Easily Measure and Communicate Progress on Improvement Initiatives With a Stoplight Report

Janet Pilcher, Pat Greco

In Brief

5-Minute Read

Education leaders have countless conversations with their team in a day. Between meetings, individual connection with employees and performance reviews, it can be easy to lose track of what was said and what action items came from those conversations. Then there are initiatives to manage – multiple initiatives – with dependencies and departments effected and resources needed. It’s imperative to the success of the organization and the students it serves that projects, process and people are moving in the right direction. Employees look to leaders to drive that alignment. Leading that charge requires an organized, uncomplicated approach to tracking progress at a micro and macro level.

Key Takeaways

  • Departmental alignment in education requires a systematic approach that is simple, effective and consistently used.

  • Districts can create better consistency by using a multi-purpose tool to gather and act on feedback, track progress to goals, and improve the effectiveness of meetings.

  • By using a tool that serves the dual purpose of tracking progress and communicating progress to employees and stakeholders, K-12 institutions can effectively implement short-cycle continuous improvement practices.

What is a stoplight report?

A stoplight report is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a document used to keep track of anything, using a standard stoplight pattern as visual cue to represent progress. While it sounds oversimplified, it’s a highly effective tool used in successful organizations to create system-wide alignment, reduce anxiety and prioritize projects. How does the stoplight report work?

Designed to keep the entire team informed on the progress of various actions and priorities, the stoplight report uses a green-yellow-red progress mark to easily communicate what is on schedule and where the team is falling behind.

Green items have been addressed and are complete.

Yellow items are in progress.

Red items are not on track or at a standstill. Items marked red are accompanied by an explanation of what is stopping progress.

Stoplight Reports in Action

Stoplight reports can be used for tracking any kind of initiative or action. They are easy to understand and can be a useful communicate tool to keep leaders, employees and stakeholders informed. Here are three common ways to implement a stoplight report.

Rounding Reports

Rounding conversations are an effective practice used to increase employee retention and drive higher parent and student satisfaction. Key questions to ask when rounding are “What processes can we improve to make your job more efficient?” or “What can we be doing better to improve your student’s experience?” A leader with 20 employees or a principal with 10 parents to call each week can quickly find it overwhelming to do something with the responses. Using a stoplight report can help them turn this feedback into manageable actions. As these questions are answered, capture them on a stoplight report. After the conversations are complete, refer to the report and summarizing the information to determine how to follow through. Your report may look like this:

Students with parents who work later are often still waiting in the pick-up area after dark during the winter months. Survey sent out to parents about schedule for pick-up.

75% of respondents with after-hours needs have enrolled students in our free after-school study hall.
Several concerns about the cleanliness of first floor restrooms in the 7th grade hall. Implemented additional round of custodial services to restrooms between lunch and last period.
IT requests to implement a ticketing system for classroom and school technology support. More research is needed to determine costs, budget and ROI of implementation. Requires additional hires to build and implement a ticketing system.

This stoplight report can help communicate information up to senior leadership or to the board. It can also communicate back to employees and parents the actions the organization is taking and the progress of those actions. Leaders who use this tool after rounding demonstrate that they value the input and needs of employees and those they serve and want to use that feedback to improve their experience.

Short-cycle Initiatives

Short-cycle initiatives form the bedrock of the continuous improvement process. This green-yellow-red breakdown is incredibly useful for tracking the status of initiatives when conducting them in staggered cycles of 30, 60 and 90 days. List all the priorities for each cycle and then in preparation for each team meeting have team members signify their progress. Everyone stays informed on the most important priorities.

The improvement team at Erwin Middle School uses a 30-day action plan with a stoplight process embedded, like the one shown here:

Principal Hire a new counselor to serve as a liaison between EMS and parents/students. COMPLETE
Instructional Coaches Pull list of students with D and F averages. Provide new counselor with attendance report. COMPLETE
Counselor Be in constant communication with teachers. Attend weekly PLCs to update teachers on the status of their students whose families have been contacted. Teachers will keep track of their remote absences using a specific Google Form. ONGOING AND ON TRACK
Counselor Be in constant communication with EMS parents and students to identify barriers that are hindering students from being present (traditional and remote) to school. ONGOING AND ON TRACK

At the beginning, middle and end of the cycle, everyone has a clear consensus of the priorities and progress. If the stoplight report reveals that there isn’t enough movement in the right direction, needed strategy adjustments can be discussed and made before the cycle ends.

Stoplight Report Meeting Agenda

The stoplight report should determine the progress meeting agenda and discussion. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Analyze the measures marked green, recognize team members who have contributed to positive results and communicate why those actions are working.
  2. Focus on any yellow measures that are trending in a negative direction. Ask some follow-up questions:
    1. Where are the successes?
    2. Where are the bright spots?
    3. Why isn’t the team moving faster to the goal?
    4. Are the right strategies in place? How do you know?
    5. Are the key strategies being executed with fidelity?
  3. For red measures, can use the same questions as yellow and add:
    1. Are we executing or not and why not?
    2. Did we choose the wrong strategy?
  4. Determine a plan to move forward and what actions to monitor in the next cycle.


To better track progress towards goals and better align the efforts of the organization, education leaders should:
  • Think differently.
    Recognize that consistent and clear communication about priorities and progress will drive alignment and build trust with employees and stakeholders.
  • Plan differently.
    Provide education leaders and employees with a standardized method to track and report on the progress of actions being taken to improve the organization.
  • Act differently.
    Help staff, students, families and the community see that their input matters and understand how it is being used to create a better place to work, learn and achieve.

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