Planning Step 4: Establish a Year 1 Action Plan

The next step in your process is to develop prioritized actions that need to be taken in the coming year, resulting in an implementation timeline. In doing this you will need to consider:

  • What can realistically be accomplished in one year?
  • What needs to happen first in order for other things to be accomplished?
  • What resources of people and money will be necessary?
  • What shifts need to occur in the ways we work and what we communicate?
  • What do we need to continue to do that is already on our agenda?

Your planning group can be divided into smaller committees, one for each strategic direction. Let people choose which one they will work on. Then that group takes their boxes of ideas and decides what 3-5 major items they can accomplish in one year and calendars the necessary steps or benchmarks on a timeline created on the wall in the front of the room. Each committee reports out by placing important action steps on the calendar of the whole. They will need to consider who will be responsible for making sure the action happens and what the budgetary implications may be.

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TIP: Timely documentation shared with all members of the planning team is critical for forward momentum, as is check-in with responsible leaders in each arena of work.

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Creating Your Action Plan

This is the step where the “rubber hits the road” as the saying goes. We decide what concrete, measurable accomplishments, events, or products we will complete in a given time frame. Implementation planning typically takes place annually. If preferred, a phased plan for 3-5 successive years can also be created.

Click the links below to access an action plan template and sample 1-year and phased action plans:

One-Year Action Plan Template (blank) [Word Doc: 41KB]
Sample One-Year Action Plan [PDF: 64KB]
Sample Three-Phase Action Plan [PDF: 52KB]
Sample Four-Phase Action Plan [PDF: 52KB]

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The documentation of your Vision and Strategic Directions sessions will be needed for the following process, as participants will be accessing the cards, title sheets, etc. Ideally, this documentation is still up on the wall from the previous session. You will also need an Action Plan Template like the example pictured below (see previous link).

STAGE 4 – STEP 4 | Action Plan Template

Action Plan Template


1) Review Vision and Strategic Directions

  • Have the group read the title cards of the Vision and the Strategic Directions.
  • What do you see as a breakthrough for us as a district?
  • What is going to be a challenge for us?
  • Which of the Strategic Directions attracts you?
  • Who wants to work on each Strategic Direction? Record names up on card near title arrow.
    Try to create balanced teams.

2) Teams Develop Action Steps

  • Ask each team to look at the cards in their Strategic Direction and decide what events or projects are feasible to accomplish and will create the most leverage in the coming year.
  • You will use the Action Plan Template (above) as the basis for organizing ideas into a calendar.
  • Each team selects 4-8 distinct events, projects or objectives for the coming 12 months and writes those on cards, placing them into four quarters of the calendar in the order that makes sense to accomplish them.
  • Urge the groups to space them out over the year so that everything does not end up in the first quarter. Two accomplishments per quarter is a reasonable number. Focus on being realistic, you may find that some actions, events, or products need to be put off until the next year.

3) Teams Propose Actions

  • Have each team report out placing their cards on the calendar by quarter. This will fill an entire sticky wall.

    Click here [PDF: 63KB] to access a list of sample actions a district might pursue in its arts education plan, which can help jump-start the group’s thinking during this step.

  • After each Strategic Direction group reports out ask:

    - Are there any clarifying questions?
    - Will these projects move us forward in the strategic direction?
    - Is this doable in the time frame? If not how shall we deal with this?
    - Is there overlap?
    - Who is responsible for each major event or product? (attach a name to each project)

4)  Key Action Steps in Year 1

This part may be done by smaller committees and/or staff.

- Where do these actions overlap?
- How do these new tasks fit with our ongoing work plan?
- What can be combined?
- Is there a logical structure in terms of committees emerging?
- Name the committees and decide when to meet again.
  • Smaller steps to achieve each of projects, events or objectives are identified.
    - What needs to get dones?
    - When? Where? Who is responsible?
    - What will it cost? Estimate funding implications.
    - Is there overlap?
    - See sample plans at the end of this section for ideas on how to record these steps.
  • Share out the implementation steps with the whole group. After hearing all the reports ask:

5) Closing Conversation: Prioritizing Events or Initiatives

- Create a priority arrow graphic on chart paper (see sample below).-
- Have each group name the KEY action in each of the arenas of work from the strategic directions and make a card.
- Look at all the cards. There will be 6-9 depending on the number of boxes that make up the strategic directions.
- Looking at these prioritized events or initiatives, which one seems to be the key to unlocking everything else? How does it catalyze action on the other events or projects? Then ask, which two actions are next in importance? Continue, filling in each of the boxes in terms of priority.
- For more ideas on creating priorities, see the end of this section.

Priority Wedge

Priority Wedge

Creating a Phased Action

  1. Divide the group into strategy teams. Distribute a copy of a 3-5 year phasing chart (see example below) to each team member along with the sheets that make up their strategic direction from the previous workshop.
  2. Ask teams to determine benchmarks that signify when action items have been accomplished and to brainstorm other projects that could advance the goals of the strategy. They can use the actions that got posted in the Strategic Directions workshop and create new ones. (Give teams some guidance on what constitutes a concrete project. For example “naming a committee” is not a project. Legitimate projects might include holding career nights, planning interdisciplinary units, arranging parent workshops etc.
  3. Direct teams to choose two or three projects for each year and write each project on a half-sheet of paper. They should consider what actions lead to another as the program progresses in successive years.
  4. Prepare the front wall of the room with years listed across the top and the Strategic Directions down the left side.
  5. Direct participants to post their cards on the wall chart as they report on their strategic direction. Ask if other teams have any questions, reflections or suggestions.
  6. Lead a discussion with these questions:
  • What connections exist between the projects?
  • What projects support each other?
  • How might your team capitalize on what other teams are doing?
  • How will we coordinate our actions? Make sure progress is happening?
Phased Action Template


Creating Priorities | Optional Exercises

There will be a time in the planning process where team members realize that in all likelihood there will never be enough money to provide everything. There will be hard choices to make in establishing priorities. Compromises need to be made – additional funding partners may need to be cultivated.

