Pursuing the Fidelity of Implementation

How does an organization implement an improvement framework with fidelity and intentionally plan for sustainability over time? This challenge is not unique to particular initiatives and applies broadly to the continuous improvement efforts of many schools and districts. Research suggests that specific practices can support the fidelity of implementation and support the sustainability of change efforts. The real question is whether we will do the difficult work to narrow or avoid the dreaded knowing-doing gap.

In 2016, a research team at St. Louis University completed a study about the implementation of the positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) framework at the high school level. Graham, Hubbuch and Jenkins (2016) surveyed 70 high school principals in Missouri whose schools were identified as participating in the Missouri SW-PBS state initiative. While this study had a focus on the implementation of PBIS at the high school level,  recommendations from their research informs general implementation practices involving continuous improvement efforts. Graham, Hubbuch and Jenkins (2016) provided the following recommendations about the implementation process: (a) prioritize ongoing training, (b) invest in shared leadership, and (c) monitor data-based decision making. While the focus of their study was implementation of PBIS at the high school level, none of their recommendations were unique to the PBIS framework. Successful improvement efforts tend to prioritize stakeholder buy-in, collaborative practices, and progress monitoring.

A summary of recommendations from Graham, Hubbuch and Jenkins (2016) is provided below:

Ongoing Training

  • Fading participation with state trainings will likely undermine implementation efforts and shared understanding of the PBIS framework.
  • Opportunities exist for staff to build capacity around the core PBIS principles and should be pursued.
  • High schools are encouraged to engage in regional site visits to scale up their implementation efforts.
  • The opportunity for high school staff to network with exemplar schools should be maximized.
  • Prioritizing ongoing training for a high school requires a commitment on the school and district level.

Shared Leadership

  • Structures promoting consensus building, communication, and ultimately shared leadership are important.
  • High schools should audit their current PBIS teams to ensure the composition reflects all constituent needs and perspectives.
  • Administration should prioritize teacher leadership within PBIS teams and distribute opportunities for leadership and training.
  • Shared leadership of PBIS practices should not be exclusive to adults. Involve your students.
  • Making teacher leadership a priority may require a shift in practice for administration.

Data-Based Decision Making

  • Schools should prioritize regular PBIS team meetings to review data, plan next steps for improvement, and monitor progress of efforts.
  • Steps should be taken to share PBIS data with the faculty on a quarterly basis and with external stakeholders on an annual basis.
  • Needs assessments should be conducted annually to obtain reliable information about student, staff, and stakeholder perceptions.
  • Fidelity of implementation data should be reviewed annually using the Tiered Fidelity Inventory, or another fidelity measurement tool.

Now What?
So what do these recommendations mean for your school improvement effort? For starters, failing to plan for professional development is planned failure. To what degree have you prioritized ongoing professional development for your improvement framework? An organization cannot assume a permanent or perfect fidelity of implementation. Second, failing to involve a broad coalition of stakeholders with your improvement effort may lead to organizational drift or confusion. Shared leadership builds capacity, supports clarity, and may protect against the negative impact of staff turnover. Finally, ongoing evaluation must be an intentional and frequently monitored part of your continuous improvement framework. Without an effective decision making process that is informed by data, decisions may be left to chance or influenced by the loudest voices.

In the absence of proper planning, your current or future improvement efforts can easily fall prey to the knowing-doing gap. Be mindful of the challenges that lie ahead that threaten the fidelity of implementation. Make the time to anticipate, discuss, and plan for the specific barriers and enablers to implementation and sustainability.

Graham, J., Hubbuch, C., & Jenkins, C. (2016). A problem based learning project investigating implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports on the high school level in Missouri. (Doctoral dissertation, SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY).