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Find your vision and strategy part 2: how to run an away day
Many boards take a day together in the summer term to reflect on their school’s vision and strategy. Read our facilitator’s guide on how to organise and run one for your board.
Viv Grant, Steve Baber and one of our associate education experts, Vicky Crane, helped us with this article.
If you haven't already, read part 1 of this series about laying the groundwork to help your board find a vision. You'll need that information to kick-start part 2.
If you're happy with your current vision but want to know how you can tie it into your strategic planning, you can go straight to the second version of step 2.
Set the agenda
Example agenda and timings
Below we set out a half-day plan to look at your vision, values and strategy. Adjust it as needed. For example, you could double the timings of the activities and turn it into a whole day if you want to do a fundamental re-think of your school's priorities.
|Welcome, tea and coffees||15 minutes|
|Step 1: set the intention for the day||15 minutes|
|Step 2: generate ideas (activity 1)||30 minutes|
|Step 2: generate ideas (activity 2)||30 minutes|
|Step 3: refine into a strategy||1 hour 30 minutes|
|Closing statements and goodbyes||15 minutes|
|3 hours 30 minutes overall|
You could also turn this into a full 'governor day' by combining the half-day plan with monitoring or engagement activities in the afternoon:
- Link governors could carry out their monitoring visits with their staff counterparts
- All governors could be taken on a tour of the school and on learning walks, to see learning in action
- You could run a skills audit and self-review of your board's strengths and weaknesses
Step 1: set the intention for the day
Kick off by taking 15 minutes to welcome the group and explain what you're trying to achieve. Set out:
- The aims and objectives for the day - you'll have discussed these in part 1
- That you want to make sure everyone is aligned and bought-in to the same aims
- That future school improvement plans will be informed by what you achieve today
Make sure everyone goes into the session with good intentions by 'setting a contract' with the group. This is a good way of setting expectations for behaviour - but making this 'owned' by the group themselves.
- The session is a supportive space for everyone to contribute their ideas
- The intention is to work together and achieve something as a group
Ask the room: "Think about a time when you learnt something as part of a group - either in school or in your personal lives. What did you do, personally, to make sure you learnt something and had a positive impact on the group?"
Give them a minute to think. Then, ask people to share what they did. They might explain that they took risks, had an open mind, and prepared fully for the activity. You could use these as prompts if people are stuck.
Next, ask: "What did others do that had a positive impact on your learning?" Again, give them a minute to think and then ask them to share. People might say that others listened well, weren't judgemental, and asked probing questions. After they've shared, ask a follow-up question: "What was the outcome?"
Finally, ask: "How does this impact on what we're trying to do today? What should we all aim to do?" People can contribute points, and you can make sure all the key ones are included.
An alternative is to set out 'ground rules'. However, this can feel more like a teacher-pupil relationship, as opposed to a facilitator and a room of adults with a shared purpose.
Step 2: generate ideas - if you're looking to refresh your vision
These activities are good if you want to entirely review your vision. The first will also help everyone reconnect with the purpose of the school, while the second will help them reflect on their own impact.
Adapt them to suit your board and your objectives.
Activity 1: what do you want pupils to say about our school?
Break attendees into small groups and ask them:
"Imagine it's a child's last day at this school. What do you want them to say about our school? How do you want them to feel the school has shaped them? What do you want them to take away from their experience here?"
- Gets people focusing on the core purpose of your school and reminds them why you're all there
- Encourages everyone to think positively and optimistically about what's special and exciting about your school, and what you could achieve
Give them 15 minutes to discuss in their groups and get them to share their ideas with the room afterwards. Write up the answers on a whiteboard or flipchart.
Activity 2: coaching conversations
Ask everyone to get into pairs and explain that they'll be doing some coaching conversations, which are focused around some key questions linked to your school's vision and values.
Assign one person to be the coach and ask the questions, and the other to answer.
Give coaches this handout with the questions on:
Stress that this isn't a normal conversation, this is about coaching and listening deeply. Tell coaches to be mostly silent while the other person is answering, but that they can ask some follow-up questions like "How? What do you mean by that? Can you tell me more?"
Let these conversations go on for 10 minutes, then ask everyone to swap roles.
Ask everyone to feedback to the group at the end. You could write each question on a whiteboard or flipchart and record some responses from the room for each one.
Tips for facilitators as the day goes on
- Stay alert to the energy in the room. Look at people's body language and watch how they interact. It'll be obvious if they're not engaged. You need to take action here. Go over to the group and check in. Make sure they understand what they're doing. Give them a new prompt to consider. Ask quieter members of the group what they think
- Be flexible with timings and the agenda. If the energy is lagging, you could call an end to the activity even if there's more time left to go. If people are really making progress with a task but you're meant to be finishing it, give them more time
- Remember it's a different role to chairing. You're facilitating, not leading the group. You need to create an environment where people can give their best, and come up with ideas. A rigid schedule might shut things down at the wrong moment. You also shouldn't impose your opinion or be too prescriptive - as long as people are making progress, let them carry on
Step 2: generate ideas - if you're happy with your current vision
These activities will help you reflect on and review how you can achieve your vision. Adapt them to suit your board and your objectives.
Activity 1: card sort
Ahead of the vision workshop, get together with your headteacher and write different statements about running a school on to flashcards or sticky notes. Statements should be broad and cover all aspects of running a school, and it's fine if some of them contradict each other. Some examples:
- We have the best classroom resources available to support learning
- We create a stimulating learning environment by making sure the classrooms are well-decorated and modern
- Our pupils leave our school having had a wide range of life experiences and outstanding extra-curricular activities
In the workshop, get the group to work together to order the cards by priority. You'll end up with a sense of what's the most important to the group, which is very helpful, particularly if resources are tight.
