The wrong way to do 90-day Planning


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 223

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Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robn Jackson. And today, if you'll indulge me, I'm gonna go on a little rant. You see, I read an article this week about schools who are touting 90 Day planning. And I got excited because as you know, as builders and we are big on 90 day planning, but when I started reading the article, I realized that what they were doing was not really what we as builders believe is 90 day planning, what they were doing is they were taking a strategic planning process and shrinking it down to 90 days. And so they were doing exactly the opposite of what 90 Day planning is all about. So today, I want to talk about what is true 90 Day planning and the mistakes and pitfalls people make. When they say yeah, I'm gonna do a 90 day plan, and how they end up doing the same thing as they do with a year long plan and creating more work and more trouble in their schools. Okay, so the first thing I'm going to talk about is the way that most people do 90 Day planning. So the first thing they do is they say, Oh, here's a problem we have, and we just need to do a 90 day plan so we can address that problem. And then they spend 90 days throwing everything they have at that problem.

And in many cases, they see results. 

They if the problem is discipline, they spent 90 days trying to get discipline straight, or the problem is attendance, they spend 90 days calling kids every single day, going to their homes, picking them up bringing them to school doing everything they can to get kids to school, or if it's math scores, they spend 90 days drilling and killing kids so that they can see a small lift in math scores. And oftentimes, they do see that lift. But as soon as a 90 days are over, and they go back to business as usual, all the results that they got, they lose. And part of the problem is because they were throwing everything at the problem for 90 days, they're gonna see a lift, but they can't sustain that there are other things they have to do. And what's even more troubling is that because they're focused on that problem for 90 days, than I do on the other work, and so other problems crop up. And then after that 90 days, they lurch to the next problem. And then the next night, the problem and the next 90 days. And so 90 Day planning actually in that scenario, makes things harder, makes the work worse, makes people more crazy, because they're working really hard. They see some results with a can't sustain those results. And it teaches people that all we need to do is just ricocheted from one problem to the next. And we never really solved the problem. It just gives us a quick hit. It's a drug, right? Like we do a 90 day plan, we see a lift, and then a year later the lift is gone, whatever that lift was, and we're all chasing the next high. And

if you're going to do that I'd rather you just didn't do any 90 planning at all because it doesn't work and it makes things worse in your school than better. You might as well just stick to your long plan. And, you know, do that process. Don't don't think oh, you know, I need to do 90 Day planning. And that's the hot, sexy new thing. And don't do it right. You don't do it right. And then you create more problems for your school and you give 90 Day planning a bad name. So here's how builders do it. Builders are not enamored with 90 Day planning because it's hot and sexy. They use 90 Day planning because it works and it will works for five reasons. The first thing is that builders are not just saying, you know, let's grab a problem, and let's throw 90 days at it and hope it solves the problem. That's what leaders do. What builders do is we think, okay, what is our vision, our mission and our core values, and what is the biggest obstacle in the way of our vision, mission and core values. And that's what develops into our 90 Day goal, okay. And the goal is not to just kind of like, you know, address an issue, see a small lift, the goal was to eliminate, remove the issue all together.

And so in order to do that, you really have to deal with the root cause. 

Now, you all know how I feel about most root cause analyses, which, you know, make you feel like you're doing something but don't really get to the root cause. And you also know that I still can't make heads or tails out of a fishbowl, I don't know what a fishbone does. So, you know, I'm not talking about that kind of root cause analysis. In build a ship University, we teach everybody how to use the Builders Blueprint. And the Builders Blueprint helps you to be thoughtful, it tracks everything back to your vision, mission and core values. And it helps you find your biggest obstacle right now. Because rather than doing a whole bunch of new stuff, isn't it smarter to like, remove the things that are slowing you up that are getting in your way, so that even if you kept the same effort up, you're gonna get way more results, you know, what leaders do is we say, if we want more results, we have to do more stuff. What builders say is, if we want more results, we have to remove more obstacles, because the more you remove obstacles, the more your same amount of effort gets you. And so it's not about working harder. It's about making the hard work count. And so the first step before builders do any 90 day plan is we don't say what's our biggest pain point, because that's what most people do. They're like, Oh, this hurts right? Now, this is a big pain point. And that pain point may not be a root cause and may be a symptom of something else. So you spend all this time, you know, trying to solve that pain point when the the thing that's causing that pain point is somewhere else buried elsewhere in your school. And so then you're frustrated, because you did all this energy, and you didn't, you didn't really solve it, what builders do is we say, we don't have a whole bunch of time and energy. 

