How Does Your School Team Determine Priorities?

Steven WeberBlog, Lead Better, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better


  • Determine your school’s priorities by having clear collective commitments.
  • Have a plan for the implementation of your goal(s).
  • Determine how you will measure growth.
  • Reflect on what is being omitted in order to focus on your goal(s).
  • Celebrate when you reach your goal(s).

Determining School Priorities

In schools around the world, a common practice is the development of a School Improvement Plan.  Reading at grade level, performance at or above grade level in mathematics, high school readiness, and the graduation rate are common measures agreed upon by school teams.  School Improvement Plans can be a mirage.  Most school teams are adept at writing annual plans.  Identifying school priorities is different from developing a plan.  While the School Improvement Plan is a common method for identifying school priorities, school staff should ask the following questions.

Collective Commitments: Do We Have Collective Commitments?

A “Collective Commitment” is different from school goals.  When you ask your grade level team, department, or entire staff to share their collective commitments, you will have a better understanding of the school’s priorities.  If someone is committed to weight loss, it looks different than when the individual only has weight loss goals.  The same is true of school teams. 

Too many school teams have identified the school improvement goals but lack clarity about the collective commitment(s).  Without collective commitment, individual staff members may see the goal as optional.  Is your school team goal-oriented or committed to implementing each goal and strategy?

Implementation begins with clarity about the goals. When school teams are clear about the purpose, they begin to identify a strategy. Click To Tweet

Implementation: What Are We Implementing?

Implementation begins with clarity about the goals.  When school teams are clear about the purpose, they begin to identify a strategy.  Stevenson (2019) wrote, “It has often been noted that while all organizations have a mission statement, not all of them have a mission. Just so, while most organizations have a plan, few of them have a strategy.” 

If you want to identify your school priorities, start with a single goal. Then point to the strategy for implementation.  It has been said, “If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.” Educators do not need an implementation plan for every activity.  However, it seems like a lack of strategy indicates that the goal is not a high priority.  Does your school team have an implementation plan or a prayer?

Measurement: What Are We Measuring?

High-stakes testing is often the first topic that comes to mind when we hear the term measurement.  Goals can and should be measured by school teams.  Are you implementing a specific reading intervention program?  Is your school staff focused on a behavioral support strategy or program?  What gets measured gets done.  Ask your team, “What are we measuring?”  High-performing schools measure their priorities and develop shorter finish lines (i.e., 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks).  High-performing teams embrace data which helps them understand if their programs and collective efforts are making a difference.

Omission: What Have We Decided To Omit?

When teacher teams and administrators make decisions to omit content, key skills, or school traditions, they are making a statement about school priorities.  This topic does not receive as much attention as writing school goals.  On a daily basis, teachers close their classroom door(s) and determine what is taught or not taught. 

This often comes during teachable moments when students ask questions or take the lesson in a new direction.  School ceremonies recognize what the school staff prioritizes.  If a school’s master schedule allotted 90 minutes for elementary reading, 85 minutes for mathematics, and science/social studies are taught once a week for 20 minutes, then you have made a decision about your school’s priorities.  Consider asking, “What have we decided to omit?” The answer to this question may help your school team become crystal clear about the school’s priorities, including what is not a priority.

Celebrations: What Do We Celebrate?

In order to determine your school priorities, identify the things you currently celebrate with students and co-workers.  It is rare to see school teams celebrate small wins.  “Short-term wins don’t come about as the result of a little luck.  They aren’t merely possibilities. People don’t just hope and pray for performance improvements.  They plan for short-term wins, organize accordingly, and implement the plans to make things happen” (Kotter, 2012).  In the absence of celebration, school teams may not have a common goal.  When your team reaches a goal, take time to celebrate.  Enjoy the journey and celebrate that you are one step closer to a bigger goal. 

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Moving From Goals To Priorities: What Does Our School Team Have A Sense Of Urgency About? 

When school teams reflect on collective commitments, implementation, measurement, omission, and celebrations, the school’s priorities will become clear.  Leading with questions is an effective strategy that can illuminate goals buried in a school improvement plan.

As you make daily and weekly decisions, ask your team “What have we decided to omit?”  Priorities are determined by our collective commitments, daily actions and inaction, and evidence of implementation.  Priorities exist in every school.  Most school staff will point to the school’s website, strategic plan, or an infographic when asked about the school’s priorities.  What are your priorities? 


Kotter, J. (2012). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press.

Stevenson, I. (2019). An improvement plan is not enough — you need a strategy. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(6), 60-64.

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is a curriculum leader. He has served on multiple state and national boards. His areas of research include curriculum design, multiplying leaders, professional learning, and school leadership.