Posts Tagged ‘planning’

The first three steps (Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3) of planning as a middle leader has been to set up the context for action. Without having a strong transformational context for leading your team within the school it is quite easy for action to devolve into just doing.Planning for Action

  • By articulating a team vision the whole team has a context within which they are acting. They aren’t taking the action because senior leadership or the government has imposed it on them. The actions they will be taking are to fulfil on their vision for the future. This statement answers the question, “Why are we doing this?”
  • By making the effort to create a Case for Action narrative the middle leader and team have identified where they are now against their vision, they have speculated what is the likely future, and they have painted a compelling vision of the outcome they are out to achieve within the vision. The Case for Action narrative tells the story of WHY a change is needed and what could be possible by acting urgently.
  • Assessing the strengths and areas of development of the team members allows a guiding coalition to be formed who will be the first ones to drive change. They will be the small group of individuals who try new ideas, find out what works, what doesn’t, and create a path for others to follow more easily.

Now that the contextual work has been done it is time to start fleshing out the plan for the coming year.


Steps to Plan for Action

There are three tables in the Planning Template that takes middle leaders through a process of thinking as you plan. Each table is important in that it has the middle leader think from a different place. The outcome of thinking and planning from these three places is a strategic plan which address the WHAT, WHO, HOW, By WHEN, resources needed, logistics, and potential obstacles and solutions.

The Goal row in the tables is taken from the school Annual Implementation Plan or has been identified by school senior leadership or by the team as what they want to focus upon.


Table One

Goal: To
Actions I will need to do to accomplish my goal

(What, Who, By When)

What resources will I need to take these actions?

(include $$, PD & human resources)

What could be some milestones for these actions?

(Teacher Practice and Behaviours)

What evidence do we need to be gathering (and how will we gather it) to measure progress?
· · · ·
· · · ·
· · · ·


The first table takes middle leaders through the broad thinking and planning they need to do as they plan to address the identified goal.

  • What could be some of the possible actions that could be taken by the team to accomplish the goal? In writing these actions address what the action is, who could take it, and approximately by when
  • What resources would be needed to achieve these identified actions? This includes time, money, professional learning, and perhaps even human resources.
  • What could be some of the milestones that would show that the actions are on track? Would there be particular teacher behaviours and practices in place? How would the team know if they are on track to achieving the goal?
  • What evidence could be collected along the way to measure progress? The evidence could be qualitative or quantitative. Both micro- and macro-data can be useful. How will the team collect this evidence?

Note: Make sure that as the middle leaders brainstorm ideas that they don’t evaluate them. Evaluation of the actions occurs once all three tables have been completed. The purpose of waiting until then is that sometimes we can eliminate really great ideas and actions because we don’t know how to do them yet or because of a mistaken belief about resources or what is possible. Sometimes some of the ideas and actions aren’t possible but may lead to further ideas. By capturing all the thinking initially we allow for divergent, creative thinking.


Table Two

Action Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4
# 1  
# 2  
# 3


Table two asks the middle leader to unpack the actions identified in rows of the first table into smaller steps across the terms in a school year. It takes the brainstorming thinking and starts to explore how one could sequence the action steps and milestones across the year. This is critical because we find that one of the biggest barriers to successfully achieving the planned goals arises in the logistics. Schools are busy places and middle leaders only have a limited amount of time in their teams. By using the school calendar and the scheduled team meetings, professional learning opportunities, etc., planning logistically to achieve the identified actions will give a middle leader deeper insight into what can actually be accomplished. It will be at this stage that some of the actions planned will appear as doable or not.

Note: Again don’t begin evaluating and eliminating actions yet. If the logistic planning shows that it may not be possible with the current resourcing or time available there might be requests that can be made. Filling in this table requires identifying the small action steps.


Table Three

Goal: To
Challenges / Obstacles to achieving the goal Potential Solutions Areas you need to grow / develop your capacity in




Table three has the middle leader explore what could be the potential obstacles and challenges that the team may face along the way. It has the team think about how they could potentially overcome these obstacles and challenges.

  • Could there be timing issues?
  • School structure or process issues?
  • Teacher belief issues?
  • Resourcing issues?
  • Perhaps team members need to develop their capacity in some way to achieve the desired results.

