Why you may want to throw away your School Improvement Plan


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 164. 

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Hey Builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson. And today, we are continuing our summer rewind series.

Today, we're going to rewind to Episode 76. And that episode had a pretty provocative title if the title of the episode is why you may want to throw away your school improvement plan. Now, if you were trained the way most of us were trained, then right now you are probably working really hard to either develop or refine your year long school improvement plan. Even though you know that things are going to change and, and one of the challenges of school improvement planning is we get the summer we get all hyped up. Yeah, we're gonna do all this throughout the year. But we know that that plan is a work of fiction, we know that there are going to be things that happen in the year that we can't even anticipate that threatened to derail our plan. And anytime that you hold yourself to a year long plan, under those conditions, you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. Well, builders plan differently. We don't think in four year plans, we have a vision that we want to achieve.

And usually the timeline we give our vision is three years or less. 

But even though we have that vision we want to achieve, we realized that that how we achieve that vision is going to necessarily shift, you know we have a saying mind steps that we always say called New Level new devil. And the idea is that every time you move your school forward, you face new challenges challenges you didn't even anticipate when you first started. And so we really instead of thinking about these year long school improvement plans, we should be thinking about planning in 90 day cycles. You know, inside of buildings up University, we have a quarterly planning sprint, and every 90 days we sit down, and we create a plan for the next 90 days, we intentionally go back and we reflect on what we accomplished the previous 90 days, and then how we're what lessons we've learned and how we're going to use those lessons. For the next 90 days. It's one of the most powerful things that we do. And when we get into that rhythm of not just the year long School Improvement Planning but but really sitting down and planning and these 90 day sprints, you have way more focus you you have way more clarity about what you want to accomplish. And what you do is you create a series of victories all school year law. And I wrote about this in detail an article in educational leadership, we'll make sure we link to it. In the show notes. If you want to learn more, you can also learn about the process in my book stop leading start building where I lay out the entire process. Or you can just join us inside of builder ship University, where I'll walk you through the entire process. So those 90 Day planning sprints usually take there about 90 minutes for two days straight.

So we get together for like 90 minutes or so maybe two hours. And we kind of the first day we're kind of taking a look at what we learned from our last time. And then the second day, we're creating plans for the next time. And we have all the templates and all the structures for you so that you don't have to figure this out on your own, we will walk you through it. And the nice thing about it is that you're with other builders who are are pursuing, you know, these 100% visions alongside of you. So you get to hear what they're doing. They hear what you're doing, they contribute, you know, people connect, oh, I need that. Can you send me that resource people share what they're working on so you can see it. And it becomes this place where you're you have the safety and the support and the accountability, to stay focused on your vision. And I'm there kind of walking you through the process and facilitating it and challenging you. And then I also give you feedback on your plan so that you can be sure that that the plan you're doing will work for your vision that that it's the it's the right plan for your school. And so again, that's all inside of builder ship University and if you want to be a part of the next cohort where you can have access to that kind of support, we're gonna be doing another planning sprint at the end of August to get ready for. I'm sorry, at the end of September to get ready for the fourth quarter, we'll be doing a mid time check in Midway check in, we just finished a planning sprint. So incredible, by the way, I mean that insights and we've been refining the process. And so this one was, I think our best one, we people were like, Whoa, this, this is so helpful. So we wouldn't be a part of our next planning sprint, then you need to go to build your ship university.com.

And if you want to join the cohort, where we actually do this work, click on the link for joining the cohort, you'll be added to the waitlist. And as soon as we open up the next cohort, you'll have an opportunity to join, and then we'll get you straight squared away, so you're ready for that. In the meantime, though, take a listen to this episode, we're Rewinding back to Episode 76, where you will start to consider why you may want to stop yearly sit planning and shift to the 90 day planning process. 

Let's talk about why you may want to consider throwing away your School Improvement Plan. 

