What is an Implementation Support Practitioner?
Spring is here! April showers will soon bring May flowers. As I dig into the dirt, planting this year’s garden, I am reminded of a saying I have heard used among teachers: “Find your marigold, and later be the marigold.” If you are a gardener, you know what this metaphor means. Companion planting is planting certain plants or flowers next to each other so that they nurture each other and support each other's growth and strength. The marigold is one of the best companion plants, attracting helper insects like bees and ladybugs while deterring pesky insects and weeds that steal nutrients from the soil. Plants, especially vegetables, tend to thrive next to marigolds. This is an implementation support practitioner. They foster growth and encouragement and support others who want to change and grow. They offer their skills to strengthen the systems and the people around them.
What is an Implementation Support Practitioner’s role in K-12 education?
Known by many names—coaches, improvement specialists, technical assistance providers, facilitators, consultants, mentors, implementation specialists, and maybe even a marigold—the implementation support practitioner (ISP) builds the capacity of organizations, communities, leaders, and other individuals to implement evidence-based practices effectively. In education, the ISP supports state, regional, and local agencies to build new ways of work (structures, policies) to ensure that what we know from research can be translated to the classroom to benefit students and families (Metz, et al., 2021).
9 reasons education agencies should support the development of an Implementation Support Practitioner
- Everyone deserves a coach
Math coach, literacy coach, technology coach—we have them all. But how can we ensure that the support teachers are receiving is effective? Implementation Support Practitioners can go by many names (MTSS Coach, Systems Coach, Continuous Improvement Coordinator); no matter the name, the system deserves a coach.
- Move from research to practice
Implementation Support Practitioners are skilled and/or trained to identify, contextualize, and use implementation strategies. They understand how implementation and improvement work together and are braided to ensure that your district/building is using evidence to improve or attain outcomes.
- Work smarter, not harder
Brokering relationships among external organizations and individuals to the benefit of the district is one key skill for an Implementation Support Practitioner. They bring people to the table that might otherwise be siloed to provide partnership, collaboration, and creative problem-solving for implementation barriers.
- Lift up leadership
There are leaders at every level of the K-12 system, and they are often not recognized or lack positional authority. Implementation support practitioners help identify, cultivate, and lift this type of leadership up to the forefront to ensure effective implementation.
- Teams that actually work
Got teams? How many teams do you have, and are they functioning at their best? In K-12 education, we create a team for every initiative, program, focus... Implementation support practitioners support the development of teams and the structures they use and ensure they actually work as intended.
- Data you can actually use
We are data-rich and information poor in education. We often collect data and either we don’t use it or we don’t use it in the way that it was intended. We don’t know how to share it with external or internal stakeholders. And how do we make decisions from it? Implementation support practitioners provide support in creating systems for collecting, using, and sharing data so that you can actually use it to make decisions.
- Find your blind spots
When we implement new practices, we often do not address the systems or gaps in the infrastructure that are actually creating barriers. Implementation support practitioners help organizations find their blind spots in the system and see barriers to the actual implementation.
- Teacher support
Systems are not for the sake of systems. Both process and outcomes need to be valued and attended to. Without systems, your teachers do not receive the support they need or deserve when it comes to implementing evidence-based practices.
- Long-term sustainability
We truly want sustainability when we implement an evidence-based program. The idea is that the practice or program will remain beyond a change in leadership, three years after the staff has had a 50% turnover, and/or when the board of education shifts its beliefs and philosophies. Implementation support practitioners are skilled in the structures needed to adopt, implement, and SUSTAIN evidence-based practices.
Just remember function over form. The idea behind having an implementation support practitioner does not mean creating yet another new position. While you may want to hire an “Implementation Support Practitioner” after reading this, reflect on who is currently on staff and their role. Do you already have a coach, consultant, or coordinator doing this work? Maybe you just need to review the roles and responsibilities of the current staff. Maybe it is a little more intensive and you need to restructure to ensure an individual is supporting the work of improving your systems. We provided you with nine reasons for having an implementation support practitioner. Do you have a tenth?
Let’s go back to the garden. K-12 educational agencies have a variety of roles and positions, all in an attempt to create the highest quality of instruction and environment for their students. Imagine these roles to be all different types of vegetables. You have put time and effort into maintaining your garden and building a system of watering, fertilizing, and weeding. However, we often overlook the simplest support: planting marigolds. Implementation support practitioners can support the growth of everyone in the garden.
The SISEP Center is dedicated to the selection, training, and coaching of implementation support practitioners in the K-12 education setting. We aim to ensure that states, regions, districts, and buildings have access to individuals who can support systems to impact outcomes for students with disabilities. Do you have someone on staff that may be interested in more information? Do you want to learn more about strengthening your skills as an implementation support practitioner? Check out our resources below and watch for our micro-credentialing program that will be available to a universal audience beginning in the Fall of 2023.
- Implementation Support Practitioner Practice Profile
Provides users with eight guiding principles and 15 core competencies.
- Implementation Support Practitioner Self-Assessment & Goal Setting
Provides users with a self-assessment tool to reflect on their skill set within the 15 core competencies and create an action plan to improve their skill set as an implementation support practitioner.
- Implementation Support Practitioner Core Competencies Interactive Lessons
The SISEP Center is in the process of creating interactive lessons for all 15 core competencies. Once you have self-assessed and set your goals, review and complete the lessons tied to your plan.
Metz, A., Albers, B., Burke, K., Bartley, L., Louison, L., Ward, C., & Farley, A. (2021). Implementation practice in human service systems: Understanding the principles and competencies of professionals who support implementation. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 45(3), 238-259. doi:10.1080/23303131.2021.1895401