Topic 1: Competency Drivers

First, let’s look at Competency Drivers. Competency Drivers are the activities to develop, improve, and sustain educator and administrator ability to put programs and innovations into practice, so students benefit. The Competency Drivers are: Selection, Training, Coaching and Fidelity Assessment.

Fidelity Assessment


Let's start at the top of the triangle with the first Competency Driver, Fidelity. Fidelity assessment refers to measuring the degree to which teachers or staff are able to use the innovation or instructional practices as intended. Fidelity assessment measures the extent to which an innovation is implemented as intended. Did we do what we said we would do?

Assessing fidelity at the teacher/practitioner level is imperative to interpreting outcomes. If we don’t assess fidelity, then we cannot:

  1. be sure an innovation was actually used,
  2. attribute outcomes to the use of the innovation, or
  3. know what to focus on to improve.

If outcomes are not what we’d hoped for, but we have no fidelity data, it’s difficult to develop an improvement plan. Are results poor because we chose the wrong innovation or because the innovation is not yet being used as intended? We need to know the answers to these questions in order to create a functional improvement plan.

Assessing fidelity also provides direct feedback regarding how well the other Implementation Drivers are functioning. Fidelity data and information, as well as innovation outcomes, are a direct reflection of the how well the Competency, Organization and Leadership Drivers are working together to support teachers and staff as they attempt to use interventions or innovations.


In 2011, a fidelity study from the U.S. Department of Education found less than half (44.3%) of research-based prevention programs examined met minimal fidelity standards. Also, because only 7.8% of the prevention programs were found to be research-based, it was estimated that only 3.5% of all curriculum programs were both research-based and met fidelity. As the study notes:

“This information suggests that a tremendous amount of resources, in classroom time for prevention programming alone, is being allocated to school-based prevention efforts that either lack empirical support for their effectiveness or are implemented in ways that diminish the desired effect.” - US Department of Education1

We have to do better. We can do better by developing organizations that support effective practice and use performance assessment as a positive tool to connect infrastructure supports to outcomes.

Key Functions

Fidelity assessment, through an active implementation lens focuses on how well the innovation is being implemented and is not only about the fidelity of the educator, but also is about the quality of the selection, training and coaching systems.

Fidelity data also are impacted by the Organization Drivers.  How well is the administration at the building level supporting the new program or innovation?  What broader education system supports are in place or hindering implementation?  And how are data, fidelity and outcome, being used to make decisions that can improve fidelity?

Many studies indicate higher fidelity is positively correlated with better outcomes. In addition to providing feedback to teachers, measures of fidelity also provide useful feedback to principals, district superintendents, evaluators, coaches, and purveyors regarding implementation progress.

What impacts high fidelity? How do we support it?

Fidelity is not the burden a teacher bears, but rather a product of a thoughtful recruitment and selection process, effective training, and supervision and coaching systems that focus on strengths and build competence and confidence.

This means that fidelity assessment processes and fidelity data help to inform and engage everyone from district staff, to instructional coaches, to building administrators and teachers as new skills are implemented and refined. Results can be strengths-based, reinforcing the progress that has been made. Likewise, results can help responsively guide a staff and organizational development plan for improved practices and skills.

1. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development and Policy and Program Studies Service. (2011). Prevalence and implementation fidelity of research-based prevention programs in public schools: Final report (pp. 58).. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.



Now, let’s look at the Competency Driver, Selection, through an active implementation lens. Selection refers to the purposeful process of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring ‘with the end in mind’.  Selection through an active implementation lens includes identifying skills and abilities that are pre-requisites and/or specific to the innovation or program, as well as attributes that are difficult to train and coach.  Let’s look at how recruitment, interviewing, and selection processes support high quality implementation that leads to better fidelity and improved outcomes.


From an active implementation perspective, the selection process is critical to program success. Selection from an active implementation perspective is different from selection as usual in two important ways:

  1. Selection is viewed as a "mutual" process. That is, the school or district is deciding whether or not to select an individual to join them and the process allows the applicant to understand the expectations related to the position.
  2. Selection includes "role play" or "behavior rehearsal" processes. These processes allow interviewers to observe how applicants respond to feedback and how able and willing they are to learn new practices. This process provides insight into how an applicant might respond to feedback and data. A desire and ability to learn and grow are critical for ongoing improvement.

