Science of Reading: The Podcast

S6 E3: Focused implementation: Doing less to do more with Dr. Doug Reeves

October 05, 2022 Amplify Education Season 6 Episode 3
Science of Reading: The Podcast
S6 E3: Focused implementation: Doing less to do more with Dr. Doug Reeves
Show Notes Transcript

As an educator, researcher, author, and leadership consultant—there is little within the education world that Doug Reeves has not done. Twice named to the Harvard University Distinguished Authors Series, Doug has written more than forty books and joins Susan to discuss one in particular—Building to Impact. Together they dive into what evidence-based implementation looks like including the importance of de-implementation. Doug provides tangible advice for educators on what success looks like, how to define it for your school, and the ways to make it happen by focusing on one thing at a time until it becomes part of your school’s culture.

Show Notes:

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Additional resources:

Quotes:

“When was the last time in education, anybody heard of de-implementation? All we do is pile one thing on top of another, on top of another, and then we don't then, then we wonder why it didn't work.” —Doug Reeves

“If you're not gonna have deep implementation, which requires a level of focus and allocation of time and resources, then don't bother.” —Doug Reeves

“You have to have a singular focus and, and it's gotta be sustained year after year after year until it becomes part of your culture.” —Doug Reeves

“You have to distinguish between an initiative, something that is new, and culture, something that's part of what we do every day and that is embedded. That is more important.” —Doug Reeves

“The problem is this. If you only look at the results, then you don't know what caused it. Somebody has to look at underlying causes.” —Doug Reeves

“It's really important for administrators to say, hey, I can deal with some chaos. I can deal with students making mistakes. That's real learning.” —Doug Reeves

Susan Lambert:

This is Susan Lambert, and welcome to Science of Reading: The Podcast. On this sixth season of the show, we're focusing on what it takes to transition to the Science of Reading. We're looking at how all levels of education from the individual classroom up to the state level can most effectively begin and sustain a transition to the Science of Reading. So early in this season, we wanted to be sure to bring you an expert on implementation science. Someone with years of experience working on school improvement and systems change. That person is Dr . Douglas Reeves, co-author of the new book Building to Impact the 5G Implementation Playbook for Educators. Dr . Reeves is the author of more than 40 books and a hundred articles on education and leadership. And he joined me to talk all about the science of making long lasting and sustainable change. This conversation is going to be valuable to listeners interested in learning how to ensure new initiatives actually become a part of a school or district's culture, and ultimately help as many kids as possible. Here's my conversation with Doug Reeves. Well, Dr . Doug Reeves, thank you so much for joining us on today's episode.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

It's my great pleasure. Thank you.

Susan Lambert:

As we talked in the pre-call, you've been involved in the work of school improvement and systems change for a really long time. I told you your books on my shelf take up a good portion of my bookshelf. But I would love for you to describe for our listeners your work and why it's so important.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, first of all, it's not my word, it's the result of a lot of colleagues. My favorite professor always read books backwards looking at the reference lists before the introduction. And so I stand on the shoulders of many, many other people. You know, if I've done anything, it's to try to synthesize my own field observations as well as research. But I don't wanna imply for a minute that this is just about me. It's really about the many, many colleagues around the world who have contributed to this work. The reason I think it makes a difference is that I have focused on success in high poverty schools and what I think are some of the real dilemmas that educators face today and the most recent work that I've done with respect to deep implementation and with respect to psychological safety are things that I think the world needs right now more than ever.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. Thank you for that. And we're gonna actually cover topics from two of your newly released books. And we're going to start with Building to Impact, a book that you actually co-authored with Arran Hamilton, Janet Clinton, John Hattie, and we'll talk a little bit about the purpose of this book, but I love this quote that I extracted from it that talks a little bit about the book's goal, which is, "to help you, reader, systematically decide on the destination, to then then explore the different ways you can undertake the journey, to put one or more of those journey plans into action, to check whether it's working, and then to decide what to do next." That sentence is packed full of all of the things that you talk about in this 5D implementation playbook. Can you tell us a little bit about that book and why y'all thought it was a good time to offer it?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Sure. The most important thing is that we're really good at knowing what to do, we're really bad at implementing it. So what you see around the world is people read books, they go to conferences, they hire consultants, and then nothing happens. And so part of what we tried to do, and this is a huge credit by the way, to my co-authors, Arran Hamilton, Janet Clinton, John Hattie, is that the reason this doesn't happen is that we do not use implementation science and education the way that other fields do. For example, the book has a number of insights from medical implementation where if you wanna start a new drug trial, you can't start the new drug trial until you first stop the previous pharmaceuticals that patients were taking . 'Cause if you don't, you have no idea what's working. They call this in medical science de-implementation. When was the last time in education, anybody heard of de-implementation? All we do is pile one thing on top of another, on top of another, and then we wonder why it didn't work. So , one of the insights of that research is that we definitely need de-implementation. The other thing is that we thought this book was needed is that we read way too many autopsy reports that is, you know, required typically due to grant requirements. Evaluations that said, Oh, this program didn't work. Well, you know, that's good timing. The grants have run out. Why didn't we know that six months into it, so that we could do something about it? So I think the book was born out of a frustration that it's not a lack of knowledge of what to do, It's a lack of deep implementation.

