Our book, 100-Day Leaders, makes the case for immediate change—change that can take place in a single semester. We argue that change must take place now, just as the US Constitution, one of Dostoevsky’s best novels, and some of the world’s best music were all created within 100 days. This is not just one more leadership strategy; it’s a moral imperative.
Imagine that you took your child to kindergarten and the principal said, “We’re working on a great literacy program, and we expect to fully implement it in five to seven years because, after all, that’s how long it takes for effective change.” You might say, “Thanks a heck of a lot, but my five-year-old child will be 12, and it’s a bit late at that point for your hot, new literacy program to become effective!”
There needs to be a sense of urgency for educational leaders, teachers, policymakers, and parents. Teachers and school leaders simply don’t have time to wait; they need short-term wins. Through our research, we’ve found example after example of how great teachers and leaders have made improvements in achievement, discipline, and engagement—in just 100 days.
We know that leaders who are clear about their values can articulate what they will not do as clearly as they can communicate their plans and performance objectives. There are many leaders who are thoughtful, deeply committed, and genuinely nice, but their leadership attention is fragmented in dozens of ways. These leaders have more than 100 action plans and performance indicators, and this fragmentation prevents them from getting any meaningful impact from their plans. By contrast, effective leaders can say what they will accomplish this semester and how they will accomplish it.
100-Day Action Plans
Here are three examples of solid 100-day action plans with measurable results:
“We will reduce the ninth-grade course failure rate by at least 50 percent by identifying every student reading below grade level in the first week of school and providing daily intensive literacy intervention. We know that this will be inconvenient, will remove an elective class, and will probably cause complaints from students and parents. We will do it anyway, because ninth-grade literacy is the key to success in every subject and every grade.”
“We will have every student reading at grade level by third grade by providing weekly assessment, from letter identification in kindergarten to reading fluency and comprehension in grades 1 and 2. We will provide any necessary intervention to help those students to achieve grade-level performance by the time they enter grade 3. We know that this may require changes in our schedule from week to week, and will require reallocation of our intervention resources depending on student needs, and that will be inconvenient. We will do it anyway.”
“We will reduce student suspensions by at least 59 percent by changing practices that lead to student failure and hopelessness. We will meet with every student who had a suspension last year and, collaborating with their family and counselors, create a prevention plan and a positive connection, including daily check-ins, with a caring adult in our school. We will defuse conflicts before they start; identify anxiety, stress, and depression before they become debilitating conditions; and we will celebrate every success, no matter how minor, in the lives of these students. We know that some students will not like this attention. We will give it to them anyway.”
The common theme of these 100-day goals and action plans is a commitment to effectiveness and impact, no matter how unpopular those actions may be. We know well the temptation for leaders to be bogged down into five-year strategic plans. Senior leaders in particular like to look at the big picture and engage in systems thinking. While some long-term planning is necessary for facilities and finances, we know that when it comes to teaching, learning, and leadership, it is short-term wins that are essential for faculty morale and student results. Establishing 100-day plans will energize your community and give you opportunities for celebration and mid-course corrections long before the next round of test scores is announced. We hope that you will join us on this exciting leadership journey.
Reeves, D., & Eaker R. (2019) 100-day leaders: Turning short-term wins into long-term success in schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.