Five year plans....GOOD GRIEF!

I find talk of five year plans in education confounding; not on the structural side but rather on the actual education side of things. A board's facilities department must think in terms of set plans because they deal far more in certainties. Pipes, electrical and overall physical structures degrade over time. Renewal is a certainty. Best practice in maintenance and renewal may experience some innovation but the foundational elements remain largely unchained and measurable. If only the teaching and learning side of public education were so predictable.

In 2009, NYU Prof Clay Shirky profoundly stated:

Relying on long-term planning in education is SILLY; not to mention wasteful. ANYONE who says that they have a firm grasp of what the educational landscape will look like in five years, let alone 2 years is delusional, overconfident, arrogant or a dangerous cocktail of all three. To re-enforce my point, just think: the first iPad wasn't even released five years ago (April 3, 2010) and look at the revolutionary ripple effect that it has had on society and increasingly on education.

A monkey throwing darts at potential outcomes on a dartboard is more likely to predict the future than most long-term planners! Planning is comforting because it provides us with the illusion of control. We can't be concerned with comfort though, we must live in the dissonance of the actual. Long term plans are dangerous for two main reasons. First they are resource intensive in their creation. Think about how much time is poured into long-term planning. Think about how money is put into the creation of these plans. Think about the amount of both poured into implementation. Lost during these periods of planning is action. Trailing data are usually the foundation for planning as well which creates new layers of problems. Secondly, BECAUSE of the resource outlay, educational leaders are more likely to stubbornly cling to their plans so as not to condemn the whole process as wasteful in the public eye.

Now, think about the return on this investment. Are we any closer to the system that we want, or are we still talking about reform?

long term planning in education is foolish

Establishing a sense of mission and projecting core values are the only real ways forward. What do you stand for and what do you believe in? I can tell you right now, I am not moved at all by people's plans or grand projections. I am moved by values and by action. Planners are usually talkers and not doers. Planners quite often only work with a tight circle of people, while those who establish a clear mission and vision more often than not value collaboration. Change and innovation are recursive processes. They are the function of inquiry, experimentation and collaboration. People must be given the opportunity to experiment and try things WITHIN the framework and vision established by the organization. It is not a free for all but rather a paradigm shift where members of an organization are empowered to DO and not just to consider or plan. A perfect example of this is Ontario's School Effectiveness Framework. It is a research-based framework that lays out parameters for schools. Schools are then able to decide on the action pieces to bring it to life. It is not a document that pretends to see into to future and lay our prescriptive plans, but rather it provides evidenciary structure that allows for inquiry driven practices to discover actions to support its realization.

Boldly state organizational mission, vision and values. Establish a framework and then let your people get to work building within those stated organizational borders.