Susan Lambert:

Hmm . And do you feel like , from your point of view and from the research that you did to pull this book together, that implementation science has evidence that we can draw from in education and what is that implementation science that we can? If you, say yes,

Dr. Doug Reeves:

It does, there's a very extensive list of references in the book, but as I tried to articulate a minute ago, I think there's a couple of basic insight. In addition to the fact that we need to de-implement before we implement, and we need to have real-time ongoing evaluation, not autopsy evaluation after the fact. I think there's another couple of insights, including some research that I've done, and that is the, what I would call not to get too deep in the weeds, the non-linear impact on student achievement. And by the way, here's a good example. What good researchers do is admit when we're wrong. So let me share with you something I was desperately wrong about.

Susan Lambert:

I'd love it.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Is that I had this hypothesis that with a little bit better implementation, you'd get a little bit greater impact on student achievements. So we had level one, level two, level three, level four, and they would all nicely proceed. I was dead wrong. In a study that I did of more than 36 implementations, it turned out that the difference between level one and level two was nothing. Level two and level three was nothing. Level three and level four was giant. If you get all the way to deep implementation, significant impact on academics, on behavior, on attendance, all those things. But not until you get to the highest level of implementation. So here's the problem, a lot of people get to level one, two, three, and they say, well, that didn't work. Let's go buy another program level one, two, three. Well, that one didn't work either. Let's buy another program. They never get to level four. So one of the findings to finally come to the answer to your question of implementation science is that if you're not gonna go whole hog , don't do it. If you're not gonna have deep implementation, which requires a level of focus and allocation of time and resources, then don't bother. I was with a school system that will remain nameless, that proudly showed me that they had 43 different initiatives going on, and all I could do was throw my hands up and say, none of them are gonna have a chance. Michael Fallon was kind enough to write an introduction to this book on focus where he said, "The thesis of this book is that the number of initiatives that you have is inversely proportionate to student achievement." In other words, if you get more than six, you're losing focus.

Susan Lambert:

I'd love to take a step back just a minute, when you were talking about , level one implementation, level two implementation, what do those things look like, So we can unpack that?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

