School districts are decentralized by nature. As superintendents establish overarching district-wide goals, the execution of associated critical tactics must be conducted at the individual school level. This requirement means attempting to produce consistent results across entities that each have unique leaders, challenges, and students of various age ranges. This reality begs the question, is it possible to align district goals at the individual school level? It is, but it requires planning, accountability, consistent encouragement, visibility, and disciplined oversight. To lead the kind of school district initiatives in collaboration with individual schools that will help your district move forward, follow the critical best practices outlined below.
Seven Best Practices for District Wide Goal Alignment
- Ensure Every Individual School Leader Knows and is Committed to District Goals. If you ask any of your school principals what your district is hoping to achieve this year, and they cannot conjure a response, then you are starting your goal-setting from a place of disadvantage. Ensuring that messaging about goals and objectives trickles down the leadership chain requires constant communication.Every engagement you have with individual school leaders should reinforce your district’s goals, whether it be weekly emails to leadership, monthly staff meetings, or one-on-one performance assessments. By continually holding open dialog about district goals, they will remain top-of-mind among individual school leaders, which is the first step to leader buy-in and commitment.
- Be Consistent in Holding Teams Accountable. Often, when individuals and teams create goals and plans, engagement is strong. Over time, however, amidst all the unexpected, time-consuming responsibilities and needs that pop-up, commitment, and effort spent on strategic initiatives dwindle. As your school district’s leader, you will be responsible for holding staff accountable and doing it consistently—not just in September at the start of the new school year but in June and even over the summer.If, for example, you hold weekly catch-up meetings with your school leaders to monitor their progress, but end up canceling the meeting series by November due to frequent scheduling conflicts, you are silently showing your staff that you aren’t fully committed to the district’s goal. Consistency in accountability also means holding leaders across schools to the same standards. Whether your school leaders are tenured staff, first-year principals, leading a traditionally exceptional school, or a school in need of positive reformation, you should demonstrate to every leader that their contributions count equally and that you expect the same effort and progress from everyone.
- Establish Accountability Measures. Telling your school leaders that they must be accountable for pivotal progress is not enough. Anyone who works with adolescents knows that it is human nature to perform the best when expectations are clear, and guardrails are in place and enforced. To effect genuine change in your district, you will need to do more than tell your schools to “improve academic performance,” or “reduce truancy,” or “communicate more frequently with parents.” For best results, quantify your goals with metrics to which you can hold staff accountable.For example, if your goal is to “improve academic performance,” set specific goals for what school-wide improvement looks like when reached. If your teachers know, for example, that their goal is to improve standardized test scores by 8 percent year-over-year, it will be unequivocally clear at the end of the school year if they have met the goal fully, or not.
- Don’t Just Dictate. Participate. As a district leader, you are responsible not only for setting goals and objectives but for actively helping your schools reach them. This responsibility may mean time spent mentoring staff, helping them break down barriers to achievement, or collaborating on strategies to effect change. While you need to exert proactive oversight to monitor accountability, it is just as important—if not more so— to actively support those staff members who need your coaching and leadership the most.
- Hold Regular, Open Dialog with School Leaders. Routine meetings in which you review progress and level-set expectations for future initiatives should be dialogues—not lectures. In meetings in which you review individual school performance, listen more than you talk. Ask questions about what is working and what is not. Ask what barriers leaders are facing; ask what resources they need to continue making progress. Most importantly, ask what they need from you and how you can support them. By collaborating rather than reporting or dictating, you will realize the most significant achievements.
- Leverage Goal-Tracking Technology. To be successful, your school leaders will need to allot a significant portion of every school week to focusing on tactics aimed at supporting the overall district goal. In addition to the time and effort they spend on initiatives, they will need to document their efforts and progress so they can effectively report back to you and share learnings with their peers. Make it easy for staff to document progress by investing in cloud-based performance management technology that allows individuals to routinely document notes about their efforts. Ideally, as their supervisor, you will have on-demand access to the system to view their progress at any time, which helps to support your efforts to hold staff accountable.
- Publicly Applaud Individual and Team Contributions. A critical part of monitoring and enabling progress involves keeping individual contributors motivated. School leaders will be driven to maintain momentum if they feel that their efforts are seen and appreciated. Make an effort to acknowledge significant advancements, innovative thinking, and identified best practices, both one-on-one and amongst all individual team members. By applauding progress, you help all involved in understanding the importance of their singular efforts in the collective good.
By closely aligning district and school goals, the unified result will be one of consistent progress and amplified achievements. As the leader of your district, you will be the agent of change most critical to everyone’s collective success. With proper accountability measures and monitoring tools in place, open dialog, and a culture of collaboration, you and every member of your team will be positioned for maximum success.
How Can SuperEval Help?
SuperEval helps improve communication amongst leadership teams by offering a collaborative evaluation process, in which the evaluator and administrator co-create annual goals, specific to their district’s growth and improvement, to align the evaluation with performance targets. To put simply, SuperEval can help make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and working toward the same goals. To find out more, please contact us today.