So let's spend our time and energy on dealing with the root cause. And that Builders Blueprint that we teach, you goes back and says, Okay, let's look at our vision. Let's look at our mission. Let's look at our core values. Are we making sufficient progress towards that 100% vision? Is our work on mission? And is our work in alignment with our core values? And what if we start looking at those three things, and then we start looking at our data through the lens of our vision, mission and core values. So we're not just doing like a data wall and random date of dumps and you know, all of that stuff, where we're just trying to find what number is the reddest? And then let's try to change that number. What instead we're looking at the data in the context of our vision, mission and core values. What is the data saying is keeping us from achieving our vision? What's the data telling us about whether or not the work we're doing is on mission? What's the data telling us about how aligned our work is to our core values? And we look at three types of data. We look at student achievement data, of course, but we're also looking at climate data and not just the climate scores, you know, the the climate survey we do once a year, we're going out and we're observing what is the climate like and staff meetings? What is the climate like in classrooms? What's the climate look like before school and after school and at lunch and on the playground at recess? What's the climate look like in the halls, and then we're looking at other data's that other data points that are that are indicators of our climate climate. So we're looking at suspension data, we're looking at attendance data, all of that data is really data that tells us whether or not our school is a place that people want to be whether our culture is, is hiding some toxicity that's getting in the way of our momentum. And so we're looking at student achievement data, we're looking at climate data. 

And then the last thing we're doing is we're looking at observational data. That observational data is not just observing classrooms, we're observing kids at lunch, we're observing kids at recess, we're we're looking at trends, we're looking at how our school works. You know, sometimes I even like to follow a kid's schedule for a day so that I can see what does it feel like to be student in the school? And what does a student's day look like? That data is so rich and valuable? So we're taking a look at those three kinds of data, climate data, observational data, and student achievement data? And we're trying to determine whether or not what what is the big obstacle that's getting in the way of our our progress towards our vision, our ability to live out our mission and the work we do every single day and our alignment with our core values. And then once we look at that data, then we try to see okay, what's causing that data? Okay, so the data is telling us, Hey, listen, we're not making the progress towards our vision, and this seems to be an obstacle, then we go a little deeper, and we say, Okay, what instructionally has to change in order to get rid of that obstacle? And then from there, we ask ourselves, okay, what do we need to do? What has to happen in terms of our feedback, support accountability and culture in order to remove that instructional obstacle, so that we can better achieve our vision live on our mission, and be in alignment with our core values. So there's a whole process involved, that really helps us get to our biggest obstacle. 

So before we create a 90 day plan, the first thing we figure out is whether or not that's the right work we should be doing. So we're not going to create a 90 day plan to help us deal with a problem that really isn't the root problem. Instead, we're going to search first and figure out what is the obstacle that we need to move? What's the thing that's holding us back, and that's where we build our 90 day plan. The second thing that builders do that's different from leaders is that, you know, leaders work on trying to kind of move numbers, right. So leaders will create a 90 day plan that says, let's see if we can get an increase in test scores in the next 90 days or less, see if we can get a decrease in in student disciplinary referrals. Or let's see if we can get an increase of teachers using a particular instructional strategy builders or say, here's an obstacle. And the purpose, the focus of our 90 day plan is not to get some sort of incremental increase, right, we're not this, we're not addicts, we're not looking for the next hit. The purpose of our 90 Day plans is to remove the obstacle. So when we create a plan, it's not about trying to create some sort of temporary lift, the purpose and the focus of our plan is we sit down and we say here's an obstacle, this is getting in the way of us achieving our vision, living out our mission and being in align with our core values. How do we remove it? And so people and build a ship University have built 90 Day plans that say, you know, what we have the our biggest obstacle right now is that kids are getting referred out of classrooms, and teachers are not, they don't have the ability or the confidence to be able to handle a lot of, you know, a lot of issues within that in within the classroom. 

