Hattie’s Visible Learning research, despite years in the making, is still young in terms of implementation in schools here in North America. So, the question it leads me to consider is whether or not Visible Learning will fall prey to the “silver bullet” paradigm that has plagued many other promising initiatives, ideas, and programs in recent decades.
There are of course many factors that contribute to the successful implementation of any program. Among them is the quality of training received by those expected to implement the new program or initiative; the impact of those leading the initiative; the degree to which an implementation is monitored; the persistence with which the organization stays with the initiative when they experience the implementation gap that is sure to appear; and finally, the passion with which leadership of the initiative examines the impact of the changes anticipated in implementing the methods that make the work unique.
My fear is that unless we are careful, Visible Learning could well suffer the same unfortunate fate of a great idea poorly implemented, resulting in complete abandonment soon after the enthusiasm of initial work begins. We must do all we can to avoid yet another false start for work that is truly transformational as we have evidenced by what is emerging in some schools in other parts for the world.
What can we do to avoid possible disappointment in implementing Visible Learning with fidelity, depth, and the impact that Hattie challenges us to seek? In thinking about this question, I am drawn to make connections with the work of Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching material with which I have the privilege to train schools, districts, leaders, and teachers.
Evidence from both the work of Jim Knight, University of Kansas, as well as a much earlier study by Joyce and Showers (2002), has demonstrated the power of instructional coaching in making lasting and deep change in teacher classroom practice. While traditional professional development models are often as one-day events, rarely embedded in the day-to-day life of the teacher, seldom with any follow up or within the context of a collaborative environment.
Fortunately, the developers of Visible Learning training have anticipated the challenges of implementation. As a result, in order to have real impact as called for by Hattie in most of his pronouncements, the series of trainings have been developed to be mindful of the elements of good implementation. In fact, even before schools and districts embrace full-scale training they are advised to first participate in a series titled, the Collaborative Impact series. It is designed specifically for districts and schools to examine their current state of performance and to help them become more effective in implementing the work of Dr. Hattie.
The Visible Learningplus Collaborative Impact Program provides systems with guidance and support to create the conditions necessary to bring about ongoing and sustainable improvement in learner achievement. It builds connections between research, policy and practice at all levels of an education system.
Key to the system of support is the intentional alignment of all aspects of the school system from students all the way to the District office in a purposeful manner.
We know from Hattie’s work that enhancing teachers’ impact is key to making improvements in student learning. As part of the Collaborative Impact series, the degree to which teachers examine their impact becomes essential. It is here where Knight’s Instructional Coaching model is most helpful. Knight’s research suggests (Knight, 2000) that teachers resist change programs that offer too little support. Furthermore, “By offering teachers choices, providing support, respecting teachers’ time, establishing partnerships, and modeling instructional practices, instructional coaches have enabled school-wide improvements in instruction.” (2004).
Built into the various Visible Learning training series (Visible Learning for Teachers) is the concept of teachers examining their own impact. Impact coaches are encouraged to work alongside teachers to guide and support them through a series of impact cycles designed specifically to track evidence of their own actions and how those actions have impact on student learning in their respective classrooms. Here is one of the key messages taken from the Collaborative impact series which supports the importance of “teacher support”:
“Enhancing teacher quality is one of the keys to system improvement. The way to achieve this is through ensuring that every teacher in the school operates on the basis of a mindframe that leads to the greatest positive effect on student learning and achievement. This is not going to happen through short-term interventions, through naming and blaming or through more testing, more accountability, new curricula, or new resources. It is going to happen through enacting deliberate policies to support schools with the resources to know their impact and through rewarding the schools when they demonstrate their positive impact on all of their students.”
This is achieved largely through a series of collaborative impact cycles that engage the teacher along with an impact coach gathering evidence of impact and acting on that evidence to make adjustments and improvements on their actions and therefore those of the school.
Corwin is the sole provider for the Visible Learning material in North America as well as Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching and High Impact teaching. Both complement each other to create a powerful change model for schools and districts seeking to truly have impact on student achievement. Gone are the days of the “flavor of the month”. Systemic change and long term impact between and among schools in districts is essential if we are ever going to stop the pendulum swing approach to systemic change implementation. Such ill-conceived notions have generally resulted in disappointment and initiative fatigue, as Doug Reeves like to call it. The proved strategies of instructional coaching blended with the research base of Visible Learning will make a powerful combination for any school district courageous enough to abandon the change models of the past.
Hattie, J., (2009). Visible Learning, A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement. 1st ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Joyce, B.R. & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development, 3rd Edition. Alexandria, VA; ASCD.
Knight, J., (2000). Another damn thing we’ve got to do: Teacher perceptions of professional development. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.
Knight, J., (2004). Instructional Coaches Make Progress Through Partnership: Intensive support can improve teaching. Journal of Staff Development, Spring 2004 Vol. 25, NO. 2.