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Strategic planning for your charter school: SWOT your school

It's often tempting to jump from mission to goals when creating a strategic plan. It seems natural and it feels natural. I think that it's also the nature of charter school leaders that they want to get on to business and they already have a good notion of their goals. However, both because it's part of the strategic planning process and because it's important to ensure that nothing is missed, it's important to develop an analysis of the current situation in order to develop clear goals and objectives.

I saw a poster the other day that showed scuba divers happily diving while a shark was coming up behind them. It's great to plan with just a mission in mind, but the situation that you are in also greatly affects your goals and behavior. If you are walking in a dark parking garage at 1 a.m., you probably act differently than you do if you are walking to your car parked on an open street in the middle of the day.

The situation section of a strategic plan can include many elements. Some include a short section on organizational history. This section is primarily composed of what we call a SWOT analysis. If you have been looking at other information on strategic planning, you've probably come across this acronym. It stands for:

Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

The list is divided between two internal considerations and two external considerations. Strengths and Weaknesses are considerations of the internal situation. For example, the school may have STRONG curriculum and WEAK teachers. The major strengths and weaknesses, especially as they contribute to the mission of the school should be outlined and described. Because this is a public document, it often makes it difficult for schools to be brutally honest about some weaknesses. No matter how the wording appears in the final document, the discussion about weaknesses must be brutally honest.

The Opportunities and Threats are external considerations. An opportunity might be that a school has features that make attaining grants more likely than for other schools. A threat might be the economic situation that currently threatens school budgets.

These four lists of factors allow the committee to develop a situational analysis that can assist the school in developing its goals realistically.

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