Back in January, during the first stage of our strategic planning process, 144 members of the Valley community – parents, faculty, alumni, and Board members – were asked this question. The most frequent words were “creative,” “child-centered,” “supportive,” “playful,” “caring,” and “community.” The resulting “word cloud” graphically illustrates the frequency of these words, with the biggest words in size being the words most commonly used in the interviews.
One reason to do a strategic plan is to understand what makes us who we are and to identify those steps that will preserve what’s best about us for future generations of Valley children. A vibrant school is a school that is constantly learning, a school where all members of the community, children and adults, actively experience the wonder and the challenges of growth and change. Like all institutions, schools are complex, multifaceted organisms, and, for institutions to remain healthy and sustainable, they must know where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going. Doing a strategic plan ensures that a school reflects on its past, present, and future in a thoughtful, comprehensive, and inclusive way.
In the research stage of the strategic planning process, which involved surveys and interviews conducted by Ian Symmonds and Associates, our consultants, a handful of themes emerged. These themes captured both the wishes, concerns, and visions of The Valley School community. Borrowing from the work of Wiggins and McTighe, creators of the Understanding by Design method of teaching, we can think of this stage as defining the “Essential Questions” for The Valley School.
- Who are we, what do we stand for, and how can we preserve the best of Valley while remaining vibrant and responsive to a rapidly changing world?
- What defines the educational philosophy of Valley, and how do we ensure that every child benefits from the learning program at our school?
- As a community that values inclusiveness, do all members feel connected, known, and included?
- What steps must we take to ensure that our relationships, practices, and policies support a diverse community and that our curriculum reflects this richness of backgrounds and experiences?
- Do the stories we tell ourselves about Valley match the “word on the street?”
- What strategies and steps can we adopt to broaden our reach to more families in Seattle and to people of more diverse backgrounds?
- To deliver the highest quality Valley School education, are we the optimal size and do we have the right facilities?
Five Strategic Planning Work Groups tackled each of these questions. These five groups – Aspirational Future, Learning Program, Diversity and Inclusivity, Marketing and Communications, and Campus Plan – developed action steps that we will implement in the next five years.
When successful – and I’m confident ours will be – a strategic plan brings about a positive shift in focus, a thoughtful allocation of resources, and a galvanizing of collective energy. Our first-ever Families of Color Dinner in September, for example, was early evidence of the action and momentum sparked by the discussions about diversity and inclusivity this past spring. A public version of the Board’s Strategic Plan will be unveiled at our Curriculum Night on Thursday, October 13. I will also update our community about our progress through my Head of School blogs this year and at “Coffees and Conversation with Alan.”
The ultimate goal of The Valley School’s Strategic Plan is to ensure that generations from now – 20, 30, 50 years in the future – the parents, kids, teachers, and graduates of Valley will create a similar “word cloud” and still describe our school as a “creative, child-centered, supportive, playful, caring community.”