Implementation Fidelity: Trusting Programs, Honoring Teachers

When my school decided to adopt CCC’s (then DSC’s) Making Meaning, Making Meaning Vocabulary, Being a Writer, and SIPPS programs (as well as a new math curriculum) all in the same school year, the elementary faculty was more than just a little overwhelmed. However, we were also very excited with what we saw in the CCC curricula. The discussions, open-ended questions, and collaborative standpoint all felt comfortable to us. We thought, “We can do this.” Then came a mandate that we were to teach the curriculum with fidelity.

It was important to the administrators and teacher leaders in our school to know if these programs would work for our students. As a developmental research school, it is critical to know if curricula are effective and if we are meeting the needs of our students. However, the mandate of teaching a given curriculum with fidelity did not sit well with the classroom teachers. We are a creative and opinionated faculty. We are passionate about our jobs and we are quick to resist anyone who tells us how to do them. You know, we teachers like to be the ones in charge!

So from a place of complete exhaustion and misunderstanding, we began to use the word fidelity like a dirty word. The teachers would roll their eyes and complain that they weren’t being trusted to teach. What I’ve now learned is that we weren’t being trusting enough ourselves. These curricula have power in them; we just hadn’t quite figured out how to unpack all that power and deliver these lessons as intended to our students.

This year, we are reading Peter Brunn’s The Lesson Planning Handbook together. To prepare, I read some of it over the summer, but I just reread chapter 4, and a text box off to the side really spoke to me. It states, Even if we are equipped with strong lesson plans, if they are poorly executed, we will not have a positive impact on our students’ learning. We have been given these “strong lesson plans” by CCC. As educators, we can teach this curriculum with fidelity all we want, but unless we really facilitate our students’ conversations effectively, the curriculum will have no power.

If we ask a question of our students and then check a box that we asked that question-without listening to the response, seeking to understand, and guiding the other students to further conversations with their own insights-then we are not really teaching “the CCC way.” We are simply turning ourselves into the robot-teachers we’re afraid others might make us.

We have to take the opportunities our students give us when we are leading a discussion about a book, talking about an author’s choice of words, or noticing the details of an illustrator’s drawing. We cannot let their words fall on deaf ears. We must listen to our students and slowly, carefully, and intentionally guide them to deeper thinking. We must turn our one-kid-raises-a-hand classroom into a place where students are empowered to turn and talk to friends and then discuss the text openly and fluidly with the entire class. We cannot handicap our teaching by only looking at a teacher’s manual. We must use the manual as a diving board to leap into our students’ minds and pull out their most precious ideas and creativity!

As a faculty, we are now starting to feel more empowered. We know that our teaching craft isn’t being taken from us; the focus is just shifting. Instead of spending time finding engaging texts and writing our own questions prior to a lesson, we are now doing the real work within the lesson and with the students.

It is not an easy journey, but we are committed to working together as an elementary faculty to find ways to engage our students. How are you getting the students talking at your own school? What does facilitation really mean to you and the other teachers in your setting?