Factors for Sustained Institutionalization of Schoolwide Initiatives

By Donni Davis-Perry, M.Ed.

Each year schools adopt new initiatives, such as Effective Schoolwide Discipline (ESD), Instructional Support Teams (IST), and Inclusion. A number of researchers outline the specific components that should be in place for these initiatives to be successful (Lippitt, 2003.; Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000). Creating a shared vision, developing an action plan, teaching new skills, providing adequate resources, determining motivators, keeping the fidelity of the program, and sustained implementation are the factors that lead to successful institutionalization of schoolwide initiatives. Institutionalization occurs when an initiative becomes the universally accepted and normal way of conducting business.

The first step in the process of institutionalizing an initiative is forming a planning team that maintains focus and addresses each of the critical components previously stated. Figure 1 may be used as a tool to troubleshoot stalled implementation of initiatives, or as a compass to guide a planning team as they ensure that the necessary components are in place during the pre-implementation/planning phase. The following example, using inclusive education as the initiative, illustrates how to apply the elements in Figure 1. Inclusive education is the education of students with disabilities in general education classrooms with their more typical peers to the greatest extent possible (Walther-Thomas et al., 2000).


Students, families, faculty, staff, and administration need a shared a vision of how inclusion will change their current practices and what their school will ‘look' like after implementation. For example, school administrators and faculty create confusion when they don't take the time to construct a shared vision with families. Families who are not aware of the vision might be concerned about how the Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be implemented in a general education setting. Sharing the vision of how inclusive classrooms can meet their child's needs is essential for successful implementation.


Without an action plan that reflects the over all philosophy and mission in place, the school will remain on a treadmill, never able to fully implement the initiative.

Embedding the new initiative into the school improvement plan allows for integration into the school's larger vision in order to strategically address the school's unique needs.


Educators must acquire the new skills they need for providing inclusive services.

Teachers are understandably anxious when expected to perform without first developing the skills they need to implement the initiative. Professional development that may include workshops, modeling, mentoring, and coaching are some of the ways new skills, such as co-teaching and co-planning, may be acquired and practiced. When given the necessary training, coaching, and tools, teachers perform with confidence and greater ease.


Providing educators with resources they need to fully implement an initiative is also critical. For example, adequate planning time for co-taught classes and teachers' manuals for each teacher are essential. Without the necessary resources, the school community may experience frustration, which may causes teacher and administrators to give up before reaching the goal of institutionalization.


Each of the key players involved with the initiative must identify what will motivate them to participate fully. Teachers may be motivated to begin co-teaching to help their students be more successful. Administrators may want to create more collaborative schools. When people exhibit resistance to an initiative, motivators need to be addressed to determine if the implementers' needs are being met. Resistance sends a red flag signaling exploration of our needs and motivations for adopting new initiatives. Working through resistance leads to transformational organizational change (Markham, 1999).


Implementing a new program with fidelity, as it was designed to be implemented, is vital. Taking shortcuts oftentimes results in limited outcomes. For example, assigning classes that contain more special education students than general education students and placing all at-risk students in that same classroom may sabotage the success of an inclusive program. Classrooms should reflect the natural proportions of the special education population in the school. Further, if closing the achievement gap was a school's goal for implementing inclusion, faculty members may not see the results they anticipated if the teachers did not have enough planning time to fully implement co- teaching.

Sustained Implementation

Schools need to strategically plan for initiatives in order for them to be sustained. The cycle of continually adopting and abandoning new initiatives each year creates cynicism. School personnel will be less willing to put forth the effort to implement a new initiative if they believe it isn't fully supported. In order to reach the goal of sustaining institutionalized initiatives, school planning teams should take the time to ensure the critical components are in place over time-typically multiple school years. Adopting new initiatives and moving schools from the present to the future involves change that takes time. With careful planning, we can mange the barriers and experience success (Bridges, 2003).

  • Bridges, W. (2003). Managing transitions. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
  • Lippitt, M. (2003). Leading complex change. Tampa Bay: Enterprise Management.
  • Markham, D. (1999). Spiritlinking leadership. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press.
  • Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Figure 1