Our world is crazy, unstable and ever-evolving. I’ve been examining how to shift my consulting practice to best support my clients and ultimately, still impact student achievement and academic success.
In a typical strategic planning process, I’d partner closely with a core team for several months to understand our starting point, determine long-term priorities, refine organizational foundation (mission, vision, values, theory of action, etc) and then create a comprehensive plan with codified SMART goals/milestones/dashboard, organizational charts and a financial model. My favorite part of the process was rolling out our hard work to teams, usually in a large retreat format, in order to get feedback and invest team members to execute the plan.
Well, COVID-19 certainly squashes the chances of a large in-person retreat, but with an amazing client in Fort Worth – Leadership Academy Network (LAN) – we were able to adapt the format to make things work. (Click here to learn more about their innovative structure, the Texas Partnership Opportunity).
I began the strategic planning process with LAN in November 2019, and we worked diligently for several months to create a foundation, goals, systems and structures in the network’s first year of operation. We felt great about the strategic plan and had to get creative with our 2-day retreat in order to invest principals and assistant principals at five schools into LAN’s 5-year strategic plan.
We did a ton of planning to roll out our strategic plan effectively, pandemic-style:
- Hybrid format:
- In-person: We adhered to state guidelines and kept our in-person group to 10 people (including the central team, principals and myself). Our venue usually held ~40-50 people, so we had tons of space to set up a table for each person, with each table more than 6 feet apart from one another. We also set up all their supplies, individually wrapped-snacks, water and materials so that people did not need to leave their tables once seated.
- Virtual: We also had another 10 people (assistant principals) attend virtually from their school offices.
- Everyone logged onto zoom with their headphones on and were on mute unless they were speaking. This made it feel a little bit like a call center for the in-person folks but it worked.
- Note: I would only suggest this format if your team has an excellent rapport with one another – our group could make jokes at each other in the room, and virtual folks could chat in funny responses as well as their critical feedback. If your group doesn’t have a strong relationship with one another, I would suggest doing it 100% virtual (and 100% in-person post-pandemic).
- Hybrid format:
- Keep participants involved: my nightmare would be for folks to zone out and check facebook during the 2-day retreat, so I used a variety of tools to keep everyone engaged:
- Polling – I used polling several times, from icebreaker questions (about dream vacations) to checking for understanding after we covered certain topics.
- Chat – Because this group was so fun, we used chat to support one another, make jokes, ask questions and give each other shout-outs. (I also emailed prizes – Amazon gift cards – for shout-out recipients).
- Breakout rooms – We pre-assigned participants to breakout rooms. On the first day, we mixed up the groups across schools so people could get to know each other. One the second day, we had campus planning sessions so people were assigned to groups by their schools. I received feedback after the first day to have longer, fewer breakout rooms – the technology was confusing to transition multiple times. It worked well on our second day to have one long breakout session (45 min) so campus teams could examine their dashboards and provide feedback.
- Lessons learned:
- Find an awesome person that is dedicated to managing the zoom! My lovely partner was able to mute people, launch polls, assign people to breakout rooms, monitor the chat for questions/shout-outs, etc. It would be very difficult as a facilitator to both present AND manage all of the zoom/technological aspects.
- Gather daily feedback via a survey (I use Google forms). I was able to make easy changes (like changing the breakout room format) based on feedback from participants.
- I avoided playing music and videos – two things I love in an in-person retreat, but I found that it’s too hard to predict internet quality to make the execution seamless. (I’d love suggestions if you’ve been able to make this work).
- Make it fun! We had a beach theme and it was fun! We gave a prize for best dressed and made the room festive with lays, palm trees, plastic pineapples, etc. It’s a crazy time y’all and we have to learn to embrace the weirdness!