So level one is, We delivered the product. You know, there's boxes of computers sitting out in the hallway . The teachers were all required to go to a workshop. So the teachers were trained, note the passive voice. So we delivered the boxes, the teachers were trained. Nothing happens. Level two, well, it's in the classroom, the teachers are actually using it. You know , level three , there's evidence that teachers are actually...the students are using this particular implementation, the teachers are using it, that's good. Level four, there's not only evidence of level one, two, three, but also evidence that this initiative is linked to gains in student achievement. So somebody is actually monitoring cause and effect. So level one, two, three are fine, they are necessary but not sufficient. And too often what I've seen is that people quit at level one. Hey, the teachers got trained, you know, and I must say there's too many product delivery systems that are all about delivery and not about implementation.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. And to link this back to what you said about initiatives too, I've had the experience where, oh, we're gonna do a new ELA program this year and get teachers trained and everything because then next year we're gonna implement a math program. And so we need to have teachers trained on a math program. So what you're saying is don't do that.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Absolutely. You have to have a singular focus and it's gotta be sustained year after year after year until it becomes part of your culture. Now, you know, I'm not saying, you know , never adopt anything new. What I am saying rather, is that you have to distinguish between an initiative, something that is new and culture something that's part of what we do every day, and that is embedded. That is more important. This is being broadcast in the year 2022, when we have a record number of new teachers and new administrators joining us. And so you just can't assume that the initiatives that you started, you know, a few years ago are still embedded today, 'cause you know , half your staff never got that. So it requires a constant focus on here's what we do, here's our culture, here's our standards and norms.

Susan Lambert:

That makes sense. This idea of focus, I mean in any part of our life is really important, but starting and stopping seems to be pretty common in terms of what we do. In spite of the fact that we say, Oh, we don't really like to change, but it seems like we like to start and stop things quite often. I wonder if there's a disconnect there.<laugh>.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, that's so interesting to hear you say that. I mean, you know, people say that they want change, just not about me. I want everybody else to change. I think we have to also recognize that after the chaos of the pandemic and the school closures and everything else in the last couple of years, people do need a clear sense of focus. And that is not only, I think organizationally sound, but it's psychologically necessary.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah, Yeah. That makes sense. We're gonna dive into that in a little bit. I'd like to come back to this book, like I said, the subtitle to this is the 5D Implementation Playbook for Educators. And those five Ds are: discover, design, deliver, double back and double up. Let's just talk quickly about each of those.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Yes . So , one of the things that I think is really important in terms of discovering is, before we, you know, get immersed in the shiny new object, let's find out what our needs really are. And so I think discovery has to do with really a granular look, you know, not just at our district level, but at the classroom level of what do we need? For example, you know, if we know, for example, thanks to John Hattie, that the greatest impact on student achievement is a classroom teacher, then let's get really granular about what classroom teacher techniques are. If it's feedback, if it's effective collaboration with colleagues , let's identify exactly what those are so that we discover what our needs are. If it's checking for understanding, if it's instructional planning, then focus on those things. So the first thing you do is, not just say what's available and what's new and shiny, but rather what the greatest needs are.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. What does our educational organization really need? What are our challenges and how do we dig into that? One of the things in this discover section, as you really talk about getting your backbone team put together, deciding what your challenges are, really being able to explain it. But the other thing that I thought was interesting is that you all agree on what better looks like, like getting to that same definition. How important is that?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, you know, it's interesting that we always ask teachers to define what success criteria happened to be, and props by the way, to Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey for articulating, you know, what success criteria looks like in the classroom. We have to do the same thing as educators and as leaders. You know, what does better look like and have clearly articulated goals. One of the studies that I did in looking at more than 2000 school plans was to say, Hey, you know, everybody set smart goals. We've been doing that for decades. So I dissected S M A R T and it turned out that the first two, specific and measurable, were dramatically more important than any other element of SMART goals or anything else. So we gotta know what's specifically and what's measurably involved in success.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah, that makes sense to me because that gets at the very discreet level then of what we're trying to accomplish. And so people can then envision what it looks like when you can get to that " S" you know, that smart and measurable aspect of it. The other thing that I thought was really great in this first part of discovering, I think it's in this chapter, I actually can't remember, but you actually, in this book, advocate for a new position at the systems level or at the district level at least called a n implementation specialist or an implementation scientist or something like that. Talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, you know, that applies, you know, much more to large scale systems. So you need that, like at the state level and at large districts. I fully recognize that most school systems in the U. S. don't have that. And a lot of your international listeners in international schools don't have the scale to do that. But somebody has to have the responsibility, particularly at the cabinet level, to just ask not what the results are, but what the degree of implementation is. You know, the problem is this, if you only look at the results, then you don't know what caused it. Somebody has to look at underlying causes. For example, when you go into classrooms, if one of our key implementation focuses is effective instruction, including checks for understanding, then somebody has to be saying, "Hey, we've done a hundred classroom observations in the last three months, and of those hundred classroom observations, 30 of them had effective checks for understanding." So if we want student achievement to rise and checks for understanding are a cause, then we're gonna focus not just on, you know, get more test scores, but rather on what the underlying cause is . I don't hear that question about causality raised nearly enough in senior leadership discussions.