Key Functions

The selection process is an important opportunity that allows new hires and reassigned staff to clearly understand the job requirements and ways of work and to make their own decision about whether the programs, practices and continuous improvement processes are a good fit for them. A detailed and realistic overview of the position helps the applicant decide if they are up for the challenge. The process also provides the opportunity to select for specific traits or characteristics – ones that may be challenging to support through training and coaching. For example, characteristics such as seeing parents as partners in the education process or willingly being accountable for outcomes. Information gathered through the selection process can be fed forward to trainers and coaches to help them understand the strengths of the person and more quickly focus on areas that may need attention.



Now let's consider training from an implementation perspective. Training through an active implementation lens is defined as purposeful, skill-based, and adult-learning informed processes designed to support teachers and staff in acquiring the skills and information needed to begin using a new program or innovation. 


We know from implementation research that training alone does not result in changes in instructional practices and improved outcomes. But, training is still an important process to provide background information, introduce skills and major concepts, theory and values of the evidence-based programs and practices. In short, training is necessary for building teacher competency, but it is not sufficient if used alone.

Key Functions

Training does continue to bolster the buy-in process. During training, teachers are introduced to new concepts and strategies before they are expected to use them in their classrooms. They are also introduced to the reasons the practices have been selected and how they benefit students. Training is also a safe space for “trying-out” new skills before using them with students.




Coaching is a necessary component for promoting teacher confidence and ensuring competence. Coaching is defined as regular, embedded professional development designed to help teachers and staff use the program or innovation as intended. 


A 2002 meta-analysis by Joyce and Showers makes a compelling case for the need for skillful coaching. The authors noted that even very good training that included demonstration, practice, and feedback resulted in only 5% of teachers using the new skills in the classroom. Only when training was accompanied by coaching in the classroom was there substantial use in the practice setting.

These findings move supervision, monitoring and support to active coaching processes that are embedded in the learning environment and that support adherence to effective practices and quality instruction. This coaching approach also supports the development of judgment needed to differentiate instruction, use data for decision-making, and engage in evidence-based and evidence-informed instructional and innovation practices. Quality coaching offers critical support for trying out new approaches during that “awkward stage” just after initial exposure through training, and helps teachers and staff persist in developing skill, judgment, and the artful and individualized use of the new practices or programs.

Key Functions

Most skills needed by successful educators can be introduced in training sessions, but really are learned on the job with the help of a qualified and skilled coach who passes on wisdom and knowledge related to the implementation of the program or innovation. A good coach assists the teacher in general ways (e.g., student engagement, lesson planning, teaching to concepts, individualized and differentiated instruction), and actively helps educators acquire new skills and abilities related to the evidence-based approaches.

Coaching ensures that the fragile, uncomfortable new skills are actually tried in practice. As new educators get better and better at using their new skills, they become more artful and confident. The goal is to help new teachers, or teachers who are new to the practices. Coaching is related to fidelity because in many ways, fidelity is one of the important outcomes of quality coaching. Supervision and coaching are integrated with selection and training because the educator will continue to build on what was described in the interview process and what was covered during training. And coaching helps to compensate for the skills and abilities that were not present at the point of hire or that were not mastered in training.


Compentency Driver Activities


Activity 2.1a
Competency Driver Mapping  and Action Planning

Map the levels of quality and effort being applied to Competency Drivers for a current program or innovation. This activity will help you with action planning as you zero in on Drivers that can benefit from more effort and/or attention.

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Activity 2.1b
Reflection on Selection

Selection of staff, from an Active Implementation perspective, is different from selection as usual in two important ways.  Review the two distinctions, and then try to apply the two concepts in your setting or to your initiative.

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Activity 2.1c
Coaching for all?

As you are working on building coaching in your team or organization, read the following article.
Then, as an individual or with your team, respond to the questions.


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