Take a picture of the finished cards, or write down the top 5 points.
Activity 2: question workshops
Ahead of time, write down some key questions that you want everyone to discuss. These might be related to challenges your school will soon be facing, changes in the local or national context, or they might be related to your school's current priorities. Some examples might be:
- How can we make sure we achieve and sustain high standards?
- How can we make sure we have the resources to achieve our vision and values?
- What evidence do we have that our vision is being implemented by everyone in our school?
- Do we need to grow our multi-academy trust to remain viable? How could we achieve this?
On the day, have the questions up on a flipchart or whiteboard, get everyone to discuss them in small groups, and have the groups feedback at the end. Write their contributions under the questions.
Next step: since you're happy with your vision, you can go straight to step 4 where you'll plug the ideas and information from step 2 into your strategy.
Step 3: distil into a clear vision statement
By carrying out the activities above, you'll have ended up with a lot of information written up around the room. As a group:
- Identify which of the things raised by discussion in whichever activity you chose to do are actually measurable
- Of those things that are measurable, choose the 3 or 4 things that matter most to you as a school
- Write out a rough vision statement that encompasses the most important things
Define any vague terms
Vision and mission statements can be vague and intangible, but they should be the guide for all decisions in your school. You need to work out what it all means in reality.
- Identify key words in your motto, vision, mission, values and/or aims
- Break into small groups or pairs. Give each group one of the words or a phrase from your school's motto, vision, mission, values and/or aims
- Take 5 minutes to brainstorm additional words, phrases and points that'll help turn vague words into better defined concepts, e.g. 'How would you define inclusive?' 'What do we mean when we say we want our curriculum to support pupil creativity?', 'What does 'success' look like for our pupils?'
- Swap the words/phrases with another group
Return to the whole group to discuss:
- Does everyone agree on the meaning of key phrases?
- Do we all agree on what each key phrase will actually look like in practice?
- What can we do at a whole-school level to make sure all teachers and pupils understand the vision? (e.g. do we need to review our school's vision documents?)
Your vision statement should be focused on strategic challenges and, if done right, will provide a framework for:
- Setting priorities
- Creating accountability
- Monitoring progress
Once you've all agreed on a working version on your vision statement, it'll naturally lead to the next step.
Step 4: refine into a strategy
You now need to refine and prioritise these aims and ideas and turn them into your strategy. Your strategy sets out how you're going to achieve your long-term vision for the school. Strategic plans usually cover the next 3 to 5 years.
Option 1: flipchart exercise
Get 3 flipcharts (or 3 pieces of paper on the wall, or 3 sections of a whiteboard). Label them A, B and C. Start by looking at C.
Flipchart C is "Where do we want to be?"
- Write your vision and values, and the most important priorities for your school on the flipchart
Flipchart A is "Where are we now?"
- Ask the group to shout out where they think your school currently is against the vision and priorities on flipchart C
- Encourage people to be as specific as they can. If an answer is too vague, ask: why do you think so? What evidence or examples are you relying on?
Flipchart B is "How do we get there?" - this will be the makings of your strategy.
- Ask the group to think about what they can do in their roles to make sure you get to the ideal scenario in flipchart C
- Ask them to be as specific as possible and focus on what it looks like day-to-day in their roles. They could say things like:
- As a governor performance managing the headteacher, I'll make sure objectives link clearly to the vision
- As a school leader, I'll research initiatives into X problem for our school
- As a governor, I'll ask how any new initiatives will help us achieve our vision
- As the senior leadership team, we'll carry out a review of our curriculum in light of the new Ofsted framework
- As the school business manager, I'll keep the vision in mind when putting together the budget and making spending decisions
Your aim is for flipchart B to just be the objectives and key actions that can form your strategic plan.
Option 2: group discussion
Chair a discussion that focuses around these questions:
- What do we need to do to make our vision and values a reality?
- Are our ideas realistic but aspirational?
- Does this successfully anticipate challenges we might face in the future?
Your aim is to refine your long list of ideas into the key actions and objectives that will form your strategic plan.
Discuss how you'll monitor the strategy
End by asking the room "How will we monitor our progress towards the plan?" For example, ask:
- Which items should we include on this year's school improvement plan?
- What are the key milestones and targets we'd expect to hit, and by when?
- Are governors clear on their monitoring role, and what methods they'll use to hold the senior leadership team to account? Read more about how to monitor effectively
After the session
After the workshop or away day, it's for the headteacher to go away and turn the key actions and priorities into a strategic plan. See some examples of how schools present their strategic plans, so you know what you should expect to see.
As the strategic plan is your long-term plan, the headteacher should also then break this down further into:
- The school improvement plan for the next academic year - which governors can evaluate and approve at the next governing board meeting
- Other, more specific action plans necessary, e.g. departmental action plans, or specific project action plans
As governors, you then need to monitor the school's progress against these different plans
To help you do this, see our articles on:
Viv Grant is a leadership and wellbeing coach, and is the director of Integrity Coaching.
Steve Baber is the chair of trustees at Chulmleigh Academy Trust, a 4-school MAT in Devon.
Vicky Crane is an independent consultant and trainer with over 10 years of school improvement experience, including holding senior local authority positions. She works extensively with primary schools in the Yorkshire region, is a chair of governors for a large primary school and is the founder of ICTWand.
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