Professional Learning

Creating a School Improvement Planning Process That Works

5 Min Read
Teaching talking to a student

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” And while that might not feel true at the onset, planning is one of those things in life that pays off in dividends. It most likely feels like these past few years have presented new challenges—and you’re ready to get ahead of the game. That’s where the school improvement process comes in.

Looking to refresh and reenergize your teachers? Or perhaps increase student engagement? Creating a school improvement plan can take your district beyond planning to actual innovating. But before we dig into planning, let's define school improvement. In general terms, it means implementing change in your school or district that can increase student success and achievement.

Get started planning with inspiration from this quote from author Simon Sinek, who gave the keynote for the 2019 Model Schools Conference, when he discussed the “infinite game mindset.”

“An infinite mindset is the recognition that there is no practical end to our work. The goal is not to win or be the best in an infinite game; it is to strive to be better, to experience constant improvement. The only true competitor in an infinite game is oneself.” - Simon Sinek, author of Infinite Game

These ideas are motivational and a good guide for you to prioritize planning for the future. Find useful information to get started, like what is a quality school improvement plan and action steps you can take to put one into motion.

What Does Quality School Improvement Planning Entail?

A school improvement plan provides a framework to bring solutions to schools and help to close the achievement gap. A plan can help you develop and orchestrate a seamless path towards great outcomes. It’s helpful to envision where you think your district would like to go and then have fun coming up with a path forward.

If you’ve been wanting to integrate new technology into your district, this could be material for a school improvement plan. It’s important to mirror the needs in your own community, so take the time in the beginning of your school improvement planning to get to know your needs.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows for 7% of Title I funds to be set aside to support improvement activities for low-performing schools identified by each state’s accountability system. Find out more about school improvement plan funding here.

Once you have your school improvement ideas formulated and your funding set, it’s time to get to work!

How to Create a School Improvement Plan: Action Steps to Accomplish Your Goals

According to Dr. Adam Drummond at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), there are four phases to creating a school improvement plan. For a deeper dive into his school improvement strategies, check out his strategic plan resource for creating change.

We’re sharing some highlights below:

Phase 1: Setting the Stage

Get started by putting together a group of stakeholders to lead your project. This should include students, community members, school leaders, and more that represent the diversity of your school district. Don’t make the team too large! Get work done collaboratively with a team of 12–16.

Once you have your leadership team in place, create a timeline with goals for school improvement and action steps to implement your goals. Build out your deadlines and assign work to team members. Collaboration is a necessity in a project of this scale.

Spend time thinking about each step, including a deadline and finished product that is a result of the work. It's helpful to start with the end date of the timeline, like when the plan should be approved by the board or state, and then build in your deadlines from there.

Phase 2: Analyze the Evidence

You’ll find that there will be many opinions about the path you should take, so it’s important to separate gut reactions from your decision making. Use data to identify themes that emerge from your research and community feedback and let it guide you.

Start by pulling three years of sample data that is relevant to your team. Find the data you need based on your goal. It could be academic achievement, graduation rates, or attendance. As a school leader, recognize that perception studies also have a place when building an effective five-year plan.

Next, you can move on to focus groups with various stakeholders in your community. Stakeholders will be a key piece of your strategic plan. Ask questions about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Start with students, families, teachers, staff, and administrators and then move on to other relevant community members.

Once you have the data you need, identify themes that emerge from your data and conversations. Try to identify three to five themes and then move to your goal setting.

Phase 3: Articulate the Plan

This is where you can get your goals and action steps on paper. You can use the SMART goal process. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This will help you move from the brainstorming phase to the actionable phase. Make sure that there are a limited number of strategies for each goal—try two—and that there is a team member assigned to each strategy.

It's helpful to break the goals into one-year action plans even though the full plan will roll out in five years. When owning a strategy linked to a goal, team members should think of the work that needs to happen in one-year increments.

After creating your goals and action steps, get feedback from different stakeholders. Host an event where you have the opportunity to hear from groups in a collaborative way. It’s important to get feedback to create an inclusive plan. After you hear from stakeholders, make changes to your goals and action plan as needed.

Phase 4: Launch the Plan

After you’ve planned and shared your goals with relevant parties, now it’s time to put your plan into action. It’s important to have a good communications strategy in place. This could mean press releases, a communication toolkit that may include elevator speeches, stakeholder-specific talking points, social media launch messages and images, and more.

You’ll also want to make sure you have all the necessary buy-in from relevant stakeholders. As you make positive changes in your district, you’ll want everyone to know about it!

Asbury Park School District: An Example of the School Improvement Process at Work

An example of a school improvement plan implemented can be seen in the Asbury Park School District. Asbury Park School District implemented an action plan for school improvement that led to measurable gains for their students. Watch the video to hear directly from district leaders. They had a goal to build literacy rates within their schools. Working with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), they created a district-wide literacy program. Coaches from ICLE worked individually with teachers to support intervention programs.

After moving through the school improvement process, Asbury Park S.D. reported that one of their neediest elementary schools achieved a 99% literacy rate. Plus, 68% of their students district-wide exceeded one-year growth in literacy.


Join more than 5,000 educators in 100+ sessions at the 32nd Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, from June 23–26, 2024, where you can learn more about school improvement plans.

This blog, originally published in 2021, has been updated for 2023.

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