I know a lot of districts force you to create a school improvement plan each year. And so you may have to continue to go through that process until you can, you know, evangelize for why the builders way of planning actually serves you better. And I can tell you right now that there are several districts who are working with who are moving in this direction, who for years have used a kind of, you know, format at school improvement planning process, but are moving away from that, especially as they embrace builder ship. So I can tell you that it is possible to get your district to convert You don't have to be that Lone Ranger rogue, you know, principle out there by yourself. You can convert your district especially as you begin to show your district why the builders we have planning it's actually more productive than the traditional school improvement plan. And there are a couple of reasons why that is. So first yearly planning with it, which is what the school improvement plan forces you to do sit down and kind of make a plan for a year. yearly planning is not very flexible when you create a school improvement plan. In the summer, even if your district has some sort of thing where you can go and revise your plan. Throughout the year the planning process is a pretty static and in some cases, stagnant process. So think back to 2019. When you are planning for the summer, did anybody anybody predict that we were going to have a global pandemic happened that year.

If you did, I need to talk to you because I want to get your ideas about some stock picks for me. But for the most part, most of us had no plan for a quarantine. And so if we were tied and bound to that school improvement plan, that school improvement plan would have been useless in March when many schools went into quarantine. And that's the problem, yearly planning yearly planning presumes that the year is going to go exactly as it's planned. And the moment something happens, that changes that we have to abandon our yearly plan. So that's the first problem with a yearly plan. The second problem with a yearly plan is that it's that long deadline makes us feel like we have time. So we set a school improvement plan that we're going to improve test scores by 5% or 10%. For the year, and the beginning of the year, that seems like okay, yeah, yeah, we can do it, then somewhere, October, November, we start to realize, oh, we're not making progress the way we should, or we forget about it. Because there are other things that are grabbing our attention, or focus starts off very, you know, clear about what we're going to do. And then as we try things, and if they don't work, we have to kind of regroup and adjust. But we feel like well, we still have the rest of the year, we were not testing until May or till March, whenever that is, and that feels like a long ways away.

That allows us to relax and say, "we still have time".

Then we get into November, December. And then in January, we look up and we say, Oh, you know, we testing is coming up, we really should get our focus back on testing. And then again, we you know, things happen, we but we still feel like we have three months to get some things done. So if the data doesn't look quite like we want it to look, well, there's still time. And then there isn't time we're there. And we're scrambling, and we're rushing and and, you know, everybody feels this pressure and the stress, because there's this artificial comfort in a year a year feels like we have a lot of time. A lot of times that yearly planning erases the sense of urgency, it's really hard to sustain the same sense of urgency throughout the school year. So that's the second problem with yearly planning. Now the third problem with with the CIP planning process, that yearly planning process is that a lot of times when we are creating CIP plans, especially if we are forced to use a district format, we are creating plans for the sake of planning, we're creating plans because the deadline says that we have to submit a plan to the district by September 30, or whenever that is. And so the planning process is really about filling out this form, filling it out correctly, and getting it submitted on time. And that kind of planning doesn't keep us focused on the real work, the plan becomes the work, when in reality, there's real work to be done for students right now. But if the plan becomes the work, if if it's just about creating that CIP plan and getting it turned in, then a lot of times we get into compliance mode, where we're trying to fill out a plan so that we can submit it, rather than using that planning time as an opportunity to really think what is the work we should be focused on right now?

How do we, we take care of that work so that we remove some barriers out of our way, and we make progress that isn't temporary progress, it's permanent? So as you can see, and you probably know this intuitively, CIP planning has its issues, it has its problems. And yet, that's what we do. Most organizations do that not just schools, most companies do that they they have an annual planning meeting, they set a yearly goal. That's the way we were trying to do as leaders. And so if you are dissatisfied by the CIP planning process, or if you feel like the CIP planning process, is is a is an exercise in compliance. But it doesn't really help you achieve your goals or if you're frustrated, because every year you sit down and and create a set plan with the best of intentions, but then throughout the year, you you never hit your goals, you and you beat yourself up because, you know, you think well, maybe it's me, we got to get better at executing and and you beat yourself up, I want you to know that the problem is not you. It's a step planning process. That process is a process that is that it's an artifact of leadership. But it doesn't serve you especially if you really want to make sincere, sincere is not the right word. If you really want to make real progress towards your goals, your vision, your mission and your core values. The CIP plan is not going to get you there. It's not even designed to get you there.

