Getting Strategic: Islamic Schools Need Strategic Planning

Getting Strategic:

Islamic Schools Need Strategic Planning

What is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is a formal method of identifying what an organization does, why it does it, and how it does those things.  But, for schools, all of those points are obvious, right?

Schools educate students (what)…

in order to help students become successful (why)…

and they do that through classes, textbooks and teachers (how).


Islamic schools could have multiple reasons for existing, and they can implement their programming and services in a variety of ways. It’s crucial that Islamic schools engage in strategic planning to be 1) more intentional and 2) set the school up to be more successful in their desired outcomes.

Furthermore, the strategic plan needs to be a living document, and multiple stakeholders should be involved in its creation and implementation. The strategic planning process should be reengaged as often as every 3 years, or sometimes sooner, if there is a major organizational overhaul.

Why do Islamic Schools Need Strategic Planning?

Here are five reasons why Islamic schools need to engage in strategic planning regularly:

1. It’s part of the Quran & Sunnah

If you think about it, the whole process of strategic planning, which includes documenting priorities, outlining who does what when and for how much compensation, is all part of our religion. Consider the Quranic injunctions for us to write down (in front of witnesses) our contracts, and  the sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) who consulted his companions for decision making.

2. Assists with Alignment

Strategic planning help various stakeholders– particularly those involved in ensuring the success of the schools like the board, head of school and other leaders– get on the same page about how to ensure the future success of the organization. It allows school leaders to revisit and align on the school’s ‘why’, which may reduce future disagreements around budget, programs and resources.

3. Helps Define & Deliver on the School’s Value Prop

As parents increasingly have more options for schooling with public, charter, online, homeschooling and private Islamic schools, it is critical that K-12 Islamic schools have a unique and compelling value proposition that they communicate to parents– and even to its staff (think: hiring & retention challenges).

For example, an Islamic school can exist to:

  • provide a foundation for students’ academic success, or
  • foster civic engagement, or
  • nourish a strong Muslim American identity, or
  • serve as a lighthouse for the broader community, or
  • raise leaders who establish environmental and social justice in this world within the framework of Islam, or
  • cultivate future scholars of Islam…

…. and the list could go on! But knowing the why will help with everything else. Saying you exist for all these reasons may be true– but at some point, you may need to prioritize and specify, and the strategic planning process assists in this.

4. Uncovers Discrepancies

It’s also possible that you think your ‘why’ is one thing, while your current programs and budget reflect otherwise. Again, the strategic planning process will help you uncover this discrepancy and recalibrate as needed. At its core, “what” the school does– the curriculum it chooses, the schedule it implements, the staff it hires, the extracurricular activities it offers– should be driven by the values and priorities established by the school’s “why,” which is revisited regularly during the strategic planning process.

5. Makes Schools SMARTer

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals drive the “how,” with a focus on parsing out the vision of the strategic plan into specific and measurable objectives. Other details that are specified in the strategic plan include: who needs to do the work, what resources are needed to get the work done, and dates by which the objectives need to be implemented or met.

Major Pitfalls

According to an article by Douglass Halladay of Private School Review, the major pitfalls of Strategic Planning include:

1. Not planning
2. Not including key people in the planning effort
3. Planning before undertaking a “Situation Assessment”
4. Developing a Mission Statement first
5. Confusing goals and objectives
6. Measuring activity instead of results
7. Jumping straight to strategies after developing objectives
8. Not developing detailed action plans for strategies
9. Not gaining buy-in before implementing the plan
10. Not monitoring and revising the plan

Strategic Planning for Islamic Schools

The bottom line is: Strategic planning is not an event. It’s an iterative process that takes time and undergoes cyclic patterns of planning, implementation, feedback, adjustment and back to a new plan again. If your school has worked on a strategic plan, or has one in place, but it is not being used, join us to learn more about strategic planning for Islamic schools.

ISLA is hosting a 90-minute Strategic Planning Workshop on Sunday, September 25 and we encourage board members and administrators to attend, and potentially other key constituents from the school community that would be involved in implementing the plan. The workshop will provide an overview of best practices and even allow some time for breakout discussions to get into the nitty gritty of school-specific strategic planning.

If interested, register here.


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