Héctor García

Héctor García, PhD, is superintendent of Plano District 88 in Illinois. He has been an educator for nearly 20 years, serving as a teacher, principal, and district administrator in a variety of school settings.

What’s the Plan?

The ability of leadership teams to effectively answer this very simple question has either kicked off a great initiative or served as the catalyst for many difficult or frustrating conversations. On the one hand, a well-articulated vision and steps for success seem to both inspire and garner the support that is essential for overcoming the unexpected obstacles and natural inclination by some to resist change. On the other hand, those leadership teams that struggle in the pursuit of a well-developed plan are inevitably faced with challenging questions from staff who don’t see the need for change or would prefer the status quo. If you have been in education for any period of time, it is inevitable that you have seen a leadership team struggle with this key question and staff members react in these ways:

  • This feels like just a checklist of random tasks.
  • I’m not really sure where we are going with this.

These reactions are not really surprising since staff members seek to understand both their responsibility and the big picture. Yet, leadership teams sometimes minimize the importance of those fundamental needs and subsequently fail to address them. The famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once commented that “little things make big things happen.” In essence, failing to address those “little things” can have a major effect on the success or failure of any initiative.

Building a Game Plan

Developing an effective game plan requires:

  1. A clear understanding of the essential elements for success
  2. A process for supporting the implementation of the key components
  3. A method for monitoring the implementation

Communicating and executing a well-developed plan is obviously every leadership team’s main priority. Yet, many leaders often still struggle with establishing a clearly defined game plan for implementation and monitoring success. In a study done by Harvard researchers Robert Kaplan and David Norton, 95 percent of a company’s employees are unaware of or do not understand its strategy. Yet, this problem can be overcome by the implementation of some key principles.

It’s critical for all stakeholders (board members, administrators, teachers, noncertified staff, and community members) to understand how staff members can fully embrace and commit to a focus on learning versus teaching, collaboration versus isolation, and results versus intent. In order to avoid having PLC principles become just another improvement initiative, leadership teams must understand that it takes much more than passion and enthusiasm from the leadership team or a few staff members to build a schoolwide commitment and drive ever-lasting change.

Leadership teams need to translate their ideas into concrete models that can easily be understood and supported by all staff members. It is not good enough to assume that sound ideas should be self-evident or, even more dangerously, postulate that everyone shares the same perspective. Teams are rarely motivated by vague and abstract goals. Therefore, leadership teams must deliberately plan an effective way of translating such powerful concepts as the three big ideas (focus on learning, collaboration, and results) into clear and manageable concepts that can spark action and mitigate some of the resistance. With a successful plan, leadership teams will be able to examine various ways to discuss and implement key PLC principles.

Just like with any team, a winning season for schools starts with the development of a game plan and a playbook. Game planning has always been associated with sports but in today’s world, the phrase has become ubiquitous with being well-prepared and having a strategic plan for success. A playbook and game plan will guide staff efforts through the change process or enhance the work that has already been started to develop a winning PLC.


Arlexia Jennings

This was a great post. My school using the three big ideas you wrote about. They are very effective when writing an effective school improvement plan.

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Krista Dall

This was a great and informative post! My school does not do a lot of collaboration, so I found these ideas to be very helpful. Having a game plan is a positive way to have a team work together. I feel like so often when teachers do come together, we do more talking about the students and parents than anything else. If we had goals and a game plan to follow, we would be able to collaborate more effectively. I really related to the comment about how groups sometimes feel like they need to accomplish a task list, and then they are finished. Sometimes when I work with teams, I feel like that is all we are doing. Having this game plan with some smaller steps to follow would be a great way to collaborate more effectively. Thank you for the great ideas!

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Lisa Knight

Great post. Thank you for sharing, and as an English teacher I like the metaphor you used for gaming planning and a successful school year. Concrete plans and strategies for a given situation are important, as you point out. At my school, we seem to talk hypothetically/theoretically about what we are going to do, and it rarely gets done, or works the way we want. Upon reflection, I am wondering if that is because we don't have a playbook, so to speak, for the situation at hand. Your blog makes me think more specifically about how I will approach certain situations with my teaching team next year.

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Karyn Doran

I have found there to be three impediments to leadership on any issue. First, the issue was identified by someone up the chain and volunteers or amiable recruits are tasked with finding a solution. When this is the case, those tasked with the leadership are not truly the leaders and have very little invested in resolving the issue. Second, the majority of teachers have little to no business experience. They receive no training on what an effective meeting or committee looks like. It is because of this that they begin to flounder, get off-topic, and effect a less-than-successful result.

We expect teachers to know how to do these things innately, but they are learned behaviors. In the business world, employees attend years of meeting before they begin running them. If districts offered professional development on leadership, including training on committee management and meetings, they could then begin to focus on the “learning, collaboration, and results” you address.

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Laurie Sammons

Right on, my friend! It's all about the "Plan book"! Well-written blog post!!

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