Now I want to talk to you about what builders do. 

I think you'll find that that the way that builders approach the planning process is going to allow you a lot more focus it's going to it has built in has a built in sense of urgency, and builders find that when they shift from that leadership paradigm of an animal We'll sit plan to a 90 day plan, which is what builders use, they get a lot more accomplished and many builders fine, they get a lot more accomplished in that 90 day period than they got accomplish all year, the previous year. So let's talk about how builders plan. So first of all, builders do not create annual plans, builders plan in 90 days cycles. And each 90 day cycle stands on its own. So this is not quarterly planning. You know, a lot of times in the CIP planning process, they say, yeah, we're gonna do these 90 day planning cycles. But really all you've done is taken up taking your yearly plan and broken it up into two quarters. That is not what builders are doing. We're not doing quarterly plan that's nested in some sort of yearly plan. What builders do instead is every 90 days functions as a complete unit in and of themselves.

There's a book that I love, called the night the 12 week, year, and it's that same kind of concept, that 90 days function that's as its own year. And so you're not doing quarterly planning as a builder, you are creating a plan every 90 days with a discrete outcome that's not nested in your yearly plan. And you're doing that for a couple of reasons. First of all, having that 90 day period gives you enough time to get work done, but not enough time to get bored. If you're only working in a 90 day period, then it keeps you focused. I've heard it said that a lot of times, the human brain really can't project farther in the future than 90 days. I mean, think about it, think about what you're going to be doing next year, it's kind of hard to project that, yeah, you could imagine what you might hope to be doing. But it's really hard to project that. But with 90 days, I can reasonably make a projection about what the next three months are going to look like. Or at least I could be for 2020. I know 2020 has kind of blown everything up. But for the most part, it's a lot easier to project three months in advance, and it is to project 12 months in advance. So that 90 day planning gives you a small enough time period, that you can really make some reasonable projections about the actions that you need to take in order to achieve your goals. And it also gives you that that short enough time period that it creates that sense of urgency, it's really hard to lose focus over the course of three months.

By shortening that time period, from one year to 90 days, it eliminates the whole "we've got time."

 If you're looking at only 90 days, you're looking at about 12 weeks, you really can't afford to waste a week, every single week, you have to make consistent progress if you're going to hit your goals. So there's some built in urgency in a 90 day period that you don't get in a 12 month period. The second thing is that a 90 day plan has time built in for you to learn. If every 90 days is discrete, then at the end of every 90 days, you can look back and say okay, what have we learned about our process about how we are working together? What have we learned about our school, because things change during the school year, the school you have at the beginning of the year is typically not the same school you have, at the end of the year, stuff always happens in the middle of the year. But with a 90 day focus, you can look at what's going on, if things are changing, and they're fundamentally different in three months, then you can adjust you can pivot the next time.

Imagine this past school year, working in a 90 day cycle. And this is what happened with several builders because they were thinking in 90 day cycles. They didn't have to blow up their plans. When quarantine hit, they were already working in 90 day cycles. So they could think about what we need to do for the next 90 days to manage remote learning and remote remote teaching. So they weren't tied to a plan that they had to kind of blow up instead, they could pivot because they were used to planning in those shorter time periods. And because every 90 days, you're learning more about how to work more efficiently together. You're learning more about what works and what doesn't work. You can you have time to kind of get rid of the things that aren't working and bring on new things. And it doesn't feel like it's just one more thing because every 90 days, it's already a part of the process. So that 90 day time period really allows you to learn throughout the year. And as you're learning every 90 day plan, you're getting better, because that's a part of the process.

The process is designed to help you get better. 