Note: It is at this stage that middle leaders and their team can look over the entire plan and evaluate what actions they WILL take and when. It is only when the three tables are complete that there is a full picture.



A number of years ago at a conference I attended in Sydney, Jason Clarke from Minds At Work described the four types of people needed for effective teams. His description of each of the four “types” of people sparked an insight for me about the whole planning process and teams and reminded me about the design process. In its simplest form the planning process has four phases:

  • Ideas Phase: this is a divergent thinking brainstorming phase. We want the big ideas, the creative ideas, the “what if” ideas. People who are creative thinkers, imaginative, and divergent thinkers tend to do well in this phase. This “type” of people can be thought of by others as fluffy and “creative”! This phase is important because new ideas can arise. Teams don’t evaluate at this stage because evaluation will shut down creative and divergent thinking.
  • Design Phase: this is the phase where teams figure out the logistics and how to have the identified ideas happen. It is a convergent phase because it involves creating a step by step plan of action. Design thinkers (architects, engineers, trades people, administration people, etc.) are very good at taking the big ideas and figuring out HOW. They work well with ideas people as well as evaluators and are very detailed oriented (which is good for planning).
  • Evaluation Phase: this is the phase where all the potential obstacles, challenges and “yeah buts” are identified. What could be the potential barriers to success? During the evaluation phase it is important to also explore potential solutions to the barriers to success. It is critical that whilst barriers and obstacles are being identified to remain solution focused otherwise this phase can be disempowering. People who are strong evaluators are sometimes seen as a problem in teams. This is only because they begin evaluating too soon. They are very useful but only at the right time in the process. When an evaluator is satisfied and can’t come up with any further obstacles then it is almost certain that the plan is solid!
  • Action Phase: this final phase is where the plan is put into action. During this phase it is important to keep gathering evidence of the results of action. This feedback will inform future action and sometimes require the return to the design and evaluation phases. People who are strong in action hate sitting through the first three phases because all they want to do is get into action. Their motto is “Just Do It”. This is great for getting things done but if they aren’t following a solid plan they can work very hard and not get anywhere!

Step six of Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change identifies the importance planning for and achieving small wins. For leaders in the middle of a long-term change effort, short-term wins are essential. Running a change effort without attention to short-term performance is extremely risky. The guiding coalition becomes a critical force in identifying significant improvements that can happen quickly. Getting these wins helps ensure the overall change initiative’s success. Research shows that organisations that experience significant short-term wins in the early stages are much more likely to complete the transformation.

As Kotter points out:

“To ensure success, short term wins must be both visible and unambiguous. The wins must also be clearly related to the change effort.  Such wins provide evidence that the sacrifices that people are making are paying off.  This increases the sense of urgency and the optimism of those who are making the effort to change. These wins also serve to reward the change agents by providing positive feedback that boosts morale and motivation. The wins also serve the practical purpose of helping to fine tune the vision and the strategies. The guiding coalition gets important information that allows them to course-correct.

Short-term wins also tend to undermine the credibility of cynics and self-serving resistors. Clear improvements in performance make it difficult for people to block the needed change. Likewise, these wins will garner critical support from those higher than the folks leading the change. Finally, short-term wins have a way of building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters, and reluctant supporters into active helpers.”

Finally, the How High Schools Become Exemplary report by Harvard University reinforced the findings from Kotter and highlighted the importance of planning to achieve school-wide goals. Some of the aspects they identified as being important were:

  • Setting learning goals and plans for teachers with the same care and quality as the best teachers use to set learning goals for their students.
  • Pursuing a limited number of priorities at any given time.
  • Provide genuine opportunities for feedback and refinement
  • Maintaining and monitoring a formal calendar of specific dates and times for meetings and for completing important tasks.
  • Providing personalised feedback to teachers



  • Leading Change, John P. Kotter, Harvard (2012)
  • How High Schools Become Exemplary: ways that leadership raises achievement and narrows gaps by improving instruction in 15 public high schools, AGI Conference Report, Harvard Graduate School of Education (2009)

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.”

