry and should clearly outline communication protocols if the “stay at home” status takes effect again (Accelerate Framework objectives: Change Management; High-Performing Team)
- Establishing clear channels for frequent feedback from stakeholders, along with a response plan (Accelerate Framework objectives: Change Management; High-Performing Team)
Once you’ve thought through what reentry should look like, adapt the sample Strategic Plan to align with the needs of your school and the contents of your remote learning playbook. Each Big Rock includes a set of key results and milestones that should be adapted to fit your school’s individual context and performance. Additionally, the roles and responsibilities sections should be customized by considering how you will be able to leverage your leadership team members to implement each Big Rock.
Remote Learning Thinking Guide
As you revise your remote learning playbook and adapt your 80/20 Strategic Plan, consider how you can effectively incorporate these major considerations of remote learning:
- “Over-communicate with clarity” by establishing a strong communication cadence with all stakeholders
- Communicate the vision, goals, and expectations of remote learning to students, staff, and families and continually foster buy-in
- Establish teacher communication expectations with students and parents and monitor communications
- Develop clear channels for frequent feedback from all stakeholders and establish a response plan
- Ensure systems to manage operations are in place
- Set clear key results to measure effectiveness of remote learning and put in place a system to progress monitor
- Analyze results with the team and course correct on short loops
- Use management practices that balance support with accountability
- Identify the right teams for collaboration, which may differ in a remote setting
- Implement a meeting cadence and adjust agendas to meet the team’s needs
- Manage your time and support sustainable practices for leadership team members
Supporting Your Team
- Set expectations for staff and build buy-in
- Make sure staff has the technology resources needed to teach remotely, including troubleshooting support
- For staff who have children at home, provide support during instructional time
- Monitor student engagement and share strategies that boost engagement
- Foster a sense of connectedness among staff
- Provide social and emotional support for staff
- Celebrate staff and have fun
Support Students and Families
- Establish expectations for students and families and get buy-in
- Meet the basic needs of students and families with food security
- Facilitate the technology needs of students, including troubleshooting support
- Monitor student engagement
- Cultivate a strong sense of community among students and families
- Offer social and emotional support for students and families
- Praise student achievement and have fun
Ensure Academic Success for All Students
- Set expectations for teaching and learning that are sustainable and equitable
- Establish teacher planning meetings and a data-driven instructional cycle
- Lead and/or attend collaborative planning meetings
- Progress monitor student learning
- Provide student support services for students with IEPs, for social and emotional support, and for EL students
- Monitor instruction with virtual classroom walkthroughs
- Monitor student work samples
- Provide professional development and coaching for teachers
Step 3: Develop a Communication Plan
Create a communication plan to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the 80/20 Strategic Plan for Semester 1. Your stakeholder groups include your leadership team, teachers, students, and families. Example communication strategies are daily leadership team huddles, weekly staff meetings, daily pre-recorded messages to students and families, daily updated student schedules on the school website, and bi-weekly State of the School emails to all stakeholders. When developing your communication plan, be sure to include the recurrence of the strategies, as well as specific days and times when possible. You may also want to have a feedback loop to make sure all stakeholders have been able to process, provide feedback, and have questions answered.