Susan Lambert:

Hmm . That's interesting. And I wonder how often you hear people talk about, I mean, okay, so when we say fidelity of implementation, that's a nasty "F" word . Sorry for my language here, but that's a nasty phrase in most schools. Why would you say that is?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, it's because it's binary. It's totally judgmental and adversarial. You did it or you didn't. And so, gee, if I'm on the negative side, then you've accused me of malpractice. A far better approach is what I discussed earlier, the four, three, two, one, where you can say, Hey, it's nuanced, there's degrees of implementation, and if four is deep implementation, hey, very few people get to four. You're at two right now, here's the roadmap to get to three. You are three right now, here's the roadmap number four. That is much less accusatory than the fidelity model, which says you did it or you didn't. And if you didn't, you're bad.

Susan Lambert:

Mm . I love that explanation. Because even if you stick to fidelity, you have to dig in to find out like, did the fidelity and this particular implementation work, or do we need to change that? So that's kind of all about putting evidence at the center of all that. Right? And I think that's another thing that you bring to this is that this road to school improvement or this process that y'all have sort of outlined has this sort of feedback loop built into it that we're always gonna go back and look at the evidence. Can you talk about why that's important and why I think it's important to make a habit?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, it's interesting to hear you say that. You've actually kind of jumped ahead to the D four , which is double back . And I think that's a really important part of this book is that, you know , most evaluations happen after the fact. What, you know, John, I think and Arran and Janet to have so thoughtfully suggested is that you have to be willing to do real-time assessments , real-time evaluation. If it's not working, let's make mid-course corrections right now, not three years from now, but right now. And that's why you have to have this constant evaluation of not only results, but degree of implementation. I certainly know it can be done. I've seen it in real time .

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. We're gonna talk about that in a minute too. So just for our listeners, I did jump ahead. That's classic me , right? So we talked a little bit about discover, and then after you sort of discover what this thing is that you need to do, you have to design it. And what's key about the design process in this improvement effort?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

I think that if I had to summarize it in one word, it is sequence. Let me use the analogy of the classroom. Before I'm gonna teach scale and ratio, I have to say, Hey, students, are we ready for scale and ratio? Because to do that, you've gotta know fractions, Oh shoot, three-fourths of my students forgot fractions. So let's do a mini lesson on fractions first, then I'm gonna go ahead to today's lesson on scale and ratio. The same is true with respect to implementation. And that is, before I do that, you know, I've gotta identify what the prior needs are of my colleagues. And I can tell you right now, the biggest prior need is time. If I'm gonna ask them to do something, what do I need to do to my schedule? I don't just say, here's the new initiative, go forth and do it. I've gotta be able to say, what do I need to do to give you the time, the space, the collaboration to actually get it done.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. And this is the place where you actually blow out the idea of de- implementation in terms of designing what you're gonna do. And remember, we haven't gotten to the actual, you know, doing the actual implementation work. We're still in the design phase, but let's talk again about like when we're adding things on why it's important to take things off. So just another emphasis on that de-implementation.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Yeah. I mean, I don't care, colleagues, if you get a billion dollar grant, nobody's gonna give you a 25-hour day. You know, that's the bottom line. And so what I say to people around the globe is that the end of the school year is almost certainly gonna happen, borrowing asteroids and that sort of thing. There will always be things that you don't get done. And so the question that I wanna respectfully challenge our listeners with is, do you want to have this not to do list that you designed or a not to do list that was by default? Because when the end of the school year happens, there will always be things that we don't get done. What I'm challenging people to do is to take things off the table by design right now. And I see this, for example, in literacy programs. Everybody has multiple literacy programs. They implement few of them deeply. Pick one, do it deeply. When it comes to staff meetings and administrators, senior leaders, I'm talking to you, when it comes to staff meetings. I know superintendents that are establishing quantitative goals to reduce the number of meetings and to really try to focus the amount of time that our administrators have to spend in meetings. So those are a couple of things. You gotta take things off the table.

