Committee for Children Blog

A Closer Look at Strategic Plans: Laying the Foundation for Student Success


Strategic plans are important because they identify school and district priorities, goals, and resources. Every year or two I spend time reviewing various plans in my state (Wisconsin) to keep up with areas of common focus. I recently noticed that an increasing number of school districts have included elements of social-emotional well-being within their strategic plans. I have always believed and understood from the research that social-emotional skills are critical for student achievement, positive social behavior and attitudes, and managing anxiety and emotional distress, and that’s why I was personally heartened to see more districts making long-term commitments to social-emotional learning (SEL). 

I also decided to explore this “movement” further, on a nationwide level. I talked with various district administrators and reviewed 67 strategic plans of rural, urban, and suburban districts with varying student enrollment, in 26 states throughout the nation. These are four trends I found:

1) One Shared Goal: Student Success

All strategic plans referenced student success, whether it was referred to as college and career readiness, academic achievement, or success in school and life.

2) Nearly One-Fourth Include SEL

Of the plans I reviewed, 22% incorporated social-emotional elements within their missions, core beliefs, goals, or strategies. Some examples are:

  • Empower students with the academic, personal, and social knowledge and skills needed to build fulfilling and engaged lives
  • Prepare our students to be responsible and caring members of our community
  • Implement district-wide protocols regarding social, emotional, and behavioral growth

3) SEL Tied to Personal Responsibility

Plans that incorporated social-emotional strategies often included strategies related to responsible decision making (26%) and self-management (34%), two of the five core SEL competencies that can be developed through effective social-skills instruction. These are a few examples of the common strategies I found:

  • All students will continually achieve their stated aspirations (self-management).
  • Develop student capacity to monitor their own growth (self-management).
  • All students will develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (self-management).
  • All students will develop good skills for communication and collaboration.
  • All students will practice a healthy lifestyle by making responsible decisions and choices (responsible decision-making).

4) Few Plans Include Action Steps

Few of the strategic plans that included social-emotional elements as part of their vision, mission, goals, objectives, or strategies had actual action steps for meeting their stated social-emotional targets. 


Consider where you are in the district strategic planning process and how it measures up to what I found. Think about some of these potential next steps and how they can help you achieve your organizational goals of student success.

Considerations for District Leaders

  • If you have a strategic plan, review it to incorporate and add social-emotional goals and strategies, since students need more than academic skills to succeed in school and life.
  • Ensure you have specific action steps for meeting your social-emotional related goals and strategies. A plan without action behind it is just words on a page!
  • If you already have action steps, confirm you have steps specific enough to facilitate follow-through. For example, if you incorporate educator professional learning as an action step, be more specific about what it entails. Specify whether that means providing professional development about what SEL is and why it is important, or if it’s training in how to implement a social skills curriculum.

This post is the first in a three-part a series about maximizing strategic plans for student success. Keep following for more information and ideas about how to leverage or revise your strategic plan to promote better results for students.