Support functions to help teams and individuals through implementation dips

An implementation dip is inevitable when a school undergoes a shift whether in pedagogy, a new policy implementation, or any other action plan that the school puts in place toward a strategic goal.

During the implementation dip, individuals and teams may experience a temporary low-resource state. What this might feel like could take several forms. There might be new knowledge being introduced necessary for implementation. There may be skills and capacities that represent a leveling up in individuals and teams. There may be transitional issues such as new teachers recently on board, teachers new to a program and how it works, and similar situations.

People who are in the midst of an implementation dip feel that there is a knowledge-action gap. This is similar to an ecotone, or a zone of proximal development (Vygotsky). Whatever we may call it, this temporary low-resource state necessitates traveling from the current state to a desired state.

The temporary dip in resourcefulness is not an insurmountable obstacle to implementation. If we view this situation as a zone of proximal development, the implementation dip becomes an opportunity for a school to support the growth of individuals and the collective craftsmanship  and efficacy of teams.

How we rise to action from an implementation dip is through learning. Knowledge from reading documentation on the program or a workshop or both is a good start to addressing an implementation dip. We know from research that transmission learning from a workshop or reading alone are merely the beginning of the journey to understanding and action.

Research shows that traction of professional learning can increase exponentially when paired with a support function that is focused on learning and growth-oriented (for examples, Bubb & Earley, 2007; Callahan & Spalding, 2006; Kelleher, 2003; Pittinsky, 2005; Sparks & Hirsh, 2000; Tomlinson, 2005; Zepeda, 2008).

Four support functions

There are four support functions that schools have used, some more than others. These are illustrated below.


The process of evaluation has been used in teacher appraisal systems for a long time. This support function holds the assumption that a supervising person like an administrator gives an assessment of practice after gathering data about that practice. The relationship during the process of evaluation is not equal, with one person having more authority than the other. The communication dynamic of evaluation is one-sided, transmission of information.


The consultation process is common in organizations also. This process assumes there is a person considered more knowledgeable, and the other person has come for advice. The relationship of this support function is that of a mentor-client. The communication dynamic may be that the client asks questions and expects the mentor to provide answers.


The collaboration process is a purposeful exchange between and among a group. The relationship of the persons in the group is that of equals. The communication in collaboration may involve norms or essential agreements to reach a shared goal. Collaboration uses conversation to reach shared understanding through dialog, or shared decisions through discussion.


The coaching process is a conversation, usually between two people where one is the coach and the other is the client. The assumption for support function is that a person has inner resources for problem-resolving, and the coach uses coaching capabilities to mediate the client’s thinking to high resourcefulness. The conversation style of coaching is that the client speaks and the coach paraphrases and asks mediative questions to elicit thinking, using silences or pausing as an ‘arena of consciousness’ (Covey) to allow for deep thinking.

Support functions of collaboration and coaching are essential to traction of professional learning to rise from an implementation dip. Research proves that collaboration and coaching are support functions that allow for learning to stick (for examples, Batt, 2010; Brody & Hadar, 2011; Camburn, 2010; Collet, 2012; Dufour & Eaker, 2008; and many other studies). Coaching and collaboration in regular cycles, for instance, can allow for up to 96 percent traction, defined as bridging the knowledge to action gap in IB pedagogy within one to three years (Lavina, 2014).

Implementation is not an algebraic equation, wherein if x then y. Many of the issues surrounding the implementation of programs involve both process work and people work. One of the most important aspects of supporting an implementation dip is to intentionally design the people work, using support functions that allow for learning.


Batt, E. G. (2010). Cogntiive coaching: A critical phase in professional development to implement sheltered instruction. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 997-1005.

Brody, D., & Hadar, L. (2011). “I speak prose and now I know it.” Personal development trajectories among teacher educators in a professional development community. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 1223-1234.

Bubb, S., &Earley, P. (2007). Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Devel-opment (2nd ed.). London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Callahan, S., & Spalding, E. (2006). Can high-stakes writing assessment support high- quality professional development? The Educational Forum, 70(4), 337-351.

Camburn, E.M. (2010). Embedded teacher learning opportunities as a site for reflective practice: An exploratory study. American Journal of Education, 116, 436-489.

Collet, V. S. (2012). The gradual increase of responsibility model: Coaching for teacher change. Literacy Research and Instruction, 51(1), 27-47.

Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2002). The adaptive school: developing and facilitating collaborative groups. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2016). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lavina, A. (2014). Effects of cognitive coaching on professional learning in IB World Schools. Unpublished dissertation. Fort Lauderdale: Fischler School of Nova Southeastern University.

Kelleher, J. (2003). A model of assessment-driven professional development. Phi Del-ta Kappan: The Professional Journal of Education,84(10), 751-756.

Pittinsky, M. (2005). No teacher left behind. THE Journal, 32(11), 32-34.

Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2013). The OIQ factor: raising your school’s organizational intelligence. Suffolk: John Catt Educational.

Sparks, D., & Hirsh, S. (2000). Strengthening professional development. Education Week, 19, 42.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). Traveling the road to differentiation in staff development. National Staff Development Council, 26(4), 8–12.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zepeda, S. J. (2008). Professional development: What works. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.

Graphics Sources:

Featured Photo by Chris Knight on Unsplash

discuss by Rose Alice Design from the Noun Project

Sound by Adrien Coquet from the Noun Project

Thinking by Chameleon Design from the Noun Project

team by Edgar Garcia from the Noun Project

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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