Creating a Successful Action Plan (Part 1)

Teacher Staff Discussion


In the previous blog post on Articulating Urgency, we shared the importance of taking the time for school staff to learn together and generate a whole-school discussion about the agreed upon priorities. When a significant number of staff determine to address these urgent priorities in a trauma-sensitive way the seed for making change can take hold.


As the steering committee moves toward action planning, it is important to determine which of the priorities the school should address first. Though there may be several pressing concerns, key to success is choosing one or two priorities that are achievable to start addressing.

It may be helpful to consider

  • Which of the priorities is most pressing?

  • Which seem achievable in the short-term?

  • Which of the priorities will lead us closer to our goal of becoming more trauma-sensitive?

The goal of this first action plan is to leverage the greatest amount of improvement for students while ensuring that the staff feel the satisfaction that comes from seeing short-term, concrete results. As the action planning process is used over time, schools will be able to address additional priorities.

Interestingly we note that in several of the demonstration schools that TLPI has worked with over the past two years, building staff cohesion was a common goal and agreed upon priority in the first round of action planning. Schools had success with their very different approaches to achieve this goal.

In one large elementary school, the staff felt that there were several challenges in creating a sense of staff cohesion– size and layout of the building, having so many different programs made it difficult to have a shared sense of community, staff felt isolated and disconnected and often only had connections with others on their hallway.  To address this, the steering committee created a goal on the action plan of creating a sense of team and building a collaborative culture among ALL staff in order to better serve students.

One of the action steps created to meet this goal was to utilize a vertical team structure to organize trainings and workshops as a way to increase staff connectedness and to provide new opportunities for various staff to get to know one another.  Another action step included designing a staff bulletin board and displaying it in a prominent place in the building with photos and fun facts about each staff member. To the steering committee’s surprise, the bulletin board ended up serving as a gathering place where staff, students and families could learn new things about the staff working in the building. By the end of the school year staff and leaders reported that a collaborative culture among staff developed as evidenced by results on both a district-wide survey and a steering committee developed survey.  We share this example as a way of illustrating that small and seemingly simple steps can go a long way in reaching a broader goal.

As the steering committee begins to brainstorm action steps, determining which actions to take to address the chosen priorities requires members of the steering committee to engage in the dynamic process of utilizing their creativity, professional wisdom, and intimate knowledge of their student’s needs and the schools strengths and challenges. The synergy that can come from a group of creative colleagues brainstorming together is one of the most exciting and energizing parts of the process!

The excitement and energy around creating and implementing concrete action steps may make it easy to lose sight of the long term vision and it will be important to take the time to identify actions that accomplish both the goal of addressing the staff priorities and the goal of creating a more trauma-sensitive school.  We suggest using the trauma-sensitive vision questions as a way of helping the steering committee articulate the underlying thinking about how the proposed actions will move the school closer to the overarching vision of trauma-sensitivity.

Returning to the attributes of a trauma-sensitive school, the trauma-sensitive vision questions help make sure that the chosen actions move the school closer to becoming trauma-sensitive.

Trauma-Sensitive Vision Questions

How will taking this action:

1.  deepen our shared understanding of how trauma impacts learning and why a school-wide approach is needed for creating a trauma-sensitive school?

2. help the school effectively support all students to feel safe physically, socially, emotionally and academically?

3.  address students’ needs in holistic ways, taking into account their relationships, self-regulation, academic competence and physical and emotional well-being?

4.  explicitly connect students to the school community and provide multiple opportunities for students to practice newly developing skills throughout the school?

5. support staff’s capacity to work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for every student?

6. help the school anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of our students and the surrounding community?

These questions could be used as a handout or posted in the room where the steering committee meets to help guide the discussion. At this time the purpose is not necessarily to answer each of the questions, but rather to help remind steering committee members in general terms of the attributes of a trauma-sensitive school as they consider priorities and plan actin steps.

Once the action plan is developed, the steering committee shares the action plan with all of the school staff, it is essential to elicit staff reaction to the plan.  Inviting all staff to ask questions, provide feedback and engage in a full discussion about the proposed action plan and providing ample opportunity for staff to weigh in ensures that staff voice is reflected in the plan and helps to improve buy-in. Creating staff buy-in takes deliberate planning and creativity and is a critical component of action planning.

This first action plan can only begin the process of becoming trauma-sensitive. Regular use of the action planning process to identify and address priorities helps shift to a trauma-sensitive school culture.  For a more detailed discussion around creating an action plan, we invite you to read Chapter 2 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Vol.2.

Please see our next post about the use of the Flexible Framework Questions as a tool to help ensure that the action plan weaves trauma sensitivity throughout all of the school’s core operations.

We invite you to share your school’s action plan so that others can benefit from your creative ideas.

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