The ultimate, shared goal of schools everywhere is to help students achieve their academic best and go on to lead productive lives as contributors to society. In order for this to be accomplished, however, school districts must be managed like businesses. Without the skills of well-prepared and wise educational leaders, schools may fall short of providing the services students need to reach their own goals.
The key to leading a school district, whether large or small, is strategic management. This leadership model is distinctly different from general or project management. While project management involves creating specific plans to complete a defined set of projects or goals, strategic management steps back to observe how all individual projects are not only progressing to completion but also how they will contribute to the mission and goals of the entire organization.
Strong strategic managers also communicate regularly with all stakeholders, keeping students, faculty, staff and the community aware of the district's shared mission and goals. They also listen to comments, suggestions and criticism, and seek to engage those who are best suited for each task or project, promoting collaboration and consistent outcomes. Strategic managers cast a strong vision for the future while keeping an open mind about the present.
The Importance of Strategic Management in Education
According to university professor and author Lester A. Digman, "Strategic management is a continuous process that involves attempts to match or fit the organization with its changing environment in the most advantageous way possible." When school leaders manage strategically, they respond to the ever-changing characteristics and demands of society, business and the needs of their students.
Strategic management in the field of education involves coordinating the short- and long-term goals of each department, school and program, determining if and how each one contributes to the overall goal of the school and, ultimately, the district. This means that at the district and building levels, leaders must provide for the needs of their students, including safe and secure schools, adequate supplies, materials and resources, and highly-qualified educators.
Comprehensive oversight is critical to strategic oversight. In educational settings, this means that leaders must keep curriculum materials up to date and provide adequate equipment and technology to meet the ever-changing needs of student access to resource materials and information.
For example, while only a few years ago, teachers had to sign up for class use of the school-wide computer lab, many students now keep a tablet or iPad for their own personal use all day. With the introduction of this advanced technology, leaders have decisions to make about issues like the procurement of software and multi-device charging stations. They must also consider the increased equipment maintenance, which involves budgeted finances, as well as responsible disposal of outdated equipment and reassignment of physical space in the building.
A strategic manager anticipates changes like these, even if the exact details are unknown at first. Issues such as room assignments and budget decisions are made with all available information, but with an eye on changes the future may bring.
The Effect of Strategic Management on the Classroom
The ever-changing nature of public education impacts every decision and practice made by those in positions of leadership. Physical property, equipment and materials have a direct effect on students. Decisions involving their purchase and maintenance must be made with the students' best interests in mind.
Student achievement is the primary goal of all schools, but it is one of the most elusive goals to manage. In fact, academic progress is one of the elements in the "changing environment" to which Digman refers. To address this issue, teachers and leaders depend on consistent collection of student data to drive their instruction. Instead of following a rigid, district-designed plan of presentation and materials — that is most likely out of date — strategic educators and leaders examine the data, determine the best plan of action for students in real time and adjust lesson plans based on that knowledge. According to the American Institutes for Research, "Research has shown that using data in instructional decisions can lead to improved student performance."
As an experienced educator with an eye on leadership, you know how important it is for administrators at every level to make goals and plan appropriate projects in every department and program with the future in mind.
At the University of West Florida, the Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction online degree program includes Strategic Management for Public and Nonprofit Organizations. In this course and others offered, you will strengthen your skills as a strategic manager in preparation for your role as a leader and school manager.
Learn more about the UWF Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction online degree program.
Sources:American Institutes for Research: Using Data to Guide Instruction and Improve Student Learning
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