Create an Action Plan

The next step after identifying and prioritizing actionable root causes is to develop an action plan that describes goals, tasks, and timelines for addressing the root causes. A well-thought-out action plan will help your team stay on track amidst competing priorities, predict and neutralize potential barriers, and measure progress toward goals.

Create an Action Plan

When selecting the action plan, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Listen as IDC’s TA specialists discuss the need to ensure the action plan is feasible and within the equity team’s scope of influence.

Develop Well-Written, Measurable Goals

The first step in creating this action plan is to develop a well-written, measurable goal. To accomplish this, your team may consider using the acronym SMART in the goal-development process or whichever goals your district or school uses for improvement planning. SMART stands for specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, and time-bound. Each element of the SMART framework works together to create a thoughtful, concise, and trackable goal.

SMART Framework

  • 1 of 5 images, displaying the word SMART with the S highlighted. Accompanying icon is a bullseye


    Clearly and specifically state a description of each goal. Be as concise as possible in stating what you want to achieve.

    • Who is involved?
    • What will you do?
    • Where or with what group?

    The more narrow your goal, the more your team will be able to identify the action steps necessary to accomplish it.

  • 2 of 5 images, displaying the word SMART with the M highlighted. Accompanying icon is a graph.


    Identify what quantifiable evidence will illustrate that the team is making progress toward the goal. By defining an observable, measurable standard, the team can set milestones along the way that provide the opportunity to reevaluate and course-correct as needed.

  • 3 of 5 images, displaying the word SMART with the A highlighted. Accompanying icon is a checklist.


    Involve actions that are attainable and aligned with your goal, are observable, and that you can accomplish within an identified time frame. Carefully consider what you can accomplish. Decide whether you can achieve the action now or if you should take additional preliminary steps—it is better to start small and grow your plan over time.

  • 4 of 5 images, displaying the word SMART with the R highlighted. Accompanying icon is the scales of justice.


    Consider practicality while striving to set ambitious and challenging goals. Your identified goal should align with your organizational values and long-term objectives. If a goal does not contribute toward your organization’s broader objectives, you may need to rethink it.

  • 5 of 5 images, displaying the word SMART with the T highlighted. Accompanying icon is a calendar.


    Identify a specified time frame for when you will accomplish the goal and subsequent actions. Setting a realistic end date supports prioritization and motivation to achieve the goal. However, be conservative in your projections. Recognize that it may take several years to have an impact on your success gap because some systemic inequities are deep-rooted. In such cases, think carefully about and record what results you can expect to see during each step in the process.

Note: There are a number of variations for how SMART is defined (e.g., the letter A may stand for actionable or aligned).

The Success Gaps Toolkit includes several action planning templates that you can use to facilitate your team’s action plan documentation process. If your district or school has a standard format for action planning, use that template to promote consistency and linkages with existing processes.

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Outline Action Steps

After your team has identified and written the goal statement, you will determine the specific steps or tasks needed to accomplish the goal. This process may require you to divide your main goal into small goals or objectives. Doing so can help the team focus its work into an organized step-by-step action plan.

Consider the following questions:

  • What is needed to create improvement (actions, resources, policies, procedures, etc.)?
  • How can you break the desired improvement down into manageable steps?
  • Who is responsible for implementing each action?
  • How can you plan for continuity if there are personnel changes?

Consider connections to other work:

Your team also may want to think through ways to align and braid your team’s equity work with other action plans at the district or school level. Merging all of your action steps into one action plan may make implementing and tracking more manageable for busy district and school leaders. For example, suppose significant disproportionality is an area of identified need in your district. In that case, the action steps you craft to address this success gap may supplement or serve as an overall district equity plan. That district equity plan may include actions to support comprehensive support and improvement (CSI) schools identified under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

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Determine Your Timeline

Besides setting a time frame for accomplishing the long-term goal, your team should also include a timeline for monitoring the progress of each action step of the plan. By creating a well-thought-out timeline, the team can establish milestones and maintain consistent progress toward the goal.

The team should also include in the timeline a process for reporting progress. Because the communication feedback loop is critical to maintaining stakeholder engagement, the equity lead needs to consider when and how the equity team, district leadership, or other stakeholders will receive updates regarding progress and accomplishments.

For each action step, consider the following:

  • What is the needed time frame for implementing the planned action?
  • Does this action warrant additional discussion and check-ins? If yes, how often?
  • If decisionmakers outside the group must approve proposed actions, when and how will you update team members (e.g., at the next meeting, via email)?
  • How will those implementing the actions communicate their progress and challenges, and to whom?
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Plan for Evaluation

Your team has invested a lot of time developing an action plan, and it is equally important to track the plan’s implementation. An evaluation plan can help you draw conclusions about your improvement work. Your team can monitor and evaluate implementation of the action plan by collecting both process (implementation) and outcome data (data about how students are doing). First, identify what data you need to collect throughout the implementation process as evidence that the plan was carried out as you intended (with fidelity). Analyzing implementation data will help you determine whether the supports you put in place are sufficient and, if not, whether you need to provide additional opportunities for technical assistance or coaching to improve implementation.

Did You Know?

Evaluation should be planned as you are developing your action plan. Waiting until after you have implemented your initial action steps to think about and plan for progress monitoring and evaluation can result in your team not having the information needed in a timely manner.

Additionally, consider what data you will collect to help you determine what changes you can measure before, during, and after implementation. Collecting both intermediate output and short-term outcome data allows you to track intermediate changes and improvements along the way to longer-term outcomes.

Consider the following questions:

  • How will you know implementers carried out the intended action as you planned?
  • What data will help you determine if the systems supporting implementation are sufficient?
  • What data points will serve as key markers throughout the improvement cycle?
  • What intermediate outputs and short-term outcomes will you look at to help you know you are on the right track?
  • What data may let you know that there are adjustments you need to make?
  • How will you know whether the actions worked? What data will show improvement has occurred?
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Helpful Resources

Additional Resources

To find resources to support the facilitation of a success gaps meeting about the topics found on this page, see Facilitation Tools on the Resources and Downloads page.

Up Next:
Implement Plan and Monitor Progress

Implement the plan and monitor progress on an ongoing basis using data and the team to revise as needed.