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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

4 Obstacles to Implementation

By Peter DeWitt — November 09, 2014 3 min read
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Implementation is something leaders try to do quite a bit, and over the past few years it has become a bit of a dirty word. Whether it has to do with technology, a new reading program or something bigger like new state standards, schools are trying to change much more than people on the outside of the walls probably think. Sometimes the changes are new ideas, and other times they’re the same old ideas with a new name.

When it’s the latter, it leads to issues.

The old saying is “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and that goes for implementation. States that botched the implementation of the Common Core are still feeling the negative effects, and on a smaller scale, any school leader can think of at least one time they didn’t do the prep work to make sure the implementation of something new went well.

Implementation doesn’t have to be the dirty word it has been given.

On a different scale, the issues surrounding implementation has implications for teachers, and not just for the reasons you are probably thinking. Yes, any large implementation will affect every teacher in the building, but teachers also try to implement changes in their classrooms, and those changes need to be well-thought out before they get to the student level, and should include students in the decision making process as well.

Why Obstacles?

Leaders don’t talk enough about obstacles. If implementation doesn’t go well, it’s often blamed on a resistant teacher, instead of what the issue really is, which is the prep work done ahead of time. In order to ever move forward, leaders and teachers need to discuss the obstacles that may take place.

There are at least four obstacles that leaders and teachers have to think of when they begin to implement a change in school.

They are:

Time - No one can seem to find it when it has to do with something they don’t want to change. We can find time to complain in the hallways, but we seem to lack time when it comes to implementation. Time and teacher voice go hand in hand. If teachers have had an opportunity to have a voice in the implementation, they will most likely be able to find the time to be a positive part of the implementation.

Understanding - Why the change? Has it been well articulated over a long period of time with data and research to back up the need? Or has it been dropped on people and they didn’t see it coming? Getting people to understand the need for the implementation is key, which is why structural meetings like Principals Advisory Council or faculty meetings are such a great venue. They are especially important if teachers are actually allowed to share their thoughts and feedback.

Resources - Leaders shouldn’t start the implementation if they don’t have the proper resources to back up the change. It sounds silly but many changes begin before the proper resources have been purchased or utilized. Take the time to research what the best resources are, which means reaching out to other leaders and teachers in other districts...which takes us back to time.

People - Leaders know it’s important to get the right people on board. The problem is that the wrong people can disrupt the process even when the right people are on board. There are people in schools, both leaders and teachers, who try to sink implementation, and I’m just talking about something like the Common Core. Naysayers are everywhere, and the reasons are plentiful, but if leaders and teachers want to move forward with an implementation, they need to make sure everyone knows why they are moving forward, and the people trying to sink it need to get out of the way.

Beware of the Dip

Whenever leaders and teachers implement something new, no matter how great they feel it is, there will be an implementation dip. For example, I recently worked with several groups of instructional coaches. They were excited to get coaching started in their schools, but they needed to understand that not everyone shares in their excitement.

The four obstacles from above, need to be considered because they result in an implementation dip. My “Go-to” expert in implementation is Michael Fullan. In Leading in a Culture of Change (2007), Fullan says

All successful schools experience "implementation dips" as they move forward (Fullan, 2001). The implementation dip is literally a dip in performance and confidence as one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and new understandings."

It’s important that all leaders and teachers are familiar with the implementation dip. Fullan goes on to say,

Leaders who understand the implementation dip know that people are experiencing two kinds of problems when they are in the dip - the social - psychological fear of change and the lack of technical know how or skills to make the change work."

This should not result in hammering teachers into submission. Fullan suggests that,

Thus leaders who are sensitive to the implementation dip, combine styles: they still have an urgent sense of moral purpose, they still measure success in terms of results, but they do things that are more likely to get the organization going and keep it going."

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(CC Image courtesy of John Haslam)

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.