So how do we eliminate that? 

How do we make sure that teachers are handling issues in the classroom? So it's not about just, you know, we want to decrease in disciplinary referrals? It's really about how do we make it so that the that student disciplinary issues, don't create disruptions that keep students from learning so that we can achieve our vision, live our mission and been aligned with our core values. People create 90 Day plans to say you know what the biggest obstacle right now is that we are dealing with a lot of cell phone issues that are distracting, and getting in the way of students learning. And teachers are getting frustrated. And the cell phone issues have become so big that we're not even able to focus on anything else. So how do we eliminate cellphone issues? People create 90 Day plans that look at things like you know what, right now, students are still lagging behind in reading. And the problem is that the reading instruction is not differentiated enough so that we're not starting where each student is. And so students are getting lost and are getting dragged to the curriculum, we really need to make sure we're addressing student's individual needs. So how do we eliminate students being dragged through the curriculum and seemed like a monolith? And how do we create a space where individual needs are being addressed? So do you see the difference? We're not just trying to get a lift? Hey, Robyn here, and I just want to break in real quick to ask you a huge favor. You see, I want to get the word out to everybody about builder ship, and I could use your help. If you're really enjoying this episode. Would you mind just going to your podcast platform and leaving a quick review? You see the reviews get the word out? They tell other people this is a great show other people who have never heard of school leadership reimagined before can hear about it, and you'd be sharing the word about builder chips. So would you mind just leaving a quick review? It would mean the world to me. Okay, now back to the show.

We're saying that in order to to move where we want to move, where 100% of our kids are successful, what is in our way, and we identify within our way, and we eliminate it so that we never have to deal with it. Again. That's a very different plan with very different steps than plans that are just like, you know, math is an issue. So we need to address the math know, what is the issue? What's the root cause for why math scores are stuck where they are, and how do we eliminate that barrier, so that the same amount of effort that we've been doing before produces dramatically did First results.

Okay, so first of all, we make sure that before we start, we identify the root cause. So we're creating a 90 day plan that is focused on the root cause. 

Secondly, we make sure that whatever plan we create, eliminates the obstacle, not addresses it not mitigates it eliminates it. If your plan is not designed to eliminate whatever obstacles while you're doing it, you're just wasting time, you're just creating more work for yourself and for your staff, it has to eliminate it so that 90 days from now, you don't have to deal with it ever again. 

The third thing that builders do differently is when we're building the plan, we're not trying 25 different things, we're building a plan that's sustainable. Because if we're going to eliminate an obstacle, it has to be something that we can continue to do not something we're just going to do for 90 days to get that dopamine hit. Instead, it's something that we can continue forever, we're making a shift and how we do our work so that we never have to deal with that issue again. So if your 90 day plan is not sustainable, if the stuff you're doing during the 90 day process is is a shot in the arm, but it's not something that you see yourself doing forever and ever. Amen, then you shouldn't be doing it, it shouldn't be in your plan, because you're not going to be able to sustain it, which means you're going to be writing ups and then and then as soon as you stop, everything's going to go back down. So you just wasted your time doing something you knew you weren't going to be able to keep up to begin with. Instead, what builders do is we're say we get because we understand the root cause because we're focused on elimination, we can focus on doing things that are truly sustainable, so that we can keep it up. So it doesn't create a whole bunch of extra work from for us. So it doesn't feel onerous. Instead, we are shifting, and that's the difference. Builders are looking at what are the shifts we can make? Not what do we add? What's another thing to add on to our plates? How do we make a shift that makes the difference? All right. So that's the third thing, it has to be sustainable. The fourth thing is that our 90 Day plans are not looking at all the data. Our 90 Day plans have a scorecard that we are tracking every single week, with just a few data points. Most of the data points in a builders 90 day plan those data points, you have maybe three or four data points, and you're dividing those data points between leading and lagging indicators, or inputs and outputs missing most people create a 90 day plan and they're like, we're gonna do this in 90 days. And then we're gonna get 100% of our kids who are now on grade level, or we're going to do this for 90 days. And we're going to see a 5% increase in math scores. That's a lagging indicator. 

