• LEADnet: Building Bridges Toward the Future

  • Building Bridges Toward the Future

    One of my favorite movies growing up was D2: The Mighty Ducks. Perhaps it was the story of the underdog team winning the big game or that it was one of the few VHS tapes we owned, but I have fond memories of watching it countless times.

    In the movie, Coach Gordon Bombay is selected to lead Team USA hockey at the Junior Goodwill Games. While the group consists of many former players from a previous team, there are some newcomers with big personalities and aspirations. One of the first things we see Coach Bombay do with his new squad is teach them how to work together. In a memorable scene, he ropes the team into a circle on the ice. After the instruction to skate and a signal on his whistle, the team promptly struggles and falls to the ice. With some encouragement from the coach, the group finally realizes they must work as a group to get anywhere.

    We needed a shared goal, a destination that we could approach together, to get us lined up and facing the same direction.I have noticed some similarities with my experiences working in schools. No, not that a music montage will suddenly prepare you for the big event but of the necessity of a team working together and moving in the same direction to accomplish a shared goal. It is that idea of a shared goal and having teammates moving in the same direction that my school recently recognized as our need. While team ministry was a prevalent part of our daily actions, we realized that our group lacked momentum and movement forward. We needed a shared goal, a destination that we could approach together, to get us lined up and facing the same direction. Then, moving together, we could take steps toward our goal. This need began a process to develop a strategic plan for the school. Here are the steps we took in our strategic planning process.

    Alan Pue, in his book Rethinking Strategic Planning for Christian Schools, states that strategic planning is a process about “moving from your current reality to a preferred future” and “during which you discover the vision God already has for your school.” He also notes that the Bible has much to say for school leaders, especially about the strategic planning process:

    “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his path. Without counsel plans fail but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 16:9 and 15:22 ESV

    We followed the advice from both the Bible and Pue and began a strategic planning process to develop a written plan for our school. The first step was to determine our “current reality” so that we could form a bridge or path to where we wanted to go. We sent a survey to the school’s stakeholders (students, parents, staff, and school board). The survey included questions about the strengths of the school, its biggest opportunities, and what they would like the school to look like in a few years.

    After collecting survey results, we had a helpful picture of our school, and there were definitely some clear options for possible directions (or shared goals). The next step was to dig deeper into the options and write a vision statement for the school.

    We assembled a focus group for a morning brainstorming session. The group consisted of selected church and school staff members, parents, and board members. We brought in a consultant for this step to maximize our time together and ensure that the activities lined up with our objective to write a vision statement. A vital step for any ministry, a clear and intentional vision statement shares with your team and community the “preferred future” or shared goal. After a morning of creative exercises and collaboration, the focus group created a list of action items for the school and a rough draft of a vision statement.

    A new vision statement for the school … connects where we are to where we want to go. It is the roadmap and the guidance needed so that the team can face the same direction and move together. The next step in our process was to solidify the vision statement and sort the list of action items. After input from the school staff, the leadership team was able to write and publish a new vision statement for the school. With this in hand, it was now time to build the bridge. This piece connects where we are to where we want to go. It is the roadmap and the guidance needed so that the team can face the same direction and move together.

    We next prioritized the action items from our brainstorming session. As you might imagine, we had a plethora of great ideas. I took to heart the guidance from Pue’s book and encouraged our group to consider “What is most important right now?” Here again is the importance of the written strategic plan. All of our ministries have options in front of us, many of them are worthy to pursue. The shared goal allows our teams to work together and move toward the same goal. The movement will create momentum in our ministries.

    After some meaningful, and at times tough, conversations, we prioritized our action items from the session. Now with a clear picture of our current reality, where we wanted to go, and items we wanted to accomplish, we wrote a plan.

    I have seen different formats for school strategic plans, but I think the most important part is having a written one and having that bridge accessible to the team. Our format includes three overarching priorities. These priorities come directly from our vision statement and allow us to list the action items together in common groups. We list our action items in order of importance and indicate what levels it impacts (our ministry has an early childhood center and K–8 school in the same building). We also note the “status” of each item. Once we start a project, we update a color-coded category each month to indicate if the project is on track or behind schedule.

    • Does your school have a strategic plan? When was the last time it was reviewed?
    • Does your strategic plan bridge your current reality to your preferred future?
    • In what ways can your team be better about working together toward a common goal?

    Our team is intentional about often referring to our strategic plan. We update and report to the school board each month (most of the agenda for school board meetings is allotted for working on the plan). We discuss current action items in monthly school staff meetings. The leadership team uses the plan to shape their day-to-day priorities as well. Not only does the strategic plan provide the bridge to the “preferred future” for the team, it also allows us to see progress toward the goals our team set out to achieve together. When we reach these goals, we can celebrate our ministry’s forward movement.

    Whether you are on a youth hockey team or in a school setting, it is important to work together toward a shared goal. My school realized that this was a missing piece for us, and we went through the process to build a bridge toward the future. I believe this is a necessity for schools, and I encourage any school that has not done this or that has not done this recently to go through the strategic planning process.

    God’s blessings to you and your ministry team as you move together. If you would like specifics about our process or strategic plan or have any questions about our steps, please let me know!

    Jon Fraker serves as the principal of Epiphany Lutheran Church and School in Houston, Texas. He spends his free time with his wife and their four kids playing board games and watching the Mighty Ducks trilogy. He was blessed to learn and grow through the SLED and the Van Lunen Fellowship programs. He is excited to be able to share his experiences and encourage fellow church workers. Feel free to contact him at jfraker@elcsh.org.

    Illustrations © iStock/z-wei

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