Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fidelity

One of the things we work on in schools is helping teachers become what Michael Fullan calls systems-thinkers-in-action. The way I see it, in the history of education those two elements have been separate: there have been systems-thinkers and then there have been those in-action.

The systems thinkers, in their ivory towers at curriculum companies and in government agencies, have developed, planned, and packaged various systems - from numeracy programs to behavioral interventions to acts of congress. Their norming and standardizing and assessing has led to a veritable torrent of approaches, a kind of alphabet soup that has filled schools and districts with binders full of initiatives that end up leaving practitioners "juggling too many balls" or "spinning too many plates" or simply "swamped." I am not sure how much the systems thinkers actually interact with students beyond a test group or pilot study.

On the other hand, those in-action - practitioners (teachers and administrators) - work with students every day. Their calling is not in the ivory tower but in the trenches. They teach and coach and correct and engage. They go to games and listen in on band practice and attend school plays. They laugh when students are funny and offer tissues and a shoulder when students are sad. Many probably assume causal loop diagrams are for roller coaster engineers.

For the most part, in the past practitioners used the systems thinkers' work to good effect. Adapting and adjusting, and appropriately tweaking as needed. But a dangerous term has crept in over the past decade or so, and I find myself meeting it with greater force lately: Implement with fidelity. It's one of those terms that I am not sure I fully understand, and fear that if I did, I would surely not like it.

If "implement with fidelity" means to take a program and use it with fidelity to your own professional judgements and in faithfulness to your students' need to learn, I am all for it. However, if it means what I fear it does - "Shut up and do what we tell you," I have to protest.

Never take your professional judgements, your practical wisdom, out of the equation. Implement new programs with fidelity to what you and your colleagues know about your students. When you do, success is sure to follow.




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