But what you don't track are what are all the things you're going to do to get there. And are we doing? One of the major differences between the builders 90 day plan, and everybody else's 90 day plan is everybody else's 90 day plan is drowning in data and you're only looking at the output? You're just did we move the number? Do we move the number? Do we move the number? And that's often why it's not sustainable. Because if you're just focusing on that final number, those math scores, the discipline, number of referrals, that final output, that lead lagging indicator, then you're doing everything you can to make that number move without thinking about what are the things that we should be doing that we want to track? What are the behaviors we're going to track that can be sustainable. And so what builders do is we say, okay, we believe if we make the shifts, we're going to see this outcome. And builders are more interested in did we? And are we doing what we said we were going to do versus whether or not we're getting the results? We look at that too. But we're just as focused on are we doing what we said, we're going to do the way we said we're going to do it? Because if we're not then how can we expect to get the results? You see your 90 day plan says if we do these things differently, if we make these shifts, we should be able to eliminate this problem. So you have to track? Are we making the shifts? And are we doing that with fidelity? Are we doing it the way that we said we were going to do and are we doing it as consistently as we said we're going to do it? And it's a we right? It's not? Are the teachers doing what they thought they were going to do? 

Because remember, builders are not looking at what are the instructional shifts that needs to be made. 

But they're also looking at what are the builder ships shifts that they need to make? So if I say you know, I want teachers to to use these differentiation strategies in order to increase students reading, then what am I doing right if I providing the teachers with the feedback they need, so that they know that those shifts are the right shifts? am I providing them with the support they need so that they can and Understand how to make those shifts, and I'm setting them up to be successful. Am I creating systems that all teachers can use? So they can be accountable and do things with fidelity? And am I doing things in the culture that I need to be doing so that we are making a cultural shift that's going to be sustainable? If I'm not doing those things? How can I get mad at teachers for not doing the things that they need to do? So the fourth piece of the fourth difference between the way that builders do 90 Day plans and everybody else's 90 Day plans is our 90 Day plans have true accountability, because we are tracking, not just whether that final number moves, we're tracking, whether we everybody, teachers, and us whether we are doing everything we need to do in order to make that number move. And that's why builders create 90 Day plans that are sustainable, right? Because we have to pick actions that we can track, we have to pick actions that we can do consistently, right? It can't just be a shot in the arm. And we are tracking and holding ourselves accountable for moving that final number. 

And then by the time we're done, we have a whole new way of doing things because we've been doing it for 90 days consistently. And do you see why that creates sustainability? So not only do our 90 Day plans, create have sustainability built and baked into the plans. But there's accountability baked into the plans in the way that we're looking at data? In addition to kind of weekly tracking that and having a scorecard where the numbers don't lie, so you can't fudge the numbers? Did we do what we say we're going to do? Did the teachers do they say what they were going to do? All right, well, then no wonder the numbers not moving? Or maybe or are we doing it and the numbers not moving? It's a once a month, not only are we tracking it every week, but once a month, we step back? And we say okay, we've been doing this for a month? Is it working? And if it's not working, what do we need to adjust now? Right? We don't wait for 90 days, and then say all didn't work. Now. Every single month, we're coming back and we're saying, Okay, first question, are we doing what we said? We're going to do? Yeah, is the big number moving? No. All right, let's try to understand why. And let's make adjustments before we keep doing the same thing and not seeing results. So that we can see results. And then let's track ourselves and make sure we're doing what we said we're going to do. And then seeing if that changes things. Some of this that does a couple of things. First of all, that helps us to, to keep from wasting a whole bunch of time and energy doing stuff that's not working, right. It's all hypothesis. And we keep working, we try it. And we're like, oh, you know, that's not working. But now we know some things. And so we're not going to continue to waste time on what's not working, we've learned some things along the way, because we've been talking. And so here are the adjustments we need to make. And then let's see if those work. 