Johnny Nash

 Phillip Barlow is well known in the art world for his out-of-focus oil paintings. The South African artist uses blurriness to hint at shapes, subjects and context. In a world which has become hooked on high definition his work highlights the importance of focus and clarity in our everyday life. Those of you who wear reading glasses know the importance of being able to focus and have clarity when you are reading. I invite you to consider that many schools, teachers and students operate within an environment of a lack of clarity.

Many schools are unclear about the professional or student learning culture they are building. They have an idea of what they want but a range of pushes and pulls from education systems, parents, day-to-day issues and even finances blurs the focus of the individuals who are responsible for keeping it on track. It shows up in the way strategic plans are created and then followed (or not), in the staff meetings (and their number and length), in what is considered important throughout the school year, and in the structures put in place to support the school vision and goals.

Teachers are often unclear about the actual outcomes and goals they require students to achieve inside of a whole school plan. They read the prescribed curriculum and then form an interpretation of what that means. Quite often the result is a surface interpretation as deeper understanding and coherency requires the time for significant discussion and unpacking by a team of teachers consistent with the school mission and goals.

Students are often asked to learn in an environment where they don’t why they are doing what they are doing, nor what skill they are actually building. Without structures such as learning intentions, success criteria, formative rubrics, and clarity about WHAT, HOW, WHY and how to deal with obstacles to their learning – they often progress slowly towards achieving learning outcomes and building required skills.

Clarity, by definition, is the quality of being clear, coherent and intelligible.

The more that we work with schools the more we discover that what they are actually asking us is to partner them in creating clear, coherent and intelligible approaches to achieving what they want to achieve. It is not that they don’t know what they want (necessarily) but that it is a bit fuzzy or maybe they are unclear about the path to achieve their goals.

We find that most schools, whether they are of the government, catholic or independent persuasion, often have not clearly articulated what their purpose and the overall goals that they are trying to achieve. Sure they have school values. Sure they have a strategic plan. However we when dig down into what those goals, visions, and plans we find a lot of uncertainty rather than rigor and dealing with the reality of achieving their goals.

When we look at most school strategic plans they are often planned in such a way that it is hopeful rather than based in the reality of what would work best for schools, staff and students. It is NOT that we are dealing with people who can’t plan. What we are dealing with is, quite often, a lack of clarity of WHAT they are actually trying to achieve and a lack of a clear path to HOW they will achieve those goals in ways that coherently creates a powerful learning culture whilst supporting all students, staff and parents.

The same can be said with teachers. When we support teachers in planning curriculum we spend an enormous amount of time having them become crystal clear about what the learning destination they are desire the students get to. What are the skills, understandings and knowledge they want the students to gain? What will it look like when the students get there? What scaffolding and learning activities could they then design that will have the students’ progress towards that learning destination?

The great thing we have found, time and time again, is that once the school, teacher, or student is clear about their destination – they are immensely able to do what needs to be done to get there.


I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.

– Winston Churchill

Cathryn Stephens – Lead Educational Designer, Intuyu Consulting

The start of a new term brings with it new stationery, new ideas and a new countdown to the next school holidays! Many teachers spend the last few, precious days of their break becoming increasingly stressed out – not necessarily about the curriculum to be developed or how they will manage that difficult student/parent/colleague (insert name here) – but about the notion of ‘stress’ itself.

I used to start feeling stressed at about 3pm on the day before school went back; but that was only when I first graduated. Soon after, the stress began creeping in sooner – perhaps on the last Thursday of holidays, when we would often go into school to do some planning or to attempt to peel old labels off subject folders. As I progressed in my career (and built up a network of teacher friends), conversations about the stress of having to ‘go back to school’ and ‘OMG the holidays are almost over’ began to dominate coffee meetings, Facebook updates and phone calls. Then something happened. Something groundbreaking, brilliant and ridiculously simple! I took the time to reflect on my mindset around stress and the fact that I was literally talking myself (and possibly some colleagues) into a state of perpetual angst about having to go to work for 10 weeks at a time.