Susan Lambert:

You know, I can't imagine what it would be like though to say, I mean, 'cause like we always wanna do more. Like we want our kids to succeed. We see all these things that need to be done. Let's just squeeze one more thing into the list. How do we actually talk to people about the process of deprioritizing or de-implementation? What does that realistically look like?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, so here's another co-author I want to give props to , and that's Bob Eaker. Bob and I wrote , the 100-Day Leaders. And it's about basically creating these two-page plans and not these 180-page plans that you see around the world, but two-page plans. And one of those is explicitly identifying the not to do list. You don't get to go on to what you're going to do until you identify what you're gonna stop doing. And honestly, it's not that complicated. Part of what you have to do is to have an initiative inventory. Identify, literally write down every initiative that's going on, and it's always longer than the administrators think because teachers have not only the current administrators initiative, but they're predecessors, and their predecessors' predecessors. So I've had supers say, Doug, I got the gospel on focus. We only have these six things. I interview their teachers and they've got 45 things. So you've gotta be willing to take inventory and then be ruthless. One of my favorite principals, Ms . Perky , she has what she calls dumpster day and she literally brings a dumpster in front of the school once a year and goes classroom to classroom, throwing out the old 20- year-old word searches and old 30-year-old reading inventories and says, you know, we've gotta get focused on what we're doing and we're gonna throw everything else in the dumpster. And yet there are tears associated with that, but you can do it. One final thing about giving up things. Cal Newport, a Georgetown University computer scientist, has written very persuasively about how you gotta stop the email craziness. A lot of administrators start their day with 200 emails and he gives really good ideas about how to really reduce that and focus. And honestly, you don't have to answer every text, every email in 30 seconds. You've gotta be able to focus on a few things.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. Those are wise words. As you were talking about like teachers having the perception of all these initiatives, that put me back in the classroom and then maybe even when I was a principal. I wonder, I think about this, do we tell teachers when we've actually stopped an initiative or when we've actually deprioritized that? Do we explicitly communicate that to them? Or do we just communicate, here's the thing we're gonna focus on this year without saying, "Oh, by the way, that thing from five years ago, you shouldn't be worrying about that."

Dr. Doug Reeves:

That's such a thoughtful insight. If you're not explicit in saying, "You don't have to do this anymore, in fact, please don't do this anymore." If you don't do that, the message that teachers get is, oh my God, here's one more new thing, I've gotta cover it all. One thing on top of another and they feel overwhelmed. If we really want to improve the morale of our teachers, we gotta reduce initiative fatigue. And that's what they're feeling right now.

Susan Lambert:

So we made it through discover, we made it through design, then we get to the delivery phase. And this is putting boots to ground, right? That's where the action starts.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Absolutely. And it really requires not only delivery, but a monitoring to say, you know, here's the levels of implementation. To what degree are we actually implementing this?

Susan Lambert:

And I think this is the hard part to know. Like you were talking about deep implementation before and when we're monitoring implementation and looking at this, when do we know when to make a modification, to keep going, to stop? Like what are signals we can look for there?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Absolutely. And you've reminded me of a couple of very specific examples where, you know, people will talk about a literacy program, but there's a lot of ambiguity between the workshop and implementation. So we need to have, as administrators, very specific look-fors. And , the specific example I'm thinking about is where the comprehensive literacy program, well designed, well researched, focused on speaking, reading, and writing. And what the classroom reflected was everybody's happy about student conversations. Everybody's happy about reading, reading silently, reading aloud, they never got around to writing. And yet the evidence was that writing, particularly non-fiction writing, was the linchpin of improving reading comprehension and improving student conversations. And so if you're not clear that all three of those things are the foundation of what we're gonna do, then they do the speaking and reading programs for three years all under the umbrella of what they think is an evidence-based system. And then they're saying , "Oh shoot, that didn't work." Well that's because they didn't implement all three pillars of the literacy program.

