Sunday / May 26

How to Start and Sustain a VISIBLE LEARNING Implementation: Part 1

Starting to implement something new is difficult in its own right; sustaining and deepening that implementation brings on additional layers of complexity. The good news is that it can all be done with the right focus and mindset. Visible Learning is a body of research that can serve as a compass for educators at any level. It can guide decision making within classrooms and PLC’s, as well as at the school and district level. However, there are key variables linked to deep implementation and sustainability of the work. Schools and districts desiring to implement Visible Learning need to have a plan for two important considerations: Where to start and how to plan for implementation. 

Where to start

Where do we start? That question is posed often as schools look to take on a Visible Learning journey. Schools and districts should consider the following three actions:

  1. No silver bullets
  2. Monitor and build relational trust
  3. Collect evidence to determine current reality

NO Silver Bullets

If there is one thing that John Hattie’s research and evidence tells us is that there is no single action or strategy that will drive learning forward for all students. The Visible Learning research is comprehensive and, often times, it is tempting for educators to grab onto influences with highest effect sizes. This is a dangerous practice, as it neglects to acknowledge the current reality of where schools, classrooms, and individual teachers are currently in their practices. In addition, the most important message from Hattie in all of his findings is to ensure we know our impact. This means being able to determine how our actions and practices are impacting student learning, not just if certain adult actions are being scripted in a specific way or manner.  

Monitoring and Building Relational Trust

Using Hattie’s Visible Learning evidence as a way to drive learning can call for a shift in actions and practices that are changes for teachers as well as students and parents. These changes may be initially uncomfortable for some as they view past practice as not just the norm but the way that things should be done in schools. The more that schools can build a shared language of learning around what Visible Learning is and the changes and shifts called for in practice, the more that schools and districts can get ahead of concerns and potential stagnation.

A structure of moral commitments and mutual obligations had a profound impact on teachers’ work efforts and satisfaction, and strengthened students’ engagement with the school. This base of social trust shared among parents, students, and teachers was also of instrumental value to the organization, contributing to less contentious decision-making processes and more efficient school operations. (Bryk and Schneider,1996, p.3).

One way schools can gauge where the levels of relational trust are is how comfortable their people are in taking risks. Many high-impact practices and actions supported by the Visible Learning research call for taking risks. Developing students as visible learners requires supporting students to feel safe in taking risks in their learning. At the very same time, schools and districts need to ensure they are developing a culture where teachers feel safe taking risks in their learning. The more teachers trust their administrators and view them as sources of feedback and coaching—and less as evaluators of their actions and mistakes—the more they will be inclined to attempt new and different strategies they may not be 100% confident in. In addition, teachers need to feel safe in taking risks and trusting their peers and colleagues. Bryk and Schneider (2002), in their research working with over 400 schools, developed an instrument schools can use to determine the current amount of relational trust among their staff.

Schools can use the trust survey to determine where they are now and then periodically over time to see where they are making gains with developing trust with their staff.

Collecting Evidence

Knowing individual or collective impact means knowing where one begins. The five strands of Visible Learning provide schools and districts with multiple entry points. Schools and districts begin their Visible Learning journey collecting evidence around practices and beliefs aligned to one or more of the strands. This allows schools and districts to determine not only where to apply new actions and strategies but what those actions will be and how they can best determine the impact they are having on both student and adult learning. Schools can use a myriad of methods for collecting evidence such as walk-throughs, surveys, focus groups, etc. Schools should decide for themselves what evidence is most important to ascertain where an opportunity for growth exists. Once evidence is collected, schools and districts can then make baseline evidence statements that highlight where they currently are in relation to specific Visible Learning practices.

 These baseline evidence statements can serve as starting points as well as places to determine the impact of actions and strategies moving forward.

Please look for part 2 “Sustaining Visible Learning in Your School / District” in the coming weeks.


Bryk, A. S. and Schneider, B (1996). Social Trust: A moral resource for school improvement.

University of Chicago Center for School Improvement, Chicago, IL

Bryk, A. S. and Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement. Russell

Sage Foundation, New York, NY.

Visible Learning books

Written by

Dave Nagel is an international educational consultant and researcher. His educational career started as a middle school science and high school biology teacher. His administrative experiences involved being a middle school assistant principal, high school associate principal, and director of extended day and credit recovery programs. In his former district, Dave was instrumental in implementing power standards and performance assessments. He was honored numerous times as a “Senior Choice” winner, with graduating seniors selecting him as someone who dramatically affected their life in a positive way. Dave has been a national and international presenter and consultant to schools for over 10 years. Using his experience and expertise, he has presented and helped schools, from pre-K through Grade 12, implement effective practices leading to gains in student achievement. His main focus when working with schools has revolved around assessment, instruction, leadership, and effective collaboration. He has worked specifically with schools in implementing the following topics: prioritizing standards, common formative assessments, building authentic performance tasks, effective use of scoring guides, data teams, rigorous curriculum design, and effective grading practices. Dave is the author of Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers. Karen Flories is the Executive Director of 6-12 Educational Services for the Valley View School District 365U in Romeoville / Bolingbrook, Illinois.

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