The 3 Horizons of School Growth

Most school heads we talk to are seeking, recurring, healthy, organic growth.

We've worked with schools that were consistently able to grow their enrollment and improve their financial standing year over year.

Through extensive research and analytics, we've identified one fundamental framework that can explain a big part of their success.
The leaders of successful schools have the ability to focus on three time horizons simultaneously; the near term, the midterm, and the long term horizon.

In the near term -the coming quarter- they focus on driving execution.
Without this focus, the numbers aren't met, and board members are disappointed.
Most school leaders are really good at this work horizon.

flying hot air balloons at daytime

The second time horizon is the midterm.
Here school leaders plan and manage the following one to two years' priorities and challenges.
They're spending their time examining the school's curriculum and programs, coaching teachers and staff and planning financial resources for midterm operating expenses and investment.
The focus here is to make sure the school is ready for the coming years' -mostly anticipated- challenges.
In this time horizon, about half school leaders we work with do a good job while the other half do not.

Horizon three is the long term; typically three to five of years out.
Here school leaders are generating new insights and spotting new trends. They're looking for disruptive ideas that will transform academic achievement, student agency, teacher development etc.

Here is where most school leaders fall flat.

You have to start seeing this three-tiered horizon as an organizational pipeline of improvement and innovation.
Each horizon feeds into the next and so if you are missing one of the three the pipeline breaks down.

We have even been able to spot most future breakdowns in our client schools by observing how school leaders spend their time; ie. what percent of their time they spend in horizon one, two and three respectively.

If you are like most schools we work with you're most likely overlooking one of these horizons.
The most common scenario is for a school to be strong in horizon one, do okay in horizon two and virtually ignore horizon three.

The good news is that leading horizon three can be learned through best practices.

Here is a 4-step process for managing horizon three through strategic planning:


   1. Articulated Plan

At the very base level, the strategic planning process is an articulated plan. Your staff wants an articulated plan for their school. This means they want a mission, a vision, goals, and objectives within the framework of an articulated plan.

   2. Strategic Differentiation

This is not a strategic plan unless you bring in external data from the external market forces. If you don't bring in data such as what your parent audience think and what the surrounding private, independent, public and charter schools are doing, you're not going to have a strategic plan.

   3. Organizational engagement

To drive organizational engagement you have to cascade goals so that everybody in the organization knows what is their piece of and contribution to the strategy. You need to make sure that your strategic plan goes all the way down to the individual level.

   4. Organizational transformation

To link your strategy to organizational transformation you have to live and breath your plan. This means talking about it on a regular basis, making changes to it as you move through the year and consciously shifting routine behaviors for all stakeholders to drive its implementation.

So as you're thinking about managing your school's future, reflect on your strategic planning process and consider how to get everybody on the same page of generating fresh ideas for the long term.