What brought this subject to mind was the status update made by a hard-working, passionate and skilled former colleague on the aforementioned social medium last night. Her declaration in anticipation of the next lot of holidays: ’Only 10 more weeks…’ led me to think that, as teachers, we perhaps need to learn to be more present, both at work and at play, and to develop our awareness of the powerful impact of the language we use and the mindset we allow ourselves to ritualise. The vast majority of teachers with whom I’ve worked have LOVED the job. They are passionate, organised, caring and highly focused. Overwhelmingly, though, they are also frequently ‘stressed’, ‘exhausted’, ‘flat-out’ and anxious. They are also dreaming of end of term drinks and permission to mentally (if not physically) capitulate in 50 working days’ time.

Our passion is supporting teachers to build, not just their pedagogical expertise, but their metacognitive skills in the service of making the lives of teachers easier, more productive – and here’s a radical notion – more enjoyable! We work with teachers to explore what motivates us – and seemingly subtle changes of habit, language and thinking that can lead to the creation of ways of being and acting that are truly transformative. To put it simply: when I made a conscious, disciplined effort to stop dialoguing with myself (and others) about ‘my stress’ and ‘my exhaustion’, I began to get some perspective on it. To see it for what it really was – a story that I was telling myself about my work and my ability, not just to ‘cope’ with it, but to actually enjoy it.

Now, none of this is to say that teachers do not experience the unique and variable stressors of a demanding, accountable profession – of course we do. My argument here is that we add unnecessarily layers of burden to our load by constantly emphasising the stress rather than developing habits and discourses to help alleviate it. Here are some leading questions to ask yourself:

  • How often do you think about/discuss your level of work-related stress?
  • What is your language like around stress? Keep a notepad handy with you for a week or two in order to track both your internal thoughts and conversations; both positive and negative. See how they balance!
  • Who is with you when you are articulating your stress levels (the same people might indicate a pattern)
  • What specific steps do you take on a daily/weekly/term-long basis to help manage stress?
  • Do you set SMART goals for each term? These can help you stay on track and stay positive, even when work is at its busiest. Also, being able to track your achievements is very important to your sense of development and self-efficacy as a practitioner
  • Is the underlying cause of your stress something other than your work? As humans, we have a tendency to ‘pile up’ those things that cause stress and anxiety; rather than clearly categorising them and creating mental boundaries between them. The discipline to do this comes when you build the ‘muscle’ of self-awareness.

These questions are designed to get you thinking about how much POWER the concept of stress currently has in your life, and to help enable you to decide if you want to adjust the ‘stress settings’. These days, I have a much healthier outlook on work and life – we work in a dynamic, challenging and richly rewarding field – but if we don’t make the time to examine our thoughts and habits, the inspiring becomes the overwhelming and you’ll just have spent another term dreaming of holidays and reaching for the fundraising
choccies in a staffroom near you. Let this term be the term you try something different – and reap the rewards.

Chat: Let us know what you think – if you start to think about our Leading Questions and try some of the suggestions, drop us a line!

Read: The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge, M.D.

Twitter @CathrynStephens

Recently I wrote a  reply to a school who was asking me about Growth mindsets as a school philosophy and also how to go about framing the need for school cultural change. While I was writing it I realised how critical what I was writing was for many schools. As such I have included it for all of you. I would love any thoughts you have.

Do you know of a ‘template’ or model for a curriculum framework?

When you say “curriculum framework” it could mean many things… so I have found and edited a document (Useful Links for Planning the Transition to the Australian Curriculum) that could inform you for your question. It is partly put together by the Victorian Education Department so there is a Victorian Essential Learnings focus but the thinking and processes are equally applicable to what I believe you are up to.


Do you know of any schools who are using the “Growth Mindset” as their ‘philosophy’ of teaching and learning in some way? or pursuing it in a systematic way?

Developing a Growth Mindset can be considered a fundamental way of operating that underlies all contemporary programs. When you explore schools and classes that are high performing they develop a growth mindset in their students and staff. Perhaps the most integrated systematic approach to doing this I have heard about is “The Leader in Me” approach by Stephen R. Covey. Check out The concept is about applying and developing the 7 habits of highly effective people in students as part of the way that the curriculum is delivered. When you look at the Covey program after reading the book you see that what they are doing is building a growth mindset within the students by developing them in the set of strategies and thinking that a Growth mindset individual would have.

