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Does Your CNA Show the Way?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Just saying the phrase, Comprehensive Needs Assessment, elicits groans from administrators. Just recently it was suggested to use the phrase "Strategic Planning" instead. I like that! It sounds more action oriented and like we are going to do something that will make a difference.

I do recommend using the district-level (or campus-level) advisory committee to participate in developing the needs assessment. This ensures all required stakeholders are included in the process and engages them in the evidence-based leadership practice of collaborative goal setting (Marzano & Waters, 2009).

When done well, your CNA utilizes collaborative goal setting.

I have been facilitating this process for 20+ years now, and have tweaked and refined it over and over. In this post, I will be sharing my current practice. Each year I facilitate about 10 sessions for different school districts. I have also facilitated the process virtually.

I try to stay current with the research, requirements, leadership practices, tools, and resources being made available from the education community and state agency. With that said, here is my current application of these things in the real world.

I have narrowed the timeframe from six hours to three, and my evaluation ratings have gone from 91% to 100% of participants rating it a "5". I am using the exact same process, but I shortened the list of discussion questions down to 10 for each group and deleted a couple of icebreaker activities.

So how can we be comprehensive in only three hours?

Based on actual practice, here are my observations and recommendations.


  • Even using the six-hour format, participants are unable to completely break down volumes of data for decision-making in the amount of time allotted.

  • Some topics have overwhelming amounts of data to analyze (student achievement), while other topics have minimal data to look at (parental involvement).

  • Much data is available, but districts generally don't have the time to dig it out. (For example, how many teacher conferences were held.)

  • The biggest problem with the six-hour format is some groups finish before others and then start chatting. This is a distraction and a waste of time for the ones finished. Yes, I've tried extension activities for them, but guess what? They prefer chatting.


  • Use a three-hour format. You have to push hard to stay on schedule, but explain this up front and they will appreciate you for it!

  • Use ten questions for each group. This will help to keep the groups progressing at the same pace.

  • Use summary reports of the student achievement data. Preparing 3-inch binders full of data is too overwhelming.

  • Use data reports that are readily available, and surveys for topics where data is needed.

  • Use chart paper to have groups list strengths (first), a problem (or challenge statement), and recommended strategies.

  • Use dots to vote for prioritizing.

  • Take pictures of the completed charts. This will be the foundation of your Strategic Plan, or District Improvement Plan.

Remember, part of the purpose is to obtain broad stakeholder input and to encourage parent and community engagement in the planning and decision-making process.

Often districts are hesitant to bring community members, parents, and business leaders into this three-hour session. I can honestly say, it has always been a positive experience! By the end of the session, outside stakeholders leave in awe of the challenges educators are faced with and a desire to partner with and support their school.

I always end the day with a community circle and have each participant share a statement about one "aha" they have had during the process. Everyone feels their opinion is valued and leaves on a positive note.

You can have access to all the checklists, handouts, powerpoint, surveys, and more provided by Hinsley & Associates, LLC, by becoming a CNA Member.

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