Ultimately, the team needs to decide – first things first. But what are those first things? For one district, it may be restoring music to the elementary schools, for another it may be providing professional development so that classroom teaches can teach visual arts. For another, it may be offering more artist-in-residence programs.

Creating Priorities | Exercise 1: The Dream House

The Dream House exercise was developed as one way to define priorities. It is a metaphor that everyone can relate to and refer to when the tough decisions have to be made.

In comparing the Arts Education Plan to a Dream House, the group goes through the process of first finding out what is desired, what is really necessary and then finally at the bottom line, how to go about funding it. It has been our experience that the team can become discouraged if the “not enough money” issue dominates every discussion. We suggest putting the dollars in their proper place – at the end of the discussion – not at the beginning. Each box on this table represents a half-sheet on the sticky wall. The facilitator will place the half-sheets on the wall one-by-one. There can be discussion at any point; but it is really meant more to be a reflective exercise.

Instructions to the Group

  • Today we are going to go through an exercise that allows us to think about building a dream house. Let’s take just a moment and go around and say one feature that comes to mind when you think about designing and building your dream house. Do a quick go-around.
  • Answers may include nice-to-haves, such as a patio with a fireplace, walk-in closets, a Jacuzzi bathtub or a spiral staircase.
  • Note that all of the items are things that we want, but not necessarily things that we need. First things first…

Establishing Priorities

  • Read the CENTRAL QUESTIONS aloud and ask the group to think about how they might respond if they were designing their dream house.
  • Read the Dream House questions in COLUMN ONE and elicit the group’s responses.
  • Read the parallel questions in COLUMN THREE and elicit the group’s responses in the Arts Education Plan.

Central Questions

The Dream House

Arts Education Plan

What’s it going to look like?

What’s the overall style?

What is our vision?

What do we absolutely want to have?

What’s an outstanding feature of our house?

What’s a key component of our plan?

What do we absolutely have to have?

What sort of kitchen do we want?

Is there a core area that we need to develop first?

What about infrastructure?

What utilities do we need?

What resources do we need?

Who will help us build it?

Who are the various contractors we will need?

What partnerships do we need to develop?

Are there any barriers in our way?

What are the state and city building codes?

How will arts instruction fit into the school day?

What about the future?

How shall we protect and maintain our house?

How can we ensure sustainability?

How much will the house cost?

Let’s compare prices for flooring and get the best estimate.

Let’s take a look at salaries and material costs.

How will we pay for it?

What are our financing options?

What is our funding strategy?


Invite participants to share their observations after hearing how these two scenarios line up. In later discussions about priorities, team members may say, “ Remember the dream house; we need to keep that in the plan!”

Creating Priorities | Exercise 2: Price Tags

Another fun exercise to reflect on priorities is “Price Tags”. Using real (or approximated costs), the exercise encourages the group to reflect on the initial implementation steps in an arts plan.

Click here [Word Doc: 37KB] to access the price tags that are used in this exercise. The price tags can be enlarged or written on half-sheets and affixed to walls, desks, or chairs positioned around the room. You can give the team a “budget” to work within or simply allow them pick their top priorities. The price tags are provided in Microsoft Word format to facilitate adaptations to your own context.

Instructions to the Group

  • Today we are going to have fun with an exercise that allows us to pick some top priorities for our arts program.
  • You have $100,000. Go ahead and stand in front of the card that you consider to be your top priority to improve / strengthen our arts education programs. If you see something missing – go ahead and write up a price tag of your own.
  • OK, I am going to give you another $100,000. Go to your second choice. Now go to your third choice.
  • At this point you may see some patterns emerging with the team. There may be a lot of people clustered around one price tag – and no one around others.
  • You may find it useful to have a focused conversation about the exercise. Engage the team members and invite them to share their process for determining top priorities.

Focused Conversation | Reflecting on the Price Tag Exercise


  • To understand the difficulty that arises in prioritizing decisions regarding funding for arts education especially in light of the new State money that will be available.
  • To create a sense of ease around the task of approaching financial aspects of planning and prioritization.


  • At the end of the planning process, we will thoughtfully consider a funding strategy and the budget implications of various aspects of our plan. We will need to place dollar amounts on components of the plan and identify funding priorities. This exercise was intended to make that process come alive in a simplified manner.
  • Think back over the Price Tag Exercise that we just completed. Think about what happened each step of the way, notice your reactions to it and what conclusions we may draw from it. We will take just a few minutes to reflect back on it.
Objective Level:Which tag caught your attention first?
Where did most people cluster?
What items were not chosen?
How would you describe the process of physically moving to a priority area?
Reflective Level: What surprised you about this exercise?
What was an easy choice?
What was a difficult choice?
Where are we disagreeing?
Was there a point at which you felt confused or indecisive?
Was there a moment where you felt exhilarated or elated?
Interpretive Level: On what basis did you make your choices?
Could you defend those choices to others?
What questions did this raise for you? Where did you feel that you needed more information?
What insights are beginning to emerge about budgeting and leveraging funding?
Decisional Level: What appear to be our key priorities as a group?
What is the overall cost to provide our priorities and how does this match with our budget?
Are there priorities that will need to drop off the list at least this year?


This exercise has given us an interesting way to approach the difficult task of looking at budget implications and competing priorities in a district. A group consensus begins to emerge when people “vote with their feet.” Thank you for expressing your priorities.