No Successful Implementation without a Dedicated Team


Dr. Clay Cook

There is no model of successful school-wide implementation without a dedicated distributed leadership team in a building who engages in strategic decision-making and action planning around the implementation of effective programs or practices that a school is seeking to put in place. Specifically, strategic efforts to support the adoption and delivery of specific practices and programs in school is accomplished by Dissemination & Implementation (D&I) Teams.  Dissemination involves the intentional and active spread of information to specific target audiences (e.g., teachers) to increase awareness, understanding, and motivation to implement particular programs or practices. Implementation, on the other hand, involves putting in place supports that help educators adopt, deliver, and sustain particular practices as part of routine school-based service delivery. Together, dissemination and implementation captures the specific actions that teams undertake to advance the successful implementation of effective practices that promote student social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes.

Some D&I Teams are external to a school building, such as a Centralized D&I Team, a purveyor of individual evidence-based programs, or an intermediary organization.  Site-Based D&I Teams that are most proximal to where implementation happens (i.e., in the school building) have the greatest amount of influence on actual implementation, especially if they receive support from external consultations and a dedicated centralized D&I Team within the district. 

A sited-based D&I Team serves a particular function within a school building, which is to develop the capacity to understand and strategically operate from an implementation science perspective to advance the successful implementation of new practices and programs. Ultimately, the D&I team provides a distributed leadership structure that includes members with formal and informal leadership who collaborate together on the common goal of successfully supporting the implementation of evidence-based practices. The sited-based D&I is closest to where practices are used in classrooms and, as a result, have the most direct contact and influence on educators’ delivery of practices with fidelity. The team is charged with the task of managing potential competing priorities to maintain a focus with a given implementation effort and ensure that staff burnout and initiative overload does not happen. The team support the collection and use of fidelity data to monitor implementation, problem-solve barriers to implementation, develop and enact action plans that include strategies that target improving implementation. Considering all of this, the D&I team owns responsibility for implementation in the building and oversees the other ingredients in the recipe for implementation success.

Making sure the “right” members are included on the Sited-Based D&I Team is critical to enhancing the impact of the team on implementation efforts within the building. The following guidelines should be utilized when constructing a Site-Based D&I Team:

  1. The two pizza rule. If the team is too large to be fed by two pizzas, then it is too big of a group to problem-solve, strategize, and get work done. The recommendation is that the D&I Team include 6-8 members.
  2. Representativeness. The D&I should include members who represent formal and informal leaders with various perspectives within the building. For example, having 1-2 general education teacher reps, 1 special education teacher, support staff (counselor, school psych, behavior specialist, etc.), and formal leadership.
  3. Formal leaderships. The D&I should include members who have formal, appointed leadership and authority to hold others accountable in the building. This includes the principal and deans, assistant principals, or vice principals. The principal is a required member of the team and ideally other formal leaders in the building would be on the team.
  4. Champions. Members should include champions of the “implementation cause.” These are people who are fully bought into the “why” underlying the implementation effort and have a high degree of motivation to strategize and support the uptake and delivery of the new practice or program being introduced. 
  5. Key opinion leaders (KOL). KOLs from the various social networks in the building are critical to include on a Sited-Based D&I Team. KOLs represent social influencers who others listen to and respect. Leveraging KOLs has been shown to increase implementation success within school buildings. The formal leader who constructs the team must strive to identify KOLs who are connected to the various social networks in the building and who are champions of the cause.


About the Author: Dr. Clay Cook is the John and Nancy Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing at the University of Minnesota and Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program. He has extensive research and practical experiences involving the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to promote children’s social, emotional and behavioral wellbeing as the foundation for academic and life success.

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