Step 4 – Planning for Action

  • On 2016-08-24
  • action, middle leaders, planning

The first three steps (Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3) of planning as a middle leader has been to set up the context for action. Without having a strong transformational context for leading your team within the school it is quite easy for action to devolve into just doing.Planning for Action

  • By articulating a team vision the whole team has a context within which they are acting. They aren’t taking the action because senior leadership or the government has imposed it on them. The actions they will be taking are to fulfil on their vision for the future. This statement answers the question, “Why are we doing this?”
  • By making the effort to create a Case for Action narrative the middle leader and team have identified where they are now against their vision, they have speculated what is the likely future, and they have painted a compelling vision of the outcome they are out to achieve within the vision. The Case for Action narrative tells the story of WHY a change is needed and what could be possible by acting urgently.
  • Assessing the strengths and areas of development of the team members allows a guiding coalition to be formed who will be the first ones to drive change. They will be the small group of individuals who try new ideas, find out what works, what doesn’t, and create a path for others to follow more easily.

Now that the contextual work has been done it is time to start fleshing out the plan for the coming year.


Steps to Plan for Action

There are three tables in the Planning Template that takes middle leaders through a process of thinking as you plan. Each table is important in that it has the middle leader think from a different place. The outcome of thinking and planning from these three places is a strategic plan which address the WHAT, WHO, HOW, By WHEN, resources needed, logistics, and potential obstacles and solutions.

The Goal row in the tables is taken from the school Annual Implementation Plan or has been identified by school senior leadership or by the team as what they want to focus upon.


Table One

Goal: To
Actions I will need to do to accomplish my goal

(What, Who, By When)

What resources will I need to take these actions?

(include $$, PD & human resources)

What could be some milestones for these actions?

(Teacher Practice and Behaviours)

What evidence do we need to be gathering (and how will we gather it) to measure progress?
· · · ·
· · · ·
· · · ·


The first table takes middle leaders through the broad thinking and planning they need to do as they plan to address the identified goal.

  • What could be some of the possible actions that could be taken by the team to accomplish the goal? In writing these actions address what the action is, who could take it, and approximately by when
  • What resources would be needed to achieve these identified actions? This includes time, money, professional learning, and perhaps even human resources.
  • What could be some of the milestones that would show that the actions are on track? Would there be particular teacher behaviours and practices in place? How would the team know if they are on track to achieving the goal?
  • What evidence could be collected along the way to measure progress? The evidence could be qualitative or quantitative. Both micro- and macro-data can be useful. How will the team collect this evidence?

Note: Make sure that as the middle leaders brainstorm ideas that they don’t evaluate them. Evaluation of the actions occurs once all three tables have been completed. The purpose of waiting until then is that sometimes we can eliminate really great ideas and actions because we don’t know how to do them yet or because of a mistaken belief about resources or what is possible. Sometimes some of the ideas and actions aren’t possible but may lead to further ideas. By capturing all the thinking initially we allow for divergent, creative thinking.


Table Two

Action Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4
# 1  
# 2  
# 3


Table two asks the middle leader to unpack the actions identified in rows of the first table into smaller steps across the terms in a school year. It takes the brainstorming thinking and starts to explore how one could sequence the action steps and milestones across the year. This is critical because we find that one of the biggest barriers to successfully achieving the planned goals arises in the logistics. Schools are busy places and middle leaders only have a limited amount of time in their teams. By using the school calendar and the scheduled team meetings, professional learning opportunities, etc., planning logistically to achieve the identified actions will give a middle leader deeper insight into what can actually be accomplished. It will be at this stage that some of the actions planned will appear as doable or not.

Note: Again don’t begin evaluating and eliminating actions yet. If the logistic planning shows that it may not be possible with the current resourcing or time available there might be requests that can be made. Filling in this table requires identifying the small action steps.


Table Three

Goal: To
Challenges / Obstacles to achieving the goal Potential Solutions Areas you need to grow / develop your capacity in




Table three has the middle leader explore what could be the potential obstacles and challenges that the team may face along the way. It has the team think about how they could potentially overcome these obstacles and challenges.

