There is now more evidence than ever to help teachers identify instructional strategies that work to improve teaching and learning. Unfortunately, many students never see any of these evidence-based strategies used as they were intended. It takes more than just selecting an evidence-based instructional strategy to increase student achievement – it also has to be implemented with fidelity. Research suggests that the same strategy implemented effectively at one school can have up to five times the impact on student learning as it can at another school where implementation is more superficial.
Considering that implementation is where so many evidence-based instructional strategies fall short, how can we make sure our best research translates into student achievement? To implement a strategy with fidelity, an educator needs to have a firm grasp on more than just the facts on a page of research. The basics of implementation science are the what, the who, the when, and the how.
First and most importantly, educators have to know what the strategy that they are implementing is. While this seems like a given, all too often teachers are asked to implement new strategies without the context needed to do so effectively. This is basic but essential – we have to feel confident in our understanding of the strategy before we can use it in front of a classroom full of students. It also takes a thorough understanding of a strategy to be able to adapt it effectively. Without this, implementation can become more about compliance than effective instruction. As teachers, our priority when implementing new strategies should be ensuring that we have a shared understanding of what the strategy looks like for both teachers and students when implemented as intended.
Effective implementation relies on a team of people working together. Implementation science tells us that we need to know who will be implementing the strategy, who will provide support, and who will hold teachers accountable for effective implementation. When the who is clear, teachers know where to look when they want someone to collaborate with or need additional resources, which can make a huge difference in the likelihood of success.
Real change takes time. To be successful, we need to have a clear, feasible plan for when to implement a strategy. Teachers need to develop a timeline that allows for developing their understanding of the what, while implementing when it makes most sense—as an integrated component of standards-based instruction.
Too often, professional development consists of an impressive presentation of recent research, completely divorced from actual classroom scenarios. As teachers, we need specific techniques to use in each of our classrooms before we can really get started, and we need time to collaborate with our peers to ensure that the how is reflective of an accurate understanding of the strategy we’re implementing.
If we want to enact positive change, we have start with what works – evidence-based instruction – but we can’t stop there. Implementation matters, and to really make it happen, we need to have a clear vision of what we’re doing, who is involved, when exactly it will happen, and how to make it work in our classrooms.
 Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
 Reeves, D. B. (2010). Transforming professional development into student results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.