As a alternatively certified educator, I have a perspective that comes from experiences in business, non-profit, retail, and education atmospheres. In my day-to-day work, developing strategic plans for the growth of the program for which I am responsible in my district, I use these perspectives to generate a holistic view of the true impact of new initiatives on all stakeholders.
Wow, that sounds like I just wrote a vision statement – “we seek to evaluate the potential impact of new initiatives on all stakeholders.”
That isn’t what I intended, but it certainly is a worthwhile endeavor – to ensure that all possibilities are considered prior to rolling out new initiatives. One of the best ways to practice this is the development of personas.
For those who didn’t start out in business, the concept of personas may be a new one. Personas are intentionally designed to represent someone who you serve or who you would like to buy your product. In the case of education, a persona may represent a student, a parent, a teacher, a community member – whoever is going to be touched by a new policy, process, instructional method, etc. I use personas as a regular part of my work as a certified forecast practitioner. Every time I do so, I am reminded of the power of a simple activity to change the way I view my work.
When I talk to educators and administrators about ways to develop really useful personas to use in their strategic planning, I am often met with objections such as “but we always think about all of our stakeholders when we plan – we consider this approach through the lens of ELL, GT, LEP . . .” – the list goes on.
The problem with this approach is that there is no child in any district who is just ELL, or just GT, or just living in poverty. There are children who are ELL, GT and Dyslexic. There are children who are homeless and GT. How something affects a student who is just GT is going to be different than how it affects a student who is GT and has clinical anxiety and depression. There are teachers who have been teaching for 10 years but have never learned technology and struggle with dyslexia. To always evaluate plans by saying something like “and how will this affect our ELLs?” falls short of truly considering the range of impact that plan may have on students, teachers, and anyone else who may be affected.
Can personas ever account for every possible combination? No. But creating personas through a meaningful process, whether it is data-driven or a conversation and roll of the dice, can begin to create roles that will demand consideration and reflection before any new program is initiated.
Beginning, quick steps to building random personas:
- Brainstorm a list of stakeholders.
- Brainstorm a list of characteristics.
- Design a character who has a set of three of the characteristics.
- With a roll of a die, throw a circumstance, such as “dad just lost his job” or “best friend just committed suicide” into the character’s life.
- Envision a day in the life of this character, and write a paragraph about it.
- Give the character a name and a face – you’ve just created a persona that you can measure your initiative against.
Building truly meaningful personas goes far beyond this simple exercise. If you would like to establish a practice of using personas in meaningful ways, consider guiding activities that involve the data available to you in your district. If you need more data, consider conducting a market study to gather additional information. Additionally, deciding on a template to use for the summary of your persona is vital. There are a lot of different approaches to this, and your organization will need to develop your own in accordance with what you do and who you serve.
There is no way I can describe in a simple blog post th extreme value of personas in strategic planning. If you would like to learn more, I am available to conduct workshops for your staff on the topic – click on Our Team for more details.