Teach By Design
Action plan
Jul 11, 2017

7 Ways to MacGyver Your Action Plans

Action planning doesn't have to be an after thought. With a little strategy, you can transform your conversations from all talk to real action items.

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Remember that TV show from the 80’s, MacGyver? Every week, Secret Agent Angus MacGyver wowed us with his uncanny ability to diffuse bombs, unlock doors, and get himself out of every rock-and-a-hard-place situation using some dental floss, a rubber band, a gum wrapper, and lint. He used what he had in his pockets to keep moving as he worked to save the world. Maybe you’ll never have to face certain doom equipped with duct tape and a pocket knife, but you might find yourself facing decisions equipped with a mountain of data to sort through.

If you’re on a team working to improve some aspect of your building, chances are you’ve been to an action planning meeting. Whether you looked at referral information or at assessment results, you used data to figure out where you are and how you’ll get to where you want to be. That’s all an action plan is: a list of steps you take to achieve your goal. What does an action planning meeting look like for your team? Is it a little like this:

  1. The meeting starts 7 minutes late because it’s the first time you’ve spoken to colleagues all day. Eventually, someone brings out the data…
  2. You talk about the data for 30 minutes. (Just for good measure, throw in another 10 minutes generating other reports.)
  3. Someone brings up something tangentially relevant, but kind of off topic.
  4. The conversation veers toward the new topic
  5. You spend another 20 minutes talking about the new topic.
  6. There are now 5 minutes left in the meeting and there isn’t an actionable task to be found in the meeting minutes.

Sound familiar? These conversations are insightful and important, but without action, they’re all talk. We tapped into Director of Training and Communications, Jessica Daily’s 10 years of experience coaching school teams to find out: If you only have limited minutes, a handful of reports, and a piece of paper, what can you do to get the most out of action planning meeting? Because her experience is with PBIS teams, we focused on action plans related to evaluating PBIS implementation. Feel free to generalize these same steps for any action planning you do in your building.

Save the D​​​​​​ate

When do you fit in action planning? Do you do like most of us and try to squeeze it in at the end of a regular meeting? When was the last time every team member was there? If your team is committed to continuously improving behavior in your building, you have to commit to action planning…together.

Get your calendars out. Look for dates and times when everyone is available for an hour and half. Don’t co-opt a regular team meeting for this task; make this a separate meeting devoted solely to creating an action plan. Save that date and get ready to hit the ground running…together.


Create an agenda for the meeting. Any team member can add agenda items ahead of the meeting as long as the items relate to action planning. Time box each agenda item and agree to stick to the schedule to keep the meeting moving.

Decide on an action plan template that works for you. There are so many to choose from; it doesn’t matter which one you choose so long as the template gives you space to include:

  • The item you’re working on
  • The tasks associated with the item
  • Who will complete the tasks
  • A date when each task should be complete

Summari​​ze Before ​​You Meet

Take a cue from TIPS research and enlist someone from your team to take a first pass at the data before heading into the meeting. This Data Analyst summarizes the reports noting which areas deserve further discussion. The summary​ should include:

The Surv​​ey Facts

Give everyone the facts about the survey administration. Who took the survey? When did they take it? How many people contributed?

A Big Picture Overview

Every survey comes with its own benchmark. What’s the benchmark for this survey? How close are you to meeting it? How does this year’s score compare with last year’s? Remember, it’s okay to do well in these comparisons. Give space to celebrate successes.

Areas for Improvement

Don’t stop at the big picture; zoom in to look for broad areas for improvement. Check out the subscales. Which ones stand out – for better or worse? Have you improved? Write down which subscales scored below the goal line.

Selected Items

Drill down further and review the survey’s items. Highlight ‘partially in place’ items in yellow and ‘not in place’ items in red. Do themes emerge across subscales? Write them down. Remember the subscales you wrote down earlier; are there items related to those subscales you could group together? The more items you identify for discussion, the longer it will take the team to work through what should be done. Keep the list in your summary to no more than 10 items.


As you look over these items, what do you think are some options for improving their scores? Your recommendations won’t be the final say; think of them as a place to start your discussion during the action planning meeting.

Make Priorities

With the Data Analyst’s summary in hand, you have plenty of items to start building your plan. Now it’s time to figure out which ones you’re going to take on. How do you choose? In short: Prioritize.

Out of the items listed:

  • Are some more pressing than others?
  • How often do you find yourselves talking about issues stemming from any of the items?
  • Is there any low-hanging fruit you could choose in order to build momentum?
  • Which items make you excited to get started?

Connect the Dots

Look for ways to connect action items with outcome data. Can you take care of two things at the same time? For example, let’s say non-classroom settings scored below the goal line and you know the Hallway is a location with lots of problem behaviors. If an action item is to reteach your expectations in non-classroom settings, create an action item to start with the hallway first.

As you look over the possible items for your action plan, consider this:

  • Would committing to one item improve another item’s score?
  • Are you already committed to working on some items as a result of action planning you’ve done previously?
  • Is there a way to embed any item inside of actions you’re already taking?

Ge​t Real

At the end of the meeting, take a step back and look at the action plan in front of you. How many tasks have you just committed to? Knowing what you know about your team, your existing commitments, and your resources, does this feel realistic? If it does, GREAT! If not, work together to pare down the list.

Check Yourself

Action planning doesn’t stop with the written document. Now you have to do what you said you’d do. Schedule time to check your progress through the year. Get in the habit of referring back to the plans you create and ask yourselves:

  • How are we doing?
  • What’s finished?
  • What’s next on the list?
  • What’s working?
  • What needs adjustment?

With regular checks, you’ll adjust your plan as issues come up rather than waiting to the end to say, Yep, that didn’t work.

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Megan Cave


Megan Cave

Megan Cave is a member of the PBISApps Marketing and Communication team. She is the writer behind the user manuals, scripted video tutorials, and news articles for PBISApps. She also writes a monthly article for Teach by Design and contributes to its accompanying Expert Instruction podcast episode. Megan has completed four half marathons – three of which happened unintentionally – and in all likelihood, will run another in the future.

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