So it keeps us focused on the solution. And the solution, by the way, eliminating the obstacle. Alright, so that keeps us from wasting time doing stuff that's not working and helps us focus on the stuff that is working. The second thing it does is it's teaching us how to learn, right? Most of the time in schools, we have this big planning meeting, we have a plan. And then we just blindly follow the plan whether or not it's working, as opposed to stepping back learning, adjusting in real time, and creating a culture where we're constantly learning, where we take the scientists mind into things. We're experimenting. And we're trying to really solve problems, rather than blindly following a plan because we wrote it 90 days ago, every single week, as we're tracking our behavior, having conversations about that we're learning every month when we step back and say, All right, are we seeing progress? If not, what do we need to do, we also have a monthly kind of meeting rhythm that we teach inside of builders university, that shows you the difference between that weekly tracking meeting and that monthly kind of step back and kind of look at things so that you bring a different mindset into each kind of meeting. So you can make sure that you not only stay on track, but you solve the problem. So that's the fourth thing, how we look at data and how we track data and hold ourselves accountable is different. And then the last thing that we do is that at the end of the 90 days, we're not looking at did we win? Or do we lose? We're looking at, did we learn? Are we have we eliminated the problem. And you have one of two results at the end of that 90 days. Either you have eliminated the problem. Or you have a deeper understanding of the problem. And you now know how to eliminate the problem. 

There's only two outcomes we're looking for. 

Not well, you know, we did some things and we had some progress, but the problem still exists. Nope. Did you eliminate the problem? Or do you now understand why you didn't eliminate the problem? And you're able to fix that so you can eliminate the problem. Otherwise, why are you doing 90 planning it like we don't need anything more to do. We're all already busy enough, there's no reason to do 90 Day planning. Unless at the end of that 90 days, you have solved a problem. Otherwise, don't bother. You see, the challenge with the leadership is that leadership paradigms get enamored with the latest shiny object. And in many circles right now, it's sexy to do 90 Day planning. And I take some responsibility for that. I wrote an article in ASCD, a couple of years ago about the how builders do 90 Day planning. And people who never read the article taught come up to me and talk to me about it. Yeah, I'm doing a planning now no one asked a few questions, I realized they're not really doing 90 Day planning, they just shrunk the year long planning process down into a 90 day cycle. And the only resemblance there 90 Day planning has to what builders do is that they do it in 90 days. 90 day planning is not quarterly planning. 90 day planning is not you know, a strategic planning broken down and divided into 490. Day planning has a very specific purpose. And that is to eliminate obstacles. If you're not doing that, don't bother. But if you want to eliminate obstacles, if you want to create more momentum without creating more work, if you want to instead of adding things to your teachers plates, you figure out how to take the work you're already doing and be more effective and efficient so that the same amount of effort gets you significantly more progress. 90 day planning might be for you, you just have to make sure that if you're gonna do it, you do it like a builder. 

I'll talk to 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 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 builder ship University, just go to builder ship and get started writing your school success story today. Hey, this is Robyn, and thanks for listening to the show. Now if you really enjoy the content, would you do me a favor and share it with somebody else, all you need to do is pull out your phone, click on the little three dots next to the show and you'll see an option there to share the show. Click that and send it to somebody else who could really benefit from what you learned here today. Not only are you going to look like a rock star, but you're going to be helping out somebody else who really could use this information plus, I will be so grateful. So just go ahead right now click on those three dots and share the show.

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