A little over two years ago I got back into education after a decade-long break.  I had been accepted into graduate school at Parsons New School in Strategic Design and Management (SDM) and thought working on a poverty initiative at the school district would be a good place to begin school again. Much of the content in the SDM coursework revolved around business, but it was also flexible enough to imagine the content around the backdrop of education and government if one so desired. The courses got me up to speed on business trends and innovative design solutions, and I was eager to share my new learning and ideas. After countless conversations with like-minded, curious souls I began to find those people within the organization that could entertain new or different ideas and dream of things not yet made. Those people are key ingredients for transformation.

About a year into working with the school district, I was invited to attend the NextGen Learning Conferences at the University of Kentucky. At the time my fellow car mates were each playing second chair within their respective positions. Six months later this would shake out quite differently and each would find themselves as the head of either their department, school, or the entire organization. Those casual car conversations on the four-hour trips to Louisville, Kentucky proved to be the start of some of the most fruitful brainstorming I had experienced within the district. This also led to the beginning of discussions about strategic planning.

I had some experience with strategic planning in non-profit humanitarian relief organizations, state arts agencies, and local government. There are fundamentals that are consistent throughout all strategies and education would have slight differences.

The district had incredible challenges and really needed to step back assess and go through the process of stakeholder discovery, self-reflection, prioritization, and strategy creation process. They needed to hold up a mirror and get a true reflection, not the one offered by state and federal reporting but the one that told their story. The story would reveal their weaknesses against their opportunities and provide that sweet spot of leverage that all good strategies contain.

I had seen the organization weather funding cuts and growing social problems that impacted student learning. I saw straining community service organizations, teachers, and family resource personnel trying to keep the boat afloat while bailing water with a Dixie cup. There were tireless teachers literally creating something out of nothing with scant resources but an overwhelming ability to be creative, agile, and positive. And for that reason, I wanted to help. These were great people, in a great community, trying to change their little place in the world. The idea of possibly being able to help steer this ship in its new direction and navigate these kids through a rapidly changing world and economy was inspiring.

This series of posts will share the journey of capturing the voice of stakeholders, reflecting and sharing that within the organization, translating the student journey, evaluating our own organizational culture, and finding those bright spots to build upon as well as those discussions about creating the future of our choosing.