Proactive administrative support and strong commitment to success are prerequisites for developing outstanding school-wide Direct Instruction (DI) implementations. When the school's principal and leadership team demonstrate that they are committed to implementing DI with high fidelity every day, and they communicate this commitment to the rest of the staff through words, deeds and actions, the prospect of success with DI increases substantially throughout the school. Isolated teachers may achieve considerable success implementing DI alone in an uncoordinated effort, but the effect of individual teachers implementing DI by themselves is usually far less than the effect of a schoolwide, coordinated implementation of DI lead by an actively involved administrator. Success with DI depends on many factors—schedules, assignment of paraprofessionals, professional development, data analysis—that cannot be controlled by individual teachers. These factors are most effectively implemented through a coordinated and systematic effort, which requires consistent and forward-thinking leadership.
Successful school leaders take decisive action through all stages of a DI implementation. They:
- ensure initial support of all staff members for the DI implementation;
- understand the major factors that lead to success with DI, including the purpose and function of NIFDI support services;
- set up the structural components of a successful implementation, such as the schedule and assignment of paraprofessionals, before instruction begins;
- arrange for initial program training and other professional development sessions;
- ensure that staff members attend training and practice sessions;
- identify student problems through data analysis and direct observation of instruction;
- take appropriate actions to resolve student problems;
- recognize and celebrate student achievement!
Observing Classroom Instruction
Regular classroom observations conducted by the administrator with focus on student performance are critical for a successful DI implementation. The administrator's presence in the classroom communicates a strong message to staff the commitment of the school to implement the model with fidelity. Direct observation by administrators also provides another set of eyes to identify possible instructional problems and assess the status of past problems. NIFDI trains principals and other administrators on conducting 5-minute observations that provide quick, comprehensive and powerful assessments of classroom instruction.
Ensuring Accountability for Student Success
The principal is the school's leader in the NIFDI accountability system. In addition to regular classroom observations, the principal can help ensure a successful implementation and quality instruction through active participation in weekly conference calls conducted with NIFDI. Each week, the principal attends a conference call between NIFDI and the school's leadership team, during which the progress of each instructional group is discussed. A summary of the call is provided to the school and describes the actions to be taken before the next call and designates who will take which actions. Principals can greatly facilitate the implementation by ensuring that the actions described are in fact taken before the next conference call.
IMPORTANT: A long-lasting commitment to implementing Direct Instruction (DI) with fidelity is a prerequisite to maximizing student achievement with DI. Student achievement may surpass historical levels after just a couple of years of DI, especially in the lower grades. Maximizing student achievement—especially in the upper grades—requires years of implementing DI with fidelity. Teachers usually require thorough program training and several years of expert in-class coaching and professional development before they become highly effective with DI. It takes several years for student performance in Kindergarten to reach its peak as Kindergarten teachers master DI techniques. It takes several more years for student performance in the upper grades to reach its peak as cohorts of students work their way up through the grades. If an elementary school contains grades K-5, it can take more than six years before an implementation reaches its full potential in the upper grades. Strong leadership must be in place for this time to maintain the school's commitment to implement the program with fidelity and maximize student performance for all students.