The Power of Teachers on Teams to Create and Sustain Change

by Denyse Doerries, Ph.D., and Sue Land, M.Ed.

Both the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 2004, and the No Child left Behind Act, 2002, mandate that schools provide not just equal educational opportunities, but high-quality education for all children. The legislation charges schools with changing their current instructional and behavioral practices to employ effective interventions (based on research) with proven outcomes (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006; Stollar, Poth, Curtis, & Cohen, 2006). Despite efforts to disseminate effective practices, schools are not necessarily adopting them (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006). Thus, there continues to be a gap between research concerning evidenced-based practices and the reality of school practices.

Research suggests that the success of change initiatives often is based not on the characteristics of the innovation but on the culture of the school within which the innovation is implemented (Stollar et al., 2006). Knowledge of evidence-based practices alone is not sufficient to sustain change. The literature suggests that frequently, when the supports for the change are withdrawn, the change initiative fails (Fuchs, Fuchs, Harris, & Roberts, 1996). Successful school change requires ongoing professional development, modeling and on-site coaching, continuous communication with staff, and time for planning and application (Hall & Hord, 2001).

What can teachers do to support the adoption of evidenced-based practices? A pivotal piece of a successful change initiative is the presence of a school-based collaborative-problem solving team (Stollar et al., 2006). Collaborative teams provide the framework for successfully integrating a desired innovation into the culture of a school (Stollar et al., 2006). The teams identify and analyze the schools' data, determine if a gap exists between current practices and evidence-based practices, and, in conjunction with faculty input, establish a need and the benefits that will accrue from the change initiative. Further, the team collaborates with administrators and faculty to problem solve, identifies evidenced-based interventions, and creates a climate that supports the interventions.

Teachers can join already existing school-based teams such as School Improvement Teams or start at grade-level teams to examine the gap between current practices and evidenced-based interventions. Teachers can request assignments to school-based planning teams or volunteer for such teams, allowing them to play an essential role in bringing successful innovations to their schools.

The Virginia Department of Education's Priority Projects provide the structure to support change initiatives at the local level. These projects articulate the state's priorities and provide, in conjunction with the regional T/TACs, the ongoing technical assistance necessary to sustain change at the local level in priority areas.

The ongoing technical assistance that T/TAC W&M provides to schools involved in various Priority Projects takes place through a team approach. In most cases teams are comprised of general and special education teachers, other support teachers and staff, as well as administrators. These teams meet on a regular basis to examine school data, determine needs, develop action plans, solve problems, and evaluate progress. Individual schools and school divisions in Regions 2 and 3 may wish to seek more information about the VDOE Priority Projects and T/TAC W&M support. A complete listing of these projects and supports may be found at

The Priority Projects that require a team approach are as follows:

  • Effective Schoolwide Discipline (ESD) teams establish a schoolwide systematic approach to discipline, incorporating positive behavior supports and creating positive school climates.

  • Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) focuses on secondary schools, and provides professional development on this model developed by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. This model includes field-tested and validated Content Enhancement (teaching) Routines and Learning Strategies that increase the achievement of all students, including students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Team members determine student need by examining SOL assessment data and pass rates in core content areas. Once specific content areas are targeted, teachers choose routines or strategies that will enhance student learning. Professional development and followup assistance and coaching is provided to teachers.

  • Virginia Transition Outcomes Project (VTOP) teams receive professional development in how to develop IEPs that infuse transition planning throughout the process and document. Activities include conducting file reviews and developing and implementing preliminary action plans to include professional development. The VTOP aims to improve postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities.

  • Instructional Support Team (IST) Priority Project is designed to develop school-based teams of professionals who support classroom teachers' efforts to assist struggling learners. The goal is to enhance, improve, and increase student and staff performance. The intended outcome is a more instructionally responsive school for all students and teachers alike.

  • Academic Review and School Support Teams provide support to schools in need of improvement as determined by the VDOE. By looking at SOL assessment data and other school data, school teams devise action plans to meet the academic needs of students with disabilities. Team members and school staff receive professional development in effective inclusive education practices as well as ongoing support.

Other Priority Projects and VDOE-supported activities to acquire evidenced-based practices include:

  • SOL Enhanced Scope and Sequence PLUS project team members differentiated lesson plans and activities aligned to the Standards of Learning with strategies to facilitate differentiated instruction. The lesson plans are posted on T/TAC Online at

  • Reading Priority Project members provided professional development activities throughout the state this past summer. These academies focused on the five major components of reading instruction and were offered to special educators. Future activities include a 2007 Summer Academy.

  • Training modules that provide information to support student learning are available through T/TAC Online at Online training includes self-paced online workshops that are organized into short Webshops or longer workshops. The web-based training is designed to introduce content in an inquiry-based learning method, and training certificates are awarded upon successful completion of the Webshop and workshop requirements.

As schools endeavor to improve the achievement of all students, committing to a team approach is essential. "In this day and age there is simply too much for any one educator to know in order to effectively meet the needs of all his or her students" (Brownell & Walther-Thomas, 2002, p. 224).


Brownell, M., & Walther-Thomas, C. (2002). An interview with Dr. Marilyn Friend. Intervention in School and Clinic, 37, 223-228.

Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L., Harris, A.H., & Roberts, P.H. (1996). Bridging the research-to-practice gap with mainstream assistance teams: A cautionary tale. School Psychology Quarterly, 11, 244-266.

Hall, G.E., & Hord, S.M. (2001). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and potholes. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, U.S.C.H.R. 1350 (2004).

No Child Left Behind Act, U.S.C. 115 STAT. 1426 (2002).

Schaughency, E., & Ervin, E. (2006). Building capacity to implement and sustain effective practices to better serve children. School Psychology Review, 35,155-166.

Stollar, S.A., Poth, R.L., Curtis, M.J., & Cohen, R.M. (2006). Collaborative strategic planning as illustration of the principles of systems change. School Psychology Review, 35, 181-197.

Date: September/October 2006