So imagine instead of waiting for the end of the year for success, you're experiencing successes every 90 days. And when things don't work, you're not locked into it for an entire year. You have 90 days to work on it. If it doesn't work, you can let it go and try some knew you're not stuck, the way that a school improvement plan often gets you stuck. I've heard principals say to me, while our that's not in our CIP plan, but maybe next year, which means that you are postponing the success that you could be experiencing right now, when you look at each 90 days as a discrete unit of time, it's not a quarterly plan, every 90 days, you're starting over, you're you're revising your plan, you're pivoting you, you may have to use a new plan, because things have changed. But you that's built into your yearly cycle, you don't have to postpone your success, you don't have to say, well, that's something I'd like to try. Maybe next year. No, I can try that the next 90 days, especially if I believe it will work. Now you have to be careful, because the 90 day process creates a little bit of a discipline to without it every 90 days, you'd be chasing a new squirrel, right? And I'm susceptible to that I, I read a book and immediately I go to my team, and I'm like, I read this new book, we need to redesign our whole business plan. But since we have been working in those 90 day cycles, we have something called a hopper.

Every time we get a new idea, we put it in the hopper. And then every 90 days we look at where we are, we look at what's in the hopper, we look at what makes sense for the next 90 days. And it gives us a discipline so that we're not chasing every squirrel or every program, we we can approach these new ideas in a very disciplined way and add them in when they make sense. And we're not just chasing new squirrels every 90 days. So that 90 day process also creates a discipline. Now, the other thing is that because there's a discipline embedded in that 90 days, you actually get better at execution. See, 90 days gives you a focus. And because your your your your that focus is short, and because that sense of urgency is built into that you can stay more focused on your goals, and you actually get more accomplished. A lot of times set plans will have three goals. There's like a la goal, and then there's a math goal. And then there's often a social emotional learning goal. And then you have all these action items. And you know, there may be 2030 different action items in order to achieve a goal. And that's because you're thinking about an entire year. When you focus on 90 days, you're saying okay, what is the most important thing that we need to accomplish in the next 90 days, to get us closer to realizing our vision to living out our mission more fully, and to making sure that our core values are truly embedded in our culture.

You get more discreet goals, then you get action items. 

Because that 90 day process means you're checking in every single week, you can monitor your activity, you can actually become more focused, because it's built into the process. A lot of times when you write CIP plans, you have action items, and maybe you even go as far as to have action items and owners and due dates, but you're looking at a year long process. So it's really hard to stay on top of the 20 action items. A lot of times you may listen action item that needs to get done right now you may need you may list another action item that doesn't need to get done until October. But then you forget about it. Because you're not looking at the plan every week. And when October comes along, you forget about that action. And then we look at the plan again in January, like oh, we should have done this in October. And you can see what a mess that is. But when you have a 90 day plan, those action items are things that must be accomplished in the next three months. And every week for the next 12 weeks, we're checking in, did we do this? Did we do that. And that gives you that focus, it creates that built in discipline, you don't have to worry about your own willpower to get stuff done. Instead, the 90 day plan has built in execution so that you actually execute more. And as a result, you get more done. And that's the other reason I love that 90 day cycle. Because when you have that 90 day cycle, success becomes more predictable.

Here's what I mean by that. Every 90 days, you have a very discrete unit of success that you're working towards whatever that success is. So instead of saying we're going to raise test scores, you're saying we're going to implement these things. And those things we believe will raise test scores. So you don't have to wait until the spring when test scores come out to know whether or not things worked. You will know every 90 days, because you're monitoring that process. Because that process is built to help you look, is this working? Is it not working? And if it is working, we're gonna keep doing it. And if it's not working, we're going to abandon it not only that, if it is working, we're just not going to keep doing it. We're going to try to figure out why is it working? so well? How do we make it better? So the success that you achieve every 90 days becomes predictable. It's not let's cross our fingers and hope that we're going to be successful. Instead, you can you can identify a goal. You have discipline execution to that goal, and you get used to reaching your goal see a lot of people they are afraid to set goals because for years As we have this history of failure, I set a big goal once and, and we didn't achieve the goal. And so now I don't want to say that because what if we don't achieve it? People say that to me a lot, especially when I'm working with them on on setting that 100% vision for their schools, they're, they're nervous about doing that, because they almost have PTSD from goal setting exercises that they've done in the past where they set an ambitious goal, but because they set it too far out in the future, because they didn't have this 90 day planning process, that they didn't achieve the goal. But when you have this process in place, you go from one success to the next.

