Coaching: The Answer to the Implementation Dip

by Dr. Sue Chapman, Author, Math Solutions
December 07th, 2018

left arrow All Blog Posts

Educators know what a good mathematics classroom looks like (see the Math Solutions Instructional Practices Inventory) and we want to provide this type of learning environment for every one of our students. Unfortunately, implementation of research-based instructional practices across all mathematics classrooms has proven challenging. This is due, in part, to a phenomenon known as “the implementation dip” (Center for Public Education, 2013).

The implementation dip is a normal part of any learning experience, a time when a learner builds the skills required for implementation of new learning. At this stage, practice often looks awkward and feels uncomfortable.

A couple of months ago, my 90-year-old mother bought her first smart phone. Mom was excited about all she could do with this new tool and wanted to become proficient. But she struggled to remember the steps she needed to follow. She did not yet know how to swipe and tap proficiently. As she experimented, she would accidentally change settings and move apps to places where she could no longer find them.

Here’s the danger of the implementation dip – it is the point in learning when there’s the greatest chance that a learner will give up. Sadly, teachers often give up on implementing new instructional practices because these practices feel clumsy and their impact on students is not yet visible.

Eventually, my mother stopped using her smartphone. It was just easier to call family members on her traditional phone rather than trying to send a text. It had been fun to take photos with the phone but it was hard to remember how to share them. When Mom needed to look up a phone number or make an appointment or check the weather, by habit she went to her Rolodex or the calendar on her desk or the thermometer on the wall.

When teachers are learning new instructional practices, coaching helps them push through the implementation dip. A coach is a learning partner who can scaffold learning by modeling targeted practices and providing feedback as the teacher tries on these new practices. A coach serves as a learning guide by breaking new learning into manageable steps. The goal of coaching is to build the teacher’s capacity for independent implementation of the new practices. Coaches know that as a teacher grows her instructional skill set, she is also growing in efficacy and the belief that she can continue to refine her instructional craft through self-coaching.

I shared the concept of the implementation dip with Mom and encouraged her to not give up on her new learning. It’s important to my mother that she push through her implementation dip and become proficient using her smartphone. I promise to be at her side in this learning journey. “Perhaps,” Mom suggested, “the word ‘dip’ stands for ‘Development in Progress’.”

Questions for reflection and discussion:

  • Think of a time you experienced the implementation dip in your own learning? What internal and external resources did you draw on to help you push through this early phase in the learning process?
  • What are some ways you support teachers as they take on the challenge of learning to integrate new instructional practices into their repertoire of strategies?
  • How might understanding of the implementation dip help teachers and students to approach learning with a growth mindset?


Math Solutions Instructional Practices Inventory



Sue Chapman, Professional Learning Specialist Math Solutions

Sue Chapman is a professional educator, presenter, and author who has devoted over 30 years to instructional improvement and mathematics education. Throughout her career, Sue has served and taught in several different areas of professional education, including instructional and leadership positions. Sue’s passion for professional learning and her ability to inspire teachers to come together around a shared vision of success have been instrumental in helping schools and districts develop systems and internal capacity to achieve continuous improvement of mathematics instruction.



Subscribe to Our Blog