Create Your Implementation Blueprint
Stage 3: Initial Implementation
Teachers and other staff must learn to do things differently, both individually and also in collaboration with other staff members. This stage is called “initial” to recognize that when teachers first start using these new practices, they may not be completely proficient in their new roles. It is not uncommon for this initial implementation to extend for an entire academic year. Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, and Wallace (2007) indicated that this stage typically takes between 9 and 24 months.
Some common issues that emerge as teachers learn new practices include the following:
Making mistakes in administering screener assessments
Interpreting a scoring rule incorrectly, thereby overstating or understating the student’s score
Confusion about how to analyze error patterns in the data to inform instructional decisions
Difficulty in keeping the other students working independently in literacy work stations to free up attention to focus on one intervention group
Disappointment that the students in an intervention group are not tightly enough grouped to enable focused instruction on a skill deficit
Frustration in finding time to plan properly for intervention groups in addition to planning for the core instruction
Confusion about the difference between teaching a small focused skill group and a guided reading group
Change can be very difficult for many people and the implementation may not go completely smoothly during the initial implementation stage. When providing consulting services for a district, we meet with principals during the installation stage to plan, and then we meet with them typically three times during the early implementation stage. We warn principals that when launching implementation at the beginning of the school year, don’t be surprised if there are difficult times during the fall. The initial excitement has worn off and now the work begins.
It seems that October is the month when teachers feel a great deal of stress about the extra work load involved in organizing and planning for their intervention groups. Data collection is time consuming as well. At this point about 8 weeks into the implementation, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Sometimes teachers feel confusion about how to do this or uncertainty about whether they know how to analyze data and provide quality intervention instruction. It is imperative that the school address these concerns through coaching and follow-up rather than allow the negative energy to fester.
In the middle of the year, one of two things will likely happen. There will either be enthusiasm because the student data is showing progress, or else there may be teachers demonstrating “push-back” because they feel that this new way may not be as effective as their old way. If the grade-level team is grouping across classrooms, sometimes teachers express discomfort in having their students with another teacher for 30 minutes of day (it’s the “I can do it better myself” syndrome). Teachers will look at the midyear data and question whether it’s showing improvement in students. If the data don’t show immediate student improvement, they will raise concerns with the principal about the extra work. We have actually had teachers go to the union with a complaint. This is where the principal will need to be firm and stay the course while at the same time addressing the teacher’s concerns with support and coaching. If you are working with an educational consultant, this is an area where they can guide and sustain the school through this challenging part of the change process.
Implementations can fail at this stage for several reasons. First, if the requirements were poorly understood at the outset there may be dissonance. If everyone expected an easy, fast process, then there will be dismay. If it was not clear at the outset that this will be a 3–5-year process and that there will be bumps along the way, it is easy to feel discouraged at this point. It is during the initial implementation stage that it becomes clear that Response to Intervention (RTI) is a huge change in business as usual. The benefits are worth it, but it is not without pain.
Schools that didn’t understand the importance of adding intervention blocks to the master schedule are now feeling the difficulty of trying to squeeze intervention into the day. If the professional development plan didn’t provide adequate coaching, collaboration time, and data analysis and planning time, the teachers are not going to feel supported. This is the time when principals may cave under this pressure from teachers. The principal has to believe that it’s the right thing for kids and that data-differentiated instruction just cannot lead to lower results. The principal has to believe that RTI will be better than what we were doing before.
Fixsen, D., Naoom, S., Blase, K., & Wallace, F. (2007, Winter/Spring). Implementation: The missing link between research and practice. The APSAC Advisor, 4–10.
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