In a Time of Crisis
Does your strategic thinking look different now than it did a few years ago? Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, climate change, and belated but growing recognition of widespread inequality, racism, and threats to democracy, it becomes harder to justify yesterday’s well-intentioned but toothless strategic goals. Knowing what we now know, what should our schools be doing? How might we do those bold things? What do we believe most deeply about education, about why our own schools are here? And how will we know that our practice and culture will actually match the beautiful words we use to talk about our plans?
Crafting a Plan
A great strategy helps a school or district achieve great things. Creating good strategy — making a strategic plan — has many parts. Fundamentally, creating a coherent strategy is a practice of knowledge creation, because it requires leaders to interrogate the qualities of and connections among their vision, the capabilities, and activities of their organization, and the needs of the people they serve. It also requires understanding how to plan and move in a world that is changing quickly and unpredictably.
Schools come to the strategic planning process at different points. At times, they want to evaluate what seems like an exciting new opportunity. Other times, it can be to make sense of an outcome or trend, like enrollment changes, or pandemic teaching and learning. Or a school can come to this work after hiring new leadership, or after an accreditation self-study.
Core Skills & Experiences
MakeKnowledge has deep experience in leading these conversations, and in leading planning efforts that are both innovative and rigorous. Our earliest work, and the origin of our name, involved deeply understanding how people and organizations create and share knowledge (hence, “MakeKnowledge”). Creating new knowledge is one of the key ingredients to innovating, and harnessing that practice is key to developing a culture of innovation.
Schools talk about innovation a lot, and usually there is no shortage of creativity among the students and faculty. But managing innovation, and building a sustainable culture of innovation, is at least a few degrees more difficult. MakeKnowledge has long experience with the toolbox of innovation. Our design thinking chops go back to the very earliest days of the Stanford d.school, where our founder cut his teeth on projects with a range clients, ranging from a local shelter for the homeless to an organization serving small farmers in the Shan State in Myanmar. Design thinking still has a prominent place in our toolbox. Done well, it can generate profoundly insightful and humane innovations. There are many other tools for strategic discovery and innovation in organizations–for designing for emergent possibilities–and MakeKnowledge draws on these as well.
A Map that Matters
At the end of strategic planning process, you and your team will come away with a plan that inspires your community, and a deep understanding of how all of the myriad pieces connect to help your school, students, faculty, and community thrive. The plan cannot just state the goal, but it has to make a coherent argument about what getting there will entail. No matter how big the moonshot you aim at, it is critical to ensure that progress will be measurable, and that those managing implementation have the both the freedom and the accountability they need.
Strategic Sprints and Projects
Maybe your school does not need a comprehensive strategic plan at the moment, but there are still opportunities for work where we might help. Here are some examples of smaller projects we have helped other schools with, that illustrate some of our experience and also some common benefits of our work.
TEDx Conference: For a Bay Area independent school, our founder helped develop a day-long TEDx event that attracted over 700 people in the live audience, and garnered thousands of views online. More than the impact of the conference day itself, the event helped to crystallize a number of important relationships with outside mission-relevant organizations, which in turn allowed the school to grow its reputation and opportunities for staff teaching and learning. The school learned how creative, ambitious execution within its core mission could open up vast new audiences, and allow it to speak with a more confident voice on a bigger stage.
21st Century Skills We helped a faculty team at an innovative California school to lead a two-year exploration to explore which 21st-century skills would matter for its students. The work was highly generative, leading directly to many other school initiatives in the following years, including the creation of makerspace programs on its two campuses, and inspiring further work in diversity and inclusion, greening, STEM/STEAM curricular opportunities, as well as helping to guide future curriculum development, assessment work, and facilities planning.
We would love the chance to tell you more about our approach, and learn more about your school or district. Please email us at info [at] makeknowledge.org, and we’ll look forward to connecting.
Additional big, strategic projects we have helped with include:
- Developing IT systems development to support deeper learning in the classroom, professional creativity and knowledge building, and administrative flexibility and impact.
- Designing, implementing, and supporting a middle-school 1:1 computing program.
- Redesigning parent-facing student academic reports to center 21st century skills and competencies.
- Planning and launching innovative school maker spaces.
- Helping a school take a fresh look at STEM learning and opportunities in the light of new opportunities, curricula, and collaborations, with a strong focus on equity.
- Launching student-led climate action projects that re-center schools as engines of opportunity and innovation in their communities.
Other MakeKnowledge Staff Expertise and Experience:
- Serving on the early planning team for the Bay School (San Franciso).
- Founding of Philadelphia’s University City charter school project. This two year planning project was later folded into the Penn Alexander School planning effort.
- Leading visioning workshops for school administration, staff, and trustees that led to the new STEM building at Black Pine Circle School.
- Helping an urban grade 6-12 charter school design new STEM pathways for underrepresented students. This project included developing multiple Career Technical Education pathways in technology (IT, Computer Science, Design Engineering); discovering new funding streams, and building virtuous circles of opportunity including current students and faculty, recent graduates, and employers.
- Creating and nurturing corporate/ school partnerships.
- Writing and managing grants (local, state, and federal grant making entities).
- Teaching design thinking to students (from the US to Cambodia); to teachers across the US, and to Korean C-level executives.
Past Professional Development Engagements:
- Many individual K-12 schools across the US
- The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
- Bay Area Teacher Training Institute
- California Teacher Development Collaborative
- Green Schoolyards America
- Philadelphia Children’s Festival / Annenberg Center
- Stanford Graduate School of Education STEP Program
- Wagner Free Institute of Science