Contribution by Cree Whelshula, NLCC TTA Director

Strategic planning for your language program will allow your program to utilize its resources, time, and energy as efficiently as possible to fulfill the vision of the program. The strategic planning process involves a leadership team and input from all who will be participating in the implementation of the plan.

First, we want to establish, where are we? How did we get to this place? and what have been our successes and failures? From there an assessment of the program will start to develop; essentially a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis. Some questions to consider are: How many first language speakers do we have? How many second language speakers do we have? How many people are interested in learning the language? Who are all the program partners? Who is willing to donate time, space, or human resources to our program? Will there be any obstacles or pushback from the community? From the tribe? From the partners? From other tribal departments? From anyone or any organization?

Second, we want to know where we are going which leads to vision, mission, and values. The vision is what will be in place once the language work is done: what will our community look like with all indigenous speakers? The vision has also been called the ultimate long-term goal that your program is striving for. The second step is establishing a mission statement. The mission speaks to the present as to what part of the vision you are working on, so the mission statement can be updated once that part is completed. Also, part of the mission statement can be a brief statement on how you will achieve your vision. The program’s values are its guiding principles that apply across the program and emphasize how the work is carried out. A values statement grounds us while we are in the trenches of language work.


Vision: For the [tribal language] to be utilized as a primary source of communication between three generations of [tribe] families

Core values: To honor and prioritize our Elders and their teachings, culture, and being a good relative to one another, mother earth, and all that dwells here.

If you do nothing else, establish a mission and vision. Language programs can get pulled in many different directions that can take up precious resources. With a mission and vision, you can focus on activities that align with these statements.

Thirdly, is there anything that can get in your way? In this example, does the geographic location not have the infrastructure to support good Internet? Is the geographic location so spread out that families do not have access to classes or the ability to visit the program to obtain resources? Are families too overwhelmed by work and home life to even attempt to take advantage of resources or classes?

Fourth, identify objectives. What is the difference between a goal and an objective? A goal is a description of the destination (think vision statement). For example, the goal of this article is for the reader to understand the importance of strategic planning.

An objective is the measure of progress to get to the destination (think mission statement). For example, an objective for this article would be: as a result of this article, the reader will develop a vision statement, a mission statement, and at least one objective for their language program within 1 month of reading this article.

In other words, objectives help to define the measured results within a certain period of time. The timeframe and the measured results should be possible and achievable by the program staff; include those who will be expected in carrying out the objectives to identify the amounts (people, resources, etc.) and lengths of time that can be practical (end of the quarter, mid-year, or fiscal year, etc.) for the workload that they are carrying. It is ideal to have three (3) objectives identified for your strategic plan identified at any given time.


Objective #1: To double the current number of online resources available (from 10 to 20) for families to use at home by the end of 12 months.

Objective #2: To increase learning materials to families and community members by 12 units by the end of 12 months (1 unit per month).

Objective #3: Create space and opportunity for at least four (4) families, three (3) community members, and two (2) fluent speakers to engage with one another in the language two times per month to practice what they have learned from classes and resources for 12 months. Collaborate with at least 1 partner 1 month prior to secure the space, materials, and/or refreshments for these gatherings.

Fifth, identify your strategic priorities. These are overarching activities to achieve your objectives that guide everyday tasks. One way to identify your strategic priorities is to ask the beneficiaries and participants of your program. This can include brainstorming with language teachers and language material developers. In addition to surveying the families, in this example, as to what would be useful or engaging for them. Families might like YouTube tutorials, like a “cook with me” in the language, or other mock scenario videos with vocab lists. This would make one of your strategic priorities’ film/video development and upload.

As a team, you can drill down further and identify daily tasks and who is responsible for these tasks. The strategic plan is a living document, and it is ideal to revisit and revise once per quarter, or minimally once per year. Especially if an event occurs that requires the program to adapt quickly and change direction. Such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many language programs have had to pivot and implement remote language teaching. Also, as goals objectives are met, you develop new goals and objectives with new strategies as you work toward your vision.

Here are some ways you can measure the success and progress of your strategic plan:

  • Sign in sheets (events, classes, gatherings, meetings)
  • Analytics (Facebook, Website trackers, YouTube views/comments/likes)
  • Meeting minutes
  • Quantity of outputs / Inventories
  • Survey of participants
  • Feedback and reflections from staff
  • Request /Contact logs
  • Testimonials

It may be helpful to develop a visual snapshot of your vision, mission, values, goals, objectives, and strategies (figure on the right). As mentioned previously, you can get pulled in many directions or become distracted. A visual to serve as a continual reminder of your strategic plan will help to keep to the course in achieving your vision.

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