Susan Lambert:

Hmm . Yeah. That insightful. So that's part of the double back . Right? So making sure we're looking at the evidence, both the outcome evidence but also implementation evidence. Right? And then the last D is double up. What is the double up section about?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

You just don't quit. I mean, the job is not done. I feel too often that what we do in implementation is , we think, "Gee, we're done," and we are never done because this whole process has gotta be recursive. There's always gonna be a rotation of new teachers, of new administrators, and you're not done until it's part of your culture. An example that I would offer is professional learning communities that you see ubiquitous around the world. When it's new, it's an initiative, it's not part of your culture until people say, "Oh yeah, that's just the way we do things." It's not part of your culture until as a result of interviewing a brand new teacher or administrator, "By the way, are you familiar with PLCs and can you implement them because that's what we do here." You're not done with the five Ds until it's part of your culture. Another example would be safety. If we have a commitment to safety, whether it's bus safety or a crosswalk safety, that's just what we do around here. That's not a new initiative. It's just part of our culture. So whatever you're thinking about instructionally of initiatives, you're not done until it's part of our culture.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. And I think the two things that are important or I pulled from this was that you have to consider how you're gonna sustain that. I think that's what you were talking about is how do we, you know, keep this a focus long enough until it's just a habit and it's something that we sustain? And then how do we scale that? Right? So how do we take this from, let's say one school's doing it great, how do we understand what they're doing and then able to scale this up to other places?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Scale is so important. Probably one of the biggest problems that particularly large systems face are these islands of excellence? "Well, we have this teacher and that teacher," but it never shows up in the average school scores or average discourse. One thing that I found really common cause with unions is this bottom up idea of change. And that is when you do pilot projects and then upward scale. Where a lot of people think scale says, "Oh well , we'll start at the top, train the trainer, and then it magically flows down to schools." It has a terrible record of deep implementation. Bottom up by contrast has a really great record, where really sensitive issues like grading reform, for example, that I've seen just a small cadre of teachers say, "Oh my God, I just dropped the D/ F rate by 80%. I improved discipline and classroom culture, reduced suspensions by half ." That local testimony then spreads bottom up and makes system change. I think that really is the key to how change works.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah, that makes sense to me because when it is bottom up, you're really working through the devil in the details, if you will, to figure out what it is that has to happen to actually make this thing on the ground. So I think it's Michael Fullan that talks a little bit about, it's not an either or either, right? It's both top down and bottom up that really makes sustainability and the opportunity for scalability. So we've talked a little bit about these five Ds and for our listeners we'll link them in the show notes to this book. It's amazing. I wonder, I'm gonna pull another quote. It's a quote from the book, "It's the era of systematic implementation of the evidence that now needs to begin." And I know you've seen real-world examples of how this can be accomplished. Do you have one that you can share with us?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

I do. I happen to be broadcasting from California today. I'm working in one of the most high-poverty systems in the United States, San Bernardino. And yet , some of the teachers that I have worked with there, and now at a large scale system, you know, this is one of the biggest school systems in the state of California, in fact in the country--and yet they had been mired in very high D/F rates, you know, 30, 40%. And yet there were teachers who started doing things just simple changes, not these big grand scale implementations, but we're gonna do two things. We're going to stop using the average to assess student performance at the end of a marking period and we're going to get practice done in class rather than at home. Because the biggest cause of these nefs was missing homework. So those two things stop the average, practice in class, they had more than 80% reduction in the D/F rate . Which has this cascading effect of fewer dropouts, better attendance, better behavior, all these things. And the reason I think this is relevant to our conversation is not only does it have a multi-generational effect when you avoid dropouts, but it also illustrates this bottom up change idea. And deep implementation wasn't about something super complex. It was identifying that a few things, you know, many of my dear friends have written books that I respect and I love. They cite me. I cite them, but they're too darn complicated. <laugh> . And I think part of what we need to do is to really get to the essence of what's the cause, what's the effect? And that's what these wonderful teachers and administrators in San Bernardino did. And then, you know, the rest of the story is it spreads around the system.

