We’ve all been in meetings that seem to end with more questions than answers. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however; an effective brainstorming session can be a meaningful first step in problem-solving. But what comes next? How do we move forward? This is where identifying, assigning, and following up on action items can help. What are action items in a meeting? Below, we define action items, explore their importance, and highlight some possible examples.

What are Action Items in a Meeting for Educators?

Simply put, an action item identifies something to be done after a meeting. It may help to think of them as a to-do list, developed as the result of a discussion around a new project, a problem to solve, etc. Action items are smaller tasks that, when completed, lead to the accomplishment of a larger goal. They are usually created (and sometimes assigned) by an administrator or other supervisor. If there is a voluntary committee involved, action items can be assigned to each member, perhaps being added to the agenda. They get the ball rolling and keep it moving.

Why are Action Items Important?

Action items (and keeping track of them) may seem tedious at first. After all, you’ve got some great ideas and are ready to get going! The last thing you want to do is get in the way of your team’s inertia. Without defined and assigned action items, however, you may end up even further behind than where you started. You need clear directions to your final destination.

Action Items Define Roles

You may run into a situation where your team feels stuck, and no one is sure what to do next. On the contrary, everyone may be eager to jump in and do it all! With action times, you can divide the work as efficiently as possible based on interest, role, etc. Some tasks may need to be handled by an administrator, while some make more sense for a classroom teacher. But most importantly, everyone knows what to do to help move things along.

They Keep Things Organized and On Track

In education, it often seems that there’s just not enough time. Action items help you and your team to be more efficient, doing what needs to be done in an order and on a timeline that makes the most sense. Those who work in education are often skilled in adhering to deadlines! So laying them out in incremental steps will ensure that things keep moving toward your overall goals.

They Help Address Problems as they Arise

Ambitious ideas are important but can be challenging to execute. And when something goes awry it can be tempting to let it fall by the wayside while everyone is engaged with the everyday tasks of running and teaching in a school. But with action items, you can pinpoint just where things went wrong. Then revisit that one piece of the puzzle, and try another strategy.

What are some examples of action items in a school setting?

Larger district goals can originate from a Board of Education, the faculty, members of the administration, or a parent group. When a new law or policy passes, it needs to be implemented effectively. Perhaps there’s a larger issue your district is looking to address, such as graduation rates or testing scores.

If you are looking to address reading levels across all grades, for example, you might:

  • Pull data for each grade and look for patterns.
  • Research reading programs.
  • Set and get approval for a budget for new programs, materials, and/or consultants.
  • Survey teachers regarding reading challenges they are seeing.
  • Decide on a timeline for the implementation of the new program.
  • Pilot a program in one class or grade with a plan to expand.

In the above examples, administrators and department heads are most likely to take on each item. A more specific agenda item that would also benefit from action items could be, for example, a department meeting in which teachers will be rewriting the midterm and final exams for high schoolers. Some next steps could include:

  • List the issues with current exams to address them in revisions.
  • Pull materials from past state exams.
  • Decide on a format.
  • Format the exams.
  • Create a scoring rubric.
  • Create a cover page for each exam.
  • Proofread and check for any inconsistencies.
  • Create instructions for exam proctors.
  • Take an inventory of our supplies (loose leaf, scantron sheets, highlighters, pencils, pens).

Of course, action items may lead to more action items and that is OK! In the first example above, with a larger, district-level goal, steps need to keep being broken down into smaller steps. This can happen right away or as you go. What’s most important is that you keep moving towards your overall goal.