Strategic Planning – A Tipping Point Opportunity

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell shared that the right intervention at just the right time – the Tipping Point – can start a cascade of change and provide a method for developing strategies for growth. I believe Strategic Plans in schools are an invaluable school improvement tool. Having participated in the development and implementation of several strategic plans, I see them as an opportunity to lay the foundation of strategies that set the direction for the future. At FIS/ISW we are at such a tipping point. These Tipping Points are moments in organizations where either a paralyzing inability to move can set in or the value of creative tension can be harnessed to bring higher levels of performance. The concept of “creative tension”, coined by Peter Senge, comes from seeing clearly where we want to be, our “vision,” and telling the truth about where we are, our “current reality.” The gap between our vision and reality generates a natural tension. Creative tension can be resolved in two ways: by raising current reality toward the vision, or by lowering the vision toward current reality. Individuals, groups, and organizations that learn how to work with creative tension learn how to use its energy to move reality more reliably toward their visions.

I met two students recently and the first asked me why we do not offer IB South Asian Studies. I shared with the student that I knew of only three schools in the world that offered this course and it was unlikely to generate adequate interest among FIS students. However, as I thought further, I wondered what would prevent this student from working with an FIS teacher-coach who would be responsible for online or independent study. This teacher could collaborate with another international school that does offer the course to support the student in completing the requirements while s/he studies here in Oberursel.

The second student, who was new to the school and due to scheduling limitations, was one of three students were being required to begin French instead of their preferred choice of Spanish. (Fortunately, most students were scheduled into the class of their choice and the counselors and principal worked long hours to bend the schedule every which way with the child’s need at the center of their efforts.) While we cannot open a new class for only three students, we can try to find hybrid solutions so we can meet even more students’ course selection choices. These challenges offer examples of possible solutions that can be part of a future where we take advantage of the opportunity Tipping Point that is upon us.

In response to the worldwide financial crisis, all metrics at our school have had to be extended, including classes reaching their maximums, increased responsibilities for teachers and administrators, lower tuition increases, and cutting back on staffing in areas that do not directly impact the academic program. I think we are through the crisis and are fortunate to have waiting lists at many grade levels. However quality space for students and faculty is limited. This is another example of a tension within the school that is in need of a creative resolution.

The crossroad or Tipping Point most schools face today is an opportunity to improve or maintain quality, expand the depth of their programs, and innovate. While schools build their steel and glass structures, they must simultaneously envision a future with new options that allow learning without walls or a specific location, that allows research, access to information, and connections around the globe. FIS/ISW uses corporate and individual donations to provide the Rosetta Stone language software offering 30 foreign languages to students is just one example of how schools can try to think “outside the box” to meet student needs.

The past few years have taught us that there is no fixed map for the future, but that instead we need to remain open to change. Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin would call us ‘Indispensable Linchpins’ – we are not going to wait for belated instructions, but instead we are going to forge ahead to find timely solutions. It is time for schools to seize a Strategic Plan’s Tipping Point opportunity.