Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders

The following blog was contributed by Melodie Wyttenbach, Ph.D., executive director for the Roche Center for Catholic Education and a faculty member for the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. She and co-author Benjamin Potts wrote Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders.

The times of relative stability, where change was incremental in the educational marketplace, are no more. Given the rise of charter schools, parental choice, innovations in technology, K-12 education in America has changed dramatically over the past three decades. And in the past few weeks as the nation and world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been forced to adopt more innovative instructional approaches. For schools that strategically understood how advances in technology could enhance student learning- virtual learning plans were in place, adaptable software programs in use by students, and hardware for each student a non-negotiable. While these schools did not have the foresight of a pandemic, leaders of these schools were able to see how changes in the external environment could either threaten their school or they could capitalize on educational innovations to advance their mission. On the other hand, some Catholic schools scrambled to put plans in place and leaders and teachers were challenged to build the plane after taking off into the virtual-homeschooling world. Now that the innovative instructional approach has become a necessity to sustain student learning, the question is will Catholic schools continue innovative instructional approaches and leaders be more entrepreneurial in their thinking? Or will Catholic schools return to the pre-COVID-19 ways of schooling?

 The history of education has taught us that change to the educational ecosystem brings about an increasing uncertainty for low-performing schools across sectors, and also brings about a greater interconnectedness to all players in a market, as changes to one public, private, or charter school in a given city reverberate unpredictably, affecting such things as student enrollment, finances, and the quality of human capital in another school. Change can jeopardize a given sector or can challenge leaders of a sector to come together and handle external pressures differently than they have in the past. These external pressures call Catholic school leaders to three things: first, Catholic schools must provide an excellent faith-based education to all children they serve; second, Catholic school leaders need to develop effective strategies to deal with their changed circumstances if they are to have a defensible basis for existing in an increasingly diverse, post-COV-19 marketplace; third, Catholic schools need to work in solidarity.

Strategic planning is an opportunity for Catholic school leaders to move their schools towards excellence, to effectively deal with changes, and center their community on mission and vision. To assist you with understanding the journey of strategic planning, this book Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders, assists leaders in creating a map for their school’s journey to fulfill their mission. This text articulates a rationale for strategic planning, examines how this process unfolds in a school community, and provides Catholic schools leaders the tools to execute and successfully monitor the implementation of a strategic plan. To help you understand how this process may unfold in your Catholic school, throughout the book real-life insights from Catholic school leaders who have journeyed the strategic planning process openly share what worked, and did not work, are provided.

As strategic thought and action are increasingly important to the continued viability, effectiveness, and sustainability of Catholic schools, during this time of great complexity, we have an opportunity to strengthen our system as we emerge from this pandemic. In order to do so, let us be bold, think strategically like we have never thought before, and do so in communion, supporting one another.