The Life Cycle of a School

With so many new schools opening in the region, it is helpful for school owners, leaders and managers to understand the life cycle of a school. There are always exceptions and the following stages aren’t necessarily a rule, but the cycle gives a general idea of what to expect.

1- Birth/Infant Stage

During this stage, the school is brand new. All stakeholders believe in the vision and mission and have very high motivation to develop the school. There is a very high sense of ownership at this stage and most are willing to go above and beyond their duties or job descriptions to see the school grow.

What a school needs at this stage:

a- A strong entrepreneurial leader and educational visionary leader. These could be the same person or a small group of people with a high degree of commitment.

b- The founding group should maintain control and significant input into the school, at this stage, it will be a lot more hands on with not much delegation.

c- Visionary and pioneering staff who have experience, are hard-working, have strong work ethics, high morale and belief in the school.

d- The school needs a clear structured educational philosophy or concept. At this stage, schools tend to latch on to a specific school of thought or educational philosophy or develop a new system based on a particular educational theory. It’s best not to experiment at this point.

e- Systems need to be developed, curricula, policies, roles, functions, etc., should be identified and implemented.

f- At this stage, there is a potential for quick growth and the priority is to establish systems and establish reputation.

2- Adolescent Growth Stage

During this stage, founders and teams start to get demotivated. The feeling of a small family that existed in the first stage is no longer there. New employees and other stakeholders seem like intruders trying to ‘change’ the school. Any suggestions for improvement are perceived with hostility as they seem like threats to abolish the school’s system which the founding team worked hard to develop. Changes at this stage are often misunderstood as changing beliefs, abandoning vision, etc. which is not true, it just looks very different in a larger school. At this stage there is a high turnover rate due to misconceptions and changes being made to adapt to a larger school.

What a school needs at this stage:

a- Beliefs, values, rules, goals, structure, etc. should be more formalized and implemented for stakeholders to gain a stronger understanding of what they mean and look like when implemented.

b- At this stage, staff are being added and are all at different stages of understanding the school system, theories, concepts, policies, etc. Workshops should be held to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

c- As the school matures and more staff are added, the founding group and pioneer staff feel that they are changing, growing too much, losing the feel of the original small group, etc. It is important at this stage to over-communicate all reasons for changes and to reassure the team that the mission and vision are still in the forefront of all decisions.

d- As the school grows, conflict and inconsistency become evident and some confusion of roles and responsibilities create conflict. It is important to clearly define roles. The school will find itself needing more employees to fulfill roles that were not really needed during the first stage.

e- At this stage, the priority is to maintain respect and face all challenges with respect regardless of conflicts, misunderstanding, etc. It is very important to work on the culture and keep referring to core values and ensure that everyone abides by them regardless of the situation.

3- Maturing Stage

This stage is where most stakeholders gain a much stronger understanding of vision, mission, goals, etc., which continue to drive and energize the team. The leadership team has a clearer vision and knows what it is doing and how to do it. Experience has made up for most deficiencies and the school seems to be running itself.

What a school needs at this stage:

a- New plans to improve and take school to higher level start to be developed. While policies, roles and goals are becoming clearer, they still need to be worked on continuously to develop and grow.

b- Systems and bureaucracy usually start increasing (which is not necessarily bad, with growing schools, more paperwork and documentation are needed). At this stage, schools need to ensure a strong data collection process and documentation process.

c- The challenge at this stage is that leaders and team members might get caught up in what is customary and rigidly hold on to an idea that is no longer suitable while forgetting the reason behind the idea. An idea or method might become more important than the vision and mission.

d- Standards are raised for team members and new staff, quality should now be emphasized rather than 'start-up training'.

e- The school members at this stage are more confident and secure while morale is usually high. It is important to continue to appreciate staff and remember the efforts being exerted even though it doesn’t seem to be as much as it used to be in the earlier stages

f- The priority at this stage is to maintain reputation and ensure that the school is growing and improving rather than give in to the feeling that everything is established and compromising on quality.

4- Aging Stage

During this stage, there is a decreased sense of ownership in all stake-holders. Most assume that others are responsible and the founding team are usually expected to uphold the values, etc. The founding team have usually experienced burn-out by this stage and less than half of original staff will still be at the school. Most things are established and hardly any growth or improvement are being worked on. Focus is on managing the school as a large organization and policies and procedures are followed even if they are no longer relevant. Schools at this stage focus on past achievements rather than future visions. Changes are resisted and met with suspicion. No one wants to 'disturb the peace' or change anything even if something else might be much better.

What a school needs at this stage:

a- The priority at this stage is for stakeholders to remember the vision and mission and why the school was built. This needs to be a discussion topic during staff meetings and PD sessions.

b- Constant training and induction for all new stakeholders is important to keep vision, mission, goals and beliefs alive. Resistance to change is normal but this should not stop the leadership team from continuing to improve the school while being transparent about reasons for buy-in from staff and stakeholders.

5- The Dying Stage 

This stage does not need to happen. Schools should work hard to complete the cycle without going through this stage. The ideal situation would be to begin a new branch or program within the school to begin the cycle again (for example, schools start to branch out with new accreditation agencies, add a new curriculum, start a new branch, etc.).

During this stage, a school completely loses its purpose and hope. Vision and mission are no longer understood by anyone and so many conflicts arise due to a very large staff and no common goals, beliefs, mission, etc. This leads to a very toxic culture and 'gangs' are formed based on different visions and beliefs.There is very low morale at this point. There is a lack of interest and hardly anyone volunteers for anything or wants to work beyond the bare minimum of their job. Due to the challenges at this stage, change or improvement is almost impossible with no buy-in from staff. It becomes just a job and excuses are always made for why something can't be done. At this point, most stakeholders know that the school is dying but trying to change is much scarier. While everyone can see that there are a lot of problems, they are only focused on blaming others and no one feels that they are contributing to the problem. The biggest challenge at this stage is for leadership. It is extremely frustrating at this stage as all attempts to improve seem to be in vain. 

What a school needs at this stage:

a- The priority is to ensure that the school does not reach this stage. With a continuous improvement cycle, the school will not be left to run itself until it reaches this stage.

b- If the school does reach this stage, many meetings, workshops, team-building activities and reminders of school beliefs, vision, mission, goals need to be conducted. In some cases, it will be necessary to filter out staff members who are the main cause of problems.

78 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All