Even if you don't hit your target, at the end of that 90 days, what you have learned is so valuable.

 If you implement it the next 90 days, not only do you hit your target, but you are better as a team. It's not just about hitting goals, it's about getting better at hitting goals. So you have the success of hitting your goals. But you also have that success that we are executing better, we're working better together, we're getting better about understanding our challenges, we're getting better about knocking down our challenges permanently, once and for all. So I want to propose to you today that you consider abandoning the CIP planning process. Now, if your district still requires you, to create a CIP plan, go ahead and do it. But after you've done that, then I want you to sit down with your team. And I want you to think about not quarterly planning. But instead, I want you to think about that 90 days, as a discrete unit of time, I want you to identify what is the most important thing that we could accomplish in the next 90 days that if we did that, it would put us closer to our vision, we'd see these huge gains, or we'd eliminate something that's standing in the way of our vision, it would help us to do work that's more on mission more aligned with why we are doing this work. Or it would remove some barrier that's keeping us from doing that. Or it will help us live out our core values better. Again, remove a barrier that's keeping us from doing that. If you do that, and if you really follow the 90 day planning process, here's what will happen.

Three months from now, you will be celebrating a huge success, a big win, you don't have to wait until the end of the school year, no, three months from now, you'll be celebrating Not only that, over the course of the next 12 weeks, you're going to be learning so much, you're going to be getting better, you're going to be refining that. And as you do that, you're going to start getting used to being successful. So instead of the PTSD around, you know, I set goals in the past and it didn't work or you know, the the goal planning exercises we were taught to do as leaders, you're going to start developing a new level of confidence that we can set and meet goals. And that's going to transform your culture. Because instead of your teacher saying, Well, I mean, I hope we get there, I'd like to get there but and then giving you some excuse, those excuses will evaporate because you're proving that you as an organization can set and meet ambitious goals. So your goals are going to get bigger, but your effectiveness is going to expand exponentially. Because you are getting better and better every single 90 days. You don't have to wait for success. Builders don't do that. We're we're impatient. We want success now. And we believe our kids deserve that. Not only that your teachers deserve to be a part of an organization that is moving. Everybody wants to be a part of success. So when you start to build success, upon success upon success, when when you write success story, after success story, after success story, your teachers start to change, they begin to believe we can do our things, we can be successful. And then when they do that, it unleashes their creativity, it unleashes their their willingness to go the extra mile for students because they start believing that that 100% vision is possible because they see that you are making consistent and extraordinary progress towards your vision.

So here's what I want to challenge you to do. 

Instead of SIP planning, just think about the next three months. What is the most important thing that you can accomplish in the next three months that if you accomplish that, it would change things radically for your students, and for your teachers and for your school. And then sit down and instead of writing a year long plan, think about planning for just the next 90 days, set a goal that you want to accomplish 12 weeks from now and then work towards that goal.

If you do that, you're going to start stacking your successes, because you've learned how to plan like a builder. Now, if you want some extra help with the 90 day planning, here are two things I recommend one, we teach you this entire process at builders lab. And so you can sign up for January. It's builders lab. And we'll walk you through the entire 90 day planning process and how you can pinpoint that, but to if you ready to get started right now well, and buildership University, we have all kinds of resources for helping you develop this 90 day planning process. And because we have live office hours with me, I can help support you over the 90 days to kind of coach you through that process as well. So if you want our help, just go to mindstepsinc.com. And if you want to go to builders lab, you go to mindstepsinc. com/builders-lab. 

Thanks for joining, and I will see you next time. 

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside you'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live offers. office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to buildershipuniversity.com and get started writing your school success story today.

I'll see you then!

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