  • Could there be timing issues?
  • School structure or process issues?
  • Teacher belief issues?
  • Resourcing issues?
  • Perhaps team members need to develop their capacity in some way to achieve the desired results.

Note: It is at this stage that middle leaders and their team can look over the entire plan and evaluate what actions they WILL take and when. It is only when the three tables are complete that there is a full picture.



A number of years ago at a conference I attended in Sydney, Jason Clarke from Minds At Work described the four types of people needed for effective teams. His description of each of the four “types” of people sparked an insight for me about the whole planning process and teams and reminded me about the design process. In its simplest form the planning process has four phases:

  • Ideas Phase: this is a divergent thinking brainstorming phase. We want the big ideas, the creative ideas, the “what if” ideas. People who are creative thinkers, imaginative, and divergent thinkers tend to do well in this phase. This “type” of people can be thought of by others as fluffy and “creative”! This phase is important because new ideas can arise. Teams don’t evaluate at this stage because evaluation will shut down creative and divergent thinking.
  • Design Phase: this is the phase where teams figure out the logistics and how to have the identified ideas happen. It is a convergent phase because it involves creating a step by step plan of action. Design thinkers (architects, engineers, trades people, administration people, etc.) are very good at taking the big ideas and figuring out HOW. They work well with ideas people as well as evaluators and are very detailed oriented (which is good for planning).
  • Evaluation Phase: this is the phase where all the potential obstacles, challenges and “yeah buts” are identified. What could be the potential barriers to success? During the evaluation phase it is important to also explore potential solutions to the barriers to success. It is critical that whilst barriers and obstacles are being identified to remain solution focused otherwise this phase can be disempowering. People who are strong evaluators are sometimes seen as a problem in teams. This is only because they begin evaluating too soon. They are very useful but only at the right time in the process. When an evaluator is satisfied and can’t come up with any further obstacles then it is almost certain that the plan is solid!
  • Action Phase: this final phase is where the plan is put into action. During this phase it is important to keep gathering evidence of the results of action. This feedback will inform future action and sometimes require the return to the design and evaluation phases. People who are strong in action hate sitting through the first three phases because all they want to do is get into action. Their motto is “Just Do It”. This is great for getting things done but if they aren’t following a solid plan they can work very hard and not get anywhere!

Step six of Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change identifies the importance planning for and achieving small wins. For leaders in the middle of a long-term change effort, short-term wins are essential. Running a change effort without attention to short-term performance is extremely risky. The guiding coalition becomes a critical force in identifying significant improvements that can happen quickly. Getting these wins helps ensure the overall change initiative’s success. Research shows that organisations that experience significant short-term wins in the early stages are much more likely to complete the transformation.

As Kotter points out:

“To ensure success, short term wins must be both visible and unambiguous. The wins must also be clearly related to the change effort.  Such wins provide evidence that the sacrifices that people are making are paying off.  This increases the sense of urgency and the optimism of those who are making the effort to change. These wins also serve to reward the change agents by providing positive feedback that boosts morale and motivation. The wins also serve the practical purpose of helping to fine tune the vision and the strategies. The guiding coalition gets important information that allows them to course-correct.

Short-term wins also tend to undermine the credibility of cynics and self-serving resistors. Clear improvements in performance make it difficult for people to block the needed change. Likewise, these wins will garner critical support from those higher than the folks leading the change. Finally, short-term wins have a way of building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters, and reluctant supporters into active helpers.”

Finally, the How High Schools Become Exemplary report by Harvard University reinforced the findings from Kotter and highlighted the importance of planning to achieve school-wide goals. Some of the aspects they identified as being important were:

  • Setting learning goals and plans for teachers with the same care and quality as the best teachers use to set learning goals for their students.
  • Pursuing a limited number of priorities at any given time.
  • Provide genuine opportunities for feedback and refinement
  • Maintaining and monitoring a formal calendar of specific dates and times for meetings and for completing important tasks.
  • Providing personalised feedback to teachers



  • Leading Change, John P. Kotter, Harvard (2012)
  • How High Schools Become Exemplary: ways that leadership raises achievement and narrows gaps by improving instruction in 15 public high schools, AGI Conference Report, Harvard Graduate School of Education (2009)


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