The first question that came to Frank Luzaich’s mind when he received the invitation to participate in a Teachers College Strategic Agility workshop was, “what exactly is strategic agility?”
The notion that one could, theoretically, be strategically agile resonated with Frank’s sensibilities as a long-time basketball coach. As athletes and coaches, the degree to which we are “agile”—anticipatory, adaptive, and responsive to our opponent’s move—depends on the completeness of our foresight. Foresight, “the ability to predict…what will happen or be needed in the future,” requires a degree of strategy if that foresight is intended to be used for a specific end.
Frank saw a natural connection: being strategically agile would mean planning ahead and doing a little ducking-and-dodging in advance that would serve the eventual goal. He was intrigued by the idea that strategic agility might apply to education as much as business, for Frank had recently begun thinking about his own strategy as an educational leader:
Everything I do is strategic.
The important question is for whom each strategic move is made.
Should strategy take place at the organizational or individual level?
Frank enrolled in the Strategic Agility session to be held at Teachers College in October of 2017. When Frank attended the Strategic Agility training in October of 2017, he had been the principal at Molalla Elementary School in Molalla River School District for just over two years.
Prior to that, Frank was a planning principal for Edy Ridge Elementary School in Sherwood, Oregon (16 months prior to its opening), and was then the principal of Edy Ridge for six years. Sherwood is a growing suburb of 19,000 in close proximity to Nike’s Headquarters and Intel; a school district is characterized by highly participatory middle-class families.
Molalla River School District (MRSD) was a change of pace for Frank from Sherwood: MRSD is a rural school located in Northeast Oregon, approximately 35 miles due south of Portland. It is home to four district elementary schools, one district middle school, one district high school, and two charter schools.
Like many districts in the nation, MSRD experiences a high turnover rate of specialized staff members:
speech-language pathologists, learning and behavior specialists
This high turnover has an evident negative impact on the schools’ most vulnerable populations. When Frank accepted a position as the principal of Molalla Elementary School in 2015, MRSD had three other administrative positions open.
When Frank was granted permission from his superintendent to attend the Strategic Agility training, he did so with the intent to act—alongside his colleague, Kathleen French—as a representative for his district, and to bring the training content back to the other principals and administrators in the district.
Over the course of the two-day training, Frank and Kathleen listened with rapt attention and began imagining how they would bring the information back to their colleagues. They were especially struck by the importance of values in dynamic organizations.
Frank wondered whether the values of MRSD’s leaders were in some way misaligned or unfilled, and if that accounted in part for their high turnover rate. During the training, Frank kept referring back to his leading question about the level at which good strategy is most impactful.
He made a connection to a recent training he had found meaningful with helping school leaders to develop models of efficient day-to-day, hour-to-hour organization that both empowers building leaders to strike a work-life balance and at the same time build in time each day for thinking and acting creatively.
Frank had a moment of clarity during the training –
if we don’t have good organizational structure
at the systemic level in our district,
we will burn out the people who are leading.
It would not be until January that he would come to understand just how keen his insight at that October training was. Frank and Kathleen returned to MRSD with an action plan to employ the tools they had gathered during the Strategic Agility training.
To continue with Frank’s story, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Frank’s Story.
Written by Hannah Erickson
Edited by Frank Luzaich & Sarah Benis Scheier-Dolberg