Susan Lambert:

Yeah. I just wanna pull that out for one... So if a teacher decides we're going to give more time in class for them to practice and essentially do the work and the practice they need to have, that means you can't adjust how much time you have with the kids in class. So you have to, to your point, deprioritize or de-implement something else that you were doing.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Which is, look , I'm an old math teacher, I'm pointing right at myself. Yeah. I gotta deprioritize me 'cause I could tell you in 45 minutes, in a fabulous lecture, that I know more algebra than a 15-year-old does. But that means I gotta stop that and start doing what Eric Mazur does at Harvard, and that is like three minutes of a concept, three minutes of a challenge, three minutes of let's come back. I mean it's very rapid-paced and very interactive. We've gotta do more of that and less of me showing off as a teacher.

Susan Lambert:

What I find so compelling about that example is that the heart of the change of that was not an adult want or need, but was literally the needs of the students sitting in front of those teachers in the classroom. And I think that's my ultimate goal, is to make sure that's where we're focused, is what do the students need? Not what do we need as adults.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

And I think what you just said is very wise and what that implies to the administrators listening to this is that administrators need to be very careful about the signals that they send. Because if what we really want in the classroom is that high degree of interaction, including mistakes, uncertainty, you know, feedback and so on, if that's what we want, then I'll tell you what a lot of teachers hear , and I'm speaking to administrators as a classroom teacher. If I hear those footsteps coming down the hall and I say, "Okay, kids, principal's coming , you know the drill. Everybody pretend like you're paying attention to me. Maria, you've got this one covered 'cause I know you got the answers and your hand's gonna be in the air." That's not learning. That's just a show. And I think a lot of us perceive that what our administrators want is a show. So it's really important for administrators to say, "Hey, I can deal with some chaos, I can deal with students making mistakes. That's real learning. So please by all means, do random calling, allow for mistakes, including mistakes by teachers. I can live with that. Please don't put on a show for me." I think we need to say that very explicitly.

Susan Lambert:

You know, that is probably a really good segue into this new book that's been released called Fearless Schools: Building Trust and Resilience for Learning, Teaching, And Leading. It was released last year, but it feels really relevant to both what you just said and to what we're actually facing in school systems now. Can you tell us a little bit about that book and why you think why it's important and also how it's connected to these school improvement efforts?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, Fearless Schools was written in the depths of the pandemic when we were a very fearful country and none of us knew, you know, would we have jobs? Would we be able to stay in our homes? It was a very fearful time. And yet the evidence on fearlessness is directly related to education. And that is, if teachers and students are afraid they can't learn, that fearlessness is a prerequisite to learning. So I know a lot of our listeners have spent a lot of time on social and emotional learning, but the bottom line is, that's not enough. Fearlessness is all about, is It safe to make mistakes? And you gotta make sure that in classrooms I can make a mistake. There's no humiliation and no shame. In a staff meeting, there's no humiliation, it's always okay to make a mistake in professional learning communities, it's always okay to make a mistake. That's the essence of it. By the way, I would not be saying this if we're not for the work of Professor Amy Edmondson, who has done foundational work on the idea of fearlessness in hospitals. In what Professor Edmondson noted was that she , she would ask me this question, "Do you wanna go to a high error rate hospital or a low error rate hospital?" I said, "Shoot Dr . Edmondson, I wanna go to that low error rate hospital." Wrong," she said, "because they both had the same number of errors." The low error rate hospital just swept their mistakes under the rug. So nobody learned from them. The high error rate hospital has everybody, a technician, a nurse, the surgeon, everybody can talk about mistakes and they can do so without fear. And that is what has really driven down the rate of ICU deaths, of liner infections, of all these things that are problems in hospitals. And the result of her work 20 years later is in every hospital--she started in Boston, but now around the world. So I adapted her research to education to say, you know, if you have a fearless environment in which it's okay to make a mistake, then you're gonna have better learning.

