Greg Pilewski | February 2015

Test Creative Ideas with a 90-Day Cycle

It’s hard to believe there’s only five months until the end of the school year.  

As a leader, we always deal with the day-to-day, but we are constantly looking out ahead  and into the future. I used to have a sign in my office that changed daily and said “190 days until teachers come back”.  Many of my colleagues just laughed, but as a system-leader I had to constantly think about what systemic improvements we needed to make for the coming year, what resources schools would need, and then organize and align people, time, and money to make that a reality.

My point is, these next few months are a critical time to be thinking and planning for the coming year.  It’s challenging as much of our current time is spent planning and implementing district, state, and or national assessments.  However, as you reflect on some of the major challenges and barriers that you encounter with implementing STEAM/arts integration, think about the structures and systems you have in place or want to put in place during the coming year.  How can you create a culture of creativity and innovation in order to test creative ideas new thinking to solve some of your most complex STEAM/arts integration implementation challenges?  Consider a structure to test creative ideas and innovations with a 90-Day Cycle of Networked Improvement.

The 90-Day Cycle of improvement has quickly emerged as a process for rapidly creating and testing innovative approaches to support deep implementation.  This structure is based in disciplined-inquiry and by practicing the process it is meant to produce a test creative ideas, products, frameworks, tools, prototypes, or specific changes to practices in support of deep improvement.

Check out the 90-Day Cycle Handbook developed by Sandra Park and Sola Takahashi of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

This resource is an outstanding guide and structure for this form of inquiry and it is filled with helpful leadership strategies, tips, and examples. Below is a summary of the phases of the 90-Day Cycle designed by Park and Takahashi. For more detail on each on each phase check out the pages listed.  

Pre-Cycle pages 9-11

  • Preparation for a 90-Day Cycle is almost as important as the cycle itself. Choosing a topic of appropriate scope, identifying your audience, and articulating the deliverable before the cycle starts is critical to a cycle’s success. Any ambiguity will slow down your progress during the cycle and quite possibly doom it to failure. 

Phase 1: 30 days (Scan) pages 12-14

  • The first phase of the 90-Day Cycle is the scan. The goal of the scan is to review current academic and practical knowledge relevant to the problem the cycle is designed to address. By the end of this phase, the 90-Day Cycle team will be able to articulate widely shared conclusions in the field as well as significant open questions and key tensions. The team will choose a specific issue to focus on for the remainder of the cycle and share initial ideas about the product or framework to be tested.

Phase 2: 60 days (Focus) pages 15-16

  • In the second phase of the 90-Day Cycle, the team narrows its attention to a single focus area for the remainder of the cycle. While the scan phase produces an overview of the topic at hand, during the focus phase the 90-Day Cycle team decides which aspect of this larger topic to drill into, and from what angle the investigation should be approached—all in consideration of the anticipated product. By the end of this phase, the team will have designed and tested a prototype (framework, process, etc.) through rapid, small-scale testing.

Phase 3: 90 days (Summarize) pages 17-18

  • In the third phase of the 90-Day Cycle, the team refines its innovation and summarizes its work. Rapid, small-scale test creative ideas continue into this phase to address narrower and more clearly defined questions. By the end of Phase 3, the team will submit a 90-Day Cycle report, including a full account of the innovation the cycle has produced, to the product owner. 

Post-Cycle page 19

  • Given the tight timeframe for writing the report, the team has an additional two weeks to complete final revisions. Upon receiving the report on day 90, the approval team has five days to read and provide feedback on the initial draft. When the team finishes its revisions, the final report is given to the product owner.
  • Findings from the 90-Day Cycle can be used in a variety of ways: • Launch a new line of work in the NICs, • Be incorporated into the current work of a NIC, • Serve as the basis for a white paper, policy brief, or blog posting. 

How can you use this structure to assist you and your school, district, or state department with implementing STEAM/arts integration more deeply? 

How can you use this process to create a culture of creativity, innovation, and integration? 

What changes would you need to make in the coming months to put this structure in place for next year? 

Already implementing the 90-Day Cycle process?  Tell us your story and what leadership lessons you have learned by implementing the process! 

About the Author

Greg is a former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and has nearly twenty years of classroom, school-based and district-level leadership experience in five different public school systems. He has a passion for teaching and learning and a commitment to supporting school-level and system-level leaders with integrated and innovative resources. Not only is Greg an accomplished leader and speaker, he’s also an avid tinkerer in his workshop where he enjoys making projects around his historic home for his lovely wife and two Labrador retrievers. You can catch Greg’s insights right here each and every Thursday and contact him directly at: