Implementation Tips: How to Start the School Year on the Right Foot

Monday, August 28, 2017

Incredible ideas abound in education, from hiring students to serve as "tech leaders" in the classroom to using portfolios as an alternative way to assess student work. But, without clear implementation plans to back them up, great ideas run the risk of floating away like untethered balloons. Federal, state, and local education plans that often sound great (such as bullying prevention policies or new curriculum models) can also wither without concrete, actionable support and guidance for teachers and students.

Fortunately, there are many implementation resources out there to help teachers turn an intriguing idea into meaningful, measurable practice. Here are a few good tips to turn to:


Plan wisely

In a 2007 book called Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy, authors Judith L. Irvin, Julie Meltzer, and Melinda S. Dukes focus on classroom and schoolwide strategies designed to boost adolescent literacy rates. Step one is to create an "effective literacy action plan" so the goal of improving literacy is not only apparent but supported by a real commitment to turn the goal into reality. That said, not just any plan will do. Instead, the authors contend, a "data-based plan" that will clearly "guide action" is essential. "Too often," they note, "improvement plans are difficult to use [because they are poorly written or] fragmented, complicated, and convoluted."

An agreed-upon plan that is "measurable, coherent, concrete, and comprehensible to teachers and administrators" is much more likely to lead to success, the book argues. Such a well designed plan could then be used to guide purchasing and curriculum choices, as well as classroom instruction. It may also provide focus and a reference point so that, for example, implementation of key literacy interventions can be tracked, measured, and evaluated for effectiveness. For further, more detailed information about how to construct a solid implementation plan, the sample action steps from Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy are available here.


Start with a sense of purpose

Adopting a new curriculum, software, or goal is often energizing, but it should not be done unless a school’s mission and values are already clearly in place, according to Tim Hudson, vice president of the mathematics software company Dreambox Learning. In a blog post, Hudson offered tips on how to implement a station rotation blended learning model for elementary school teachers. Often, Hudson noted, a school district obtains new technology or software before it has a clear sense of why the technology might be needed or how it might improve instruction. In his view, that is the wrong way to proceed. "A school can’t choose software, build a schedule, or write assessments and design lessons without first defining what students should understand and be able to do," he argued.

According to Hudson, the first order of business is for a school to identify both its mission and the "learning goals" it hopes to accomplish. Once the hoped-for outcomes are identified, then a more purposeful implementation can begin. Hudson’s post focuses on using stations in the elementary school classroom as a way for students to use technology alongside teacher-led instruction, with small group work, one-on-one stations, and time with adaptive learning software all serving as ways to accomplish important goals. These aims may include better data for teachers, more time for relationship-building, higher levels of student engagement, and more—all of which should reinforce the initial reason for introducing new software or blending learning plans: to improve student outcomes.


Dream big

For a different take on implementation, consider the advice of Jenny Edwards, a California-based author and graduate school instructor in education. When it comes to goal-setting, Edwards advocates dropping the practicality rule. As part of a 2017 perspective on pairing goals with plans, Edwards had this to say: "We have heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. There is wisdom in sharing this method for setting goals with students." But, Edwards wrote, teachers should not be afraid to dream big and help students unleash their wildest potential.

Edwards ends with this question: "What outrageous goals might you set for yourself, and what outrageous goals might your students set for themselves that will propel them powerfully into the future?"

BONUS: Looking for more helpful  tips for the new school year? Read 3 Back-to-School Tips for Administrators and Educators to inspire, encourage, and motivate student learning in your school!

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