Susan Lambert:

Hmm . That's really interesting. And that's a little bit about the trust, what about the resilience part of that?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

So that's something the country has learned a lot about. The world has learned a lot about in the last couple of years. How do we bounce back? And I talk about, you know, physical resilience. So almost everybody on every staff, they've probably had an injury or an illness and they can talk about, how do you bounce back. And when it comes to physical resilience, there's a very interesting bit of research from sports science. And that is when a professional athlete has an injury, they don't just lie around saying, "Oh gee, I guess I'll get better." They invest as much time and energy in their recovery as they did in training. And that's very counterintuitive 'cause a lot of people, when they have an injury, think, "Well, I've just gotta lie around in the body will heal itself," which is not true. You invest in recovery as much as you did in training. Emotional resilience takes time, and it's easy when someone has had an emotional injury or a psychological injury to wanna withdraw and to want to be silent when in fact the evidence says, you know , you gotta be willing to engage with someone. And I'm, I don't care whether it's a therapist, although I will tell you that the evidence is pretty clear that there's a lot of therapeutic techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy that are as or more effective than pharmaceuticals that we can get better with. So there's emotional and physical and finally, organizational resilience. How does the entire organization bounce back? You gotta have short-term wins. You know, I think one of the things that really undermines resilience are these dumb five-year strategic plans. What we need to have is 100-day goals. What I'm saying is don't go to winter break in December until you've had a short-term win. Let everybody go to break knowing, oh my gosh, we reduced the D/F rate, we improved student behavior, we improved parent engagement, we improved extracurricular activities. You know, people need to know that they're coming back after the pandemic with some wins.

Susan Lambert:

That's a great connection to success breeds success, for sure. But how could you build into your school improvement plan for, maybe you do have long-term, but how do you build in short-term sort of criteria for success that people can draw from and be encouraged by? So, that's amazing. So, two incredible books. The Building to Impact book and the Fearless School's book we'll link our listeners to both of those books in the show notes. I know that we have focused this episode all about infrastructure and systems to support students, including what that culture looks like. Here we really talk about students at Science of Reading: The Podcast. The heart of our work is really about students. So I'm gonna say the phrase, it's all about the students. What does that mean to you in your work?

Dr. Doug Reeves:

Well, I hope we have a broad range of listeners , from new teachers to veterans. And the veterans know what I'm about to say. When we say it's all about the students, it's not just about the students today because sometimes, honestly, today is hard. Today, they don't necessarily like us and appreciate it . I never had anybody say, "Oh, thank you, Mr. Reeves for that rigorous assignment," <laugh> , but I hope you've had the experience. When we say it's all about the students, if what they tell you 10 years later, they come back to your classroom and they thank you for how you helped them succeed in colleges or succeed in the job. So it really requires the long view and that's why we're in this game. It is not necessarily to have appreciation today, because honestly, they are not customers. They are students. As customers get immediate gratification, You and I are in the game for delayed gratification. Well, when will they thank us 10, 15, 20 years from now? So I wish for all of our listeners the opportunity to hear from a student, that level of thanks for what you did a decade ago.

Susan Lambert:

That's wise words, Dr. Doug Reeves. Thank you again for joining us. We appreciate you. We appreciate the work that you do. And like I said, we'll link our listeners in the show notes to all of these great resources.

Dr. Doug Reeves:

It's my great pleasure. Thanks everybody.

Susan Lambert:

Thanks so much for listening to my conversation with Dr. Doug Reeves. Check out the show notes for a link to his new book, Building to Impact: The 5D implementation Playbook for Educators, which he co-authored with Arran Hamilton, Janet May Clinton , and John Hattie. Next time on Science of Reading: The Podcast, we're bringing you the story of a group of New York City moms who are working on opening a school to better serve children with dyslexia. Stay tuned for that. And in the meantime, stay in touch by joining our Facebook discussion group, Science of Reading the Community. This season, we're trying something new about every month I'll be hosting a Facebook Live where I'll talk more about our recent episodes and answer your questions on the Science of Reading. We're calling it, Off the Pod with Susan Lambert, and the first one will be on Wednesday, October 26. Check out the Facebook discussion group that Science of Reading, the community for more information. Thanks again for listening.