What Is Strategic Leadership in Education?

Written by Rebecca Turley

many darts hitting bullseyes on dartboards

Not all leaders are strategists.

Though leadership and strategy appear to go hand-in-hand, the truth is that not all leaders are expert strategists. But there’s considerable value in honing your strategic leadership skills and bringing strategy to your educational leadership role.

Strategic leadership starts with a vision that eventually becomes a detailed plan of action. For educational leaders, this means creating that vision, establishing goals and a plan for achieving it, and then driving the action to achieve your goals.

Strategic leadership provides the clearest path to success for leaders focused on continuous improvement in their school or district. Through strategic leadership, educational leaders are better able to visualize, plan, and then lead their teams toward an achievable goal that is always, of course, focused on student success.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

Who Is the Strategic Leader in Education?

Consider the strategic leader as the “big picture” person. The best leaders have what is frequently referred to as strategic agility – the ability to act as a visionary. They can see the big picture, initiate a strategy, and design a blueprint for realizing their vision.

Strategic leaders in education have a clear vision of where they want the school or district to go. Their passion and enthusiasm inspires educators, administrators, staff, parents, and the community to embrace their vision. If they meet resistance, they take the time to address questions and concerns and ensure that everyone has a voice. Though they craft a solid strategy and implement actionable short- and long-term goals, they’re able to carefully adjust them, if necessary, and refocus without sacrificing the forward momentum they’ve established.

Successful strategic leaders:

Reflection for the Strategic Leader in Education

class raised hands for questionsHigh-level reflection is a great way to kickstart your strategic leadership plans and position yourself for success.

Some of the questions strategic leaders in education often ask include:

  • What do we want to achieve, and what is the best way to achieve it?
  • Does the plan relate to strong student outcomes? Is the vision student-centered?
  • Where do we need to concentrate our efforts to achieve our goals?
  • How can I involve my team and other stakeholders in the school community to achieve both short- and long-term goals?
  • Who should be part of the strategic planning process?
  • What are my available resources and how can I go about maximizing them?
  • What obstacles are in the way? How can I go about removing them?
  • What does success look like?

How to Become an Effective Strategic Leader in Education

rocket drawn on chalkboard 2023

Strategic leadership isn’t a leadership style so much as it’s a tactic for achieving a specific plan or initiative in your school or district. The key is knowing how and when to kickstart your strategic leadership mindset to realize school or district goals.

To become an effective strategic leader, you must:

Anticipate Challenges and Prepare for the Unexpected

Chances are you’ll encounter bumps along the way. COVID and the advent of remote learning by the masses were an excellent example of this. Don’t be so rigid that you can’t pivot and change strategies along the way.

Challenge Common Assumptions

No great leader ever accepted the status quo. If there’s a different way of achieving a goal, consider its merits before automatically following a prescribed direction.

Consider Other Points of View

Build trust and find common ground to elicit the support of educators, staff, parents, and the community. Recognize the importance of good communication. Seek to understand others’ concerns.

Strive to Strike a Balance

Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day that the vision is lost, and vice-versa. It’s all about achieving a balance with short- and long-term goals.

Establish a Strategic Leadership Development Plan

Once you have your strategic vision nailed down, it’s time to put your efforts into action. A strategic leadership development plan is the easiest way to visualize your thoughts and organize the steps that you’ll need to put into motion to get things moving.

There are no hard and fast rules for creating a strategic leadership development plan, but you can give yourself a running start by organizing your plan into the following, four components:

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