A focus on fidelity: Going slow to go fast
Youngstown is a district that had been in a constant struggle of achievement for over a decade. And with that comes that kind of constant turnover — every three to five years, a new leader that has a new program to do.
So basically, we’ve had “okay, we’re going to do this: we’ll give you a piece of professional development, we’ll do it, and we’ll wait to see if it works.” And really, for us, time and time again it wasn’t enough. Going beyond “here’s some professional development and we expect you to go do it the way we taught you the first time” isn’t realistic. We really need to monitor what’s going on in our classrooms. For us, it was the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR), and a good set of foundational practices.
Just like students, when teachers learn something new, they don’t always get it perfect the first time. It’s important to give feedback on what they’re doing right or maybe incorrectly so [the training] can yield the outcome that we want. So it goes back to definition — if we’re not doing it the way it’s intended, we’re just not going to see the results. And I think that over time, we saw a lot of that: things were being implemented, but not with fidelity.
And so when we put the GRR in place, we wrote it out one section at a time, followed up with monitoring and coaching over an eight-week period before we went on to the next one. We wanted to be able to say “Hey, you’re doing this part right,” before giving [teachers] a wide-spread framework.
In the state of Iowa, our literacy achievement hasn’t really progressed the way we wanted it, and we knew we needed to help that support work with our schools. We’ve felt like we’ve provided really good professional learning for teachers, but had been doing a “go forth and see what happens” model.
We decided that we really had to be in this together and focus on followup support. After the professional development, what can we do to really be there working hand-in-hand with teachers to make sure that it’s getting implemented the way it is expected to? So we’ve tried to become more partners in that process, both in looking at implementation and giving them time to practice because yeah, it can be clunky at first.
“Clunky” is almost too nice of a word – it’s messy! You really have to be in there with [teachers] and give them support, because I think that’s part of showing that you’re willing to work with them and avoid that [impression] of monitoring as a punitive thing, instead of a coaching thing.