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My previous post (Leadership FOR Confidence) emphasized that leaders need to balance the hard and the soft – the structure and the soul – of leadership.  Too much hard and we end up pushing at all costs; too much soft and we feel great about going nowhere.  This is especially true when we consider implementing a new practice, policy, or routine. 

Whenever something new is being implemented, it is important to make sure that the appropriate support is in place.  Over my career I have seen many new initiatives; some have come and gone, while others have remained.  The difference between the ones that last and ones that fade away is typically not about the quality of the idea itself.  I have seen more than my share of innovative,award-winning, research-validated practices shelved in favor of something else.  If I have learned anything about implementing something new, it is this:

Effective practices are only as good as the systems designed to support the teachers who use them.

Practices are the things we do directly with our students; Systems are the necessary structures and routines put in place to support the teachers implementing the new practice.  The lack of a system – a support structure – for teachers is often the reason why so many research-validated practices fade over time or don’t get off the ground at all.  We don’t often think this way since it’s much easier to blame the practice or program.

Systems create predictability for teachers by taking the guess-work out of what to do, how to do it, and when the next step is required.  Without systems, teachers will feel as though their implementation is happening in isolation.  This is why, as leaders, we are responsible for establishing these systems that show teachers that there is a routine around the new practice we are establishing; this builds their confidence – the expectation of success – because they know they are not alone.

Systems can also account for scenarios where things don’t go exactly as planned.  If we can predict some possible errors in implementation we can plan for our most likely responses. If, for example, a teacher is implementing a practice of not reducing scores for late work, the system developed would identify a replacement routine – what to do instead, how someone else (administrator) can assist, and how everyone accesses support.

As leaders, we can make sure that no one gets left unsupported by establishing systems that support the implementation and sustained use of the best practices for our students.


(Originally posted on February 1, 2011 at

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