The next frontier of reform: Just do it (right)

During the 2013 ASCD in conference in Chicago I was able to see one of my favorite speakers, Bryan Goodwin. Bryan, who was recently promoted to Chief Operating Officer of McREL and is a regular contributor to Education Leadership, discussed his take on the next frontier of reform.

Bryan began his presentation by asking a question about education reform… How well are we equipped with implementation? I could see his point because we often talk of ideas, espouse our theories, and pontificate on what is right… but do we know how to implement? Measure the implementation?

Knowing is not the same as doing

The objectives for his presentation were….

  • Identify common faulty assumptions about implementation
  • Provide you with new ways of thinking about implementation
  • Practical tips and guidance for better implementation

Bryan talked about some research that he conducted on the “Gold standards of studies” regarding programs to increase student achievement. The results were lackluster. What stood out to Bryan and his team was that the implementation had a significant impact on the the results. It left him with more questions then answers…

if we know better, why don’t we do better?

Bryan reviewed 5 implementation fallacies….

  • Truth shall set them free (When people know what to do, they will do it) -Professional Development doesn’t always work – Do people always automatically adopt new methods? He researched PD and found that just by telling people what to do (study the theory or demonstration or even practice) yields little in transferring the knowledge into the pedagogy  Yet, the research was clear that Peer Coaching has 95% transfer rate (Joyce & Showers,2002).
  • Talk slower and lower (Fear, facts and force overcome resistance)  – Bryan asked us a simple questions… Would you change or die? How many people out of 10 would change or die? The research shows that only 1 would actually change their behavior. What makes us change? Seeing how the change is possible, experiencing success and emotional support.
  • Shock and awe (Doing more does more) –What does your school implementation plan look like? Bryan showed us a few slides of various school districts’ implementation plans for school improvement. We were all amazed at how long the list grew (and what was put in the list)…. I think one slide had 50 or more implementation strategies (more like ideas) for improving reading… How could you possible achieve all 50 plus ideas?
  • Running before walking (ignoring improvement progressions) –  What is your progression? Mourshead, M (2010) researched how the world’s most improved systems keep getting better. For instance, aviation success rate is 99.999%. Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) ensure that the progression is always followed… What are your SOPs for continuous classroom improvement?
  • Focusing on the what, not the who (ignoring culture) – So much reform, so little change. Who have beat the odds, and actually improved schools? According to Bryan, the schools who have turned themselves around have somethings in common… Each has a culture of high expectations for learning and behavior. What is the secret sauce of improvement?  Culture is the secret sauce of school implementation!

Bryan then transitioned into discussing how implementation can be achieved…. He recommended that we read Start With Why by Simon Sinek.


No one buys what you do, they buy why you do it

Here are some suggestions Bryan offered us on implementation..

  • Focus – Do a few things well.
  • Challenge, engage, be intentional and motivational
  • Develop data-driven “high-reliability” systems
  • Create high-performance school cultures
  • Provide whole-child student supports
  • Seek quick wins with a 6 week cycle
  • Don’t do the Forrest Gump for learning (Box of Chocolates)

As I processed the presentation with my colleagues, our curriculum coach said, “We need to stop resting our laurels on excuses, and shift our mindset into a “can do” culture. This is how we can improve our implementation!”

For more information:

Bryan Goodwin on Twitter

Education Leadership 




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