It is also worth checking out Masada College in NSW who implement this program in their Leading Learning Program (


I have also found articles about ‘Brainology’, a program teaching the Growth Mindset available from the USA. However, the Australian articles seemed to be about one main school. Are you familiar with that program? Do you know of any schools using it? Is it necessary to ‘buy into’ a program like that?Or would that be a good way to go?

Brainology ( is obviously Carol Dweck’s work implemented into a program. Whether one needs to do it depends on the school’s vision. One of the challenges about the questions you ask is that until you are clear about what the school’s vision for learning is then taking on any of these programs will just be another thing to do that “hopefully” will make a difference. Inside of knowing what the school is “building” then you can judge whether it fits with that vision or not. Could it be valuable? Probably. I haven’t come across a school using it yet in my travels.

It is also worth checking out how Kathleen Kryza and her wonderful team has used the Growth Mindset idea in their work of Differentiation. They have just created a book called “Give it a Go” which is all about creating growth mindsets in a class.


I want to include our recommendation that a ‘culture change’ could be needed at our school with regard to ‘teaching and learning’ and would appreciate hearing your ideas on how this could be ‘framed’ or expressed in the report/proposal.

Ok. Let me have a go at this. One of the conversations I am now having with schools is leading an inquiry into “what is student centred learning?” This reveals an enormous amount the perception of the teachers and the culture in the school. At one session I led it was interesting to hear teachers expressing opinions giving students more choice, more control, etc, When you looked at all the statements together what you got was sense of the teacher maintaining control and giving something to the students so they ‘felt like they had a say’.

The next inquiry question was “who is more important in learning in a classroom – the teacher or the student”, and we can draw a see-saw with the teacher and student balanced on either end of it. Of course, teachers answers vary depending on their perception.

Here is the crux.

The teacher vs student thinking is industrial age paradigm. In a contemporary learning environment everyone in the classroom is both at different times … and it is critical to realise that you need to THINK this way to have that occur. At different times you learn from your students just as much as they learn from you. We need to reinvent what it means to be a “teacher” because at different times you can be a teacher, coach, facilitator, guider, supporter, coordinator, organiser, and so on … but at all times you are a learner. In fact I believe in a school it is more appropriate to think of our roles along a continuum

Beginning Learner ——————————-> Master Learner

In particular areas educators are masterful … such as specific domain areas or even in how one learns. In others we are not … but the students have a certain capacity and competency in those areas. Other people may have a greater mastery in those areas and so we learn from them or have them partner us to achieve our goal. Our job is to partner the students to develop mastery of learning in areas that they are currently weak in such that they are prepared for an ever-changing world. That involves mastering the skills, thinking, understanding and mindset that will adapt and thrive in the world.

Can you become masterful without the doing? No. This is why student-centred learning is important. Student Centred Learning is a profound shift in the way that teachers think about learning and teaching. It is a shift in context from Teacher as the Driver of Learning (this is what I have to cover, this is what I must make sure they know, this is what I have to teach), to Educator Setting the Destination and They Drive. In this new culture of learning and what it means to be a “teacher”, the focus becomes about getting clear about what the learning destination (skills, understandings, concepts) and planning on how we can create an environment where the habits, practices, activities, learning experiences supports the student to drive where we believe they will develop what they need for their future.

“Teachers” move from being the Drivers to the Driving Instructors. They don’t have their hands on the steering wheel but sit beside the learners, masterful at understanding the rules of learning and the skills of learning, and provide what is required for the learner to arrive at the destination.

Unless the school has a clear overall destination in mind they will be making many side-trips to destinations that can leave the student confused, disoriented and ultimately not where they need to be. This is why it is critical to align school culture, practices and planning such that everyone is on the same page. At the moment many schools have not done the thinking and the curriculum planning to achieve this. A school needs to have a clear vision for who they are and what they are building, a clear scope and sequence of skills and understandings they are developing through the years, a clear map and plan of how they are going to do it, and also how they are going to measure progress towards the destination(s).

Assessment is not a destination … it is your measurement guide towards the destination. You could say it is your GPS!

I hope this helps!

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.