At last count, three systems – the Canberra Goulburn, Tasmania, and Melbourne dioceses – have declared themselves to be following the explicit teaching path.

Similarly, DEC Secretary Murat Dizdar, himself an ex-teacher, is attempting to turn the behemoth Department of Education NSW onto best practice. Together, these systems represent a huge number of students and teachers.

The Strong Beginnings report into initial teacher education recommended the mandating of core content about the brain and learning, among other things. Those mandates have been agreed to by the States.

The links between explicit teaching and NAPLAN outcomes recently made the front page of the hard-copy newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Things couldn’t look better. Or could they? Recent conversations and observations have led me to believe that caution may be needed.

One such conversation is about fidelity. There is a certain class of social media profile that concerns itself with micro-level critiques of real teacher practice that can be summed up with the cry, “You’re not doing it right!”

I am in two minds about whether this is helpful.

Firstly, does it set the bar for good teaching so high that everything is up for criticism?

Secondly, does it present teaching as so technical that practitioners are overwhelmed before they begin?

I remember reading an article about Siegfried Engelman’s theories about example creation and thinking, first, I’m doing it wrong, closely followed by, I give up.

If an experienced teacher thinks this, what might novices think of the Science of Learning (proper noun) and all its technicalities?

Some fairly recent Grattan research showed that teachers already believe that the workload required to be a “good” teacher is too high.

Literacy expert Emina McLean wrote a blog post recently with the cracker title, “Has the Science of Reading become a rampant thought-terminating cliché?”

At first, I placed the message in the “You’re not doing it right!” camp.

Without being an expert on Science of Reading in the early years, I thought, isn’t it better to just get started? On reflection, I think Emina is right in a number of important ways.

She points to all the lethal mutations of SOR that actually hinder reading and literacy. For example, overreliance on decodables and dogma about the evils of comprehension strategies – all of which ultimately amount to a dangerous surface-level understanding.

Emina isn’t the only teacher I have observed worrying about this. It’s not unusual for a daily review to spill over into the substantive part of a lesson, or for coaching advice to be badly misinterpreted in the absence of teacher knowledge and understanding about the why.

This can be read as a critique of keen teachers, or we could slow down, step back, and think about best practice in change management.

Full pivot, holus-bolus adoption and dogma can not only lead to lethal mutations but can prompt feelings of fear and even anger.

In despair, I cancelled my English Teacher’s Association membership years ago, but colleagues have reported a Facebook group pile-on in response to a recent Sydney Morning Herald article on explicit teaching.

Responses like these come from a vacuum of knowledge, where people’s understanding of SOR amounts to myths about non-words and a dearth of “real” literature.

With all the publicity, it’s easy to miss the fact that the Canberra Goulburn system transformation has been happening for four years.

Several of those early years were about providing the professional learning and support needed for sustainable change.

Professional understanding is essential for making sure that teachers will eventually see the results they are seeking.

Strong beliefs in inquiry learning and balanced literacy can be hard to shift and many teachers report experiencing deep pain about the years they wasted on ineffective practice, especially when it comes to early years reading.

Teachers need time, resources and understanding.

Lethal mutations and haphazard or dogmatic implementation may not produce the student outcomes that will enable teachers to see their impact. This sets teachers up for failure.

I can hear a national cry coming from the future, where all the sceptics roar, “I told you so!”

I recently facilitated a workshop for Dr Nathaniel Swain, where I just taught the TAPP in TAPPLE. It was difficult!

It’s not incredibly technical on the surface, but even the idea of teaching first and having a CFU (strategies to check for understanding) question prepared is a huge first step for teachers. Changes in practice are more difficult than they sound.

The elephant in the room is the retraining required to make this policy and cultural shift not only stick, but actually improve student outcomes.

One recent conversation I had was about whether a “meat and potatoes” approach to teaching would be enough.

What I mean by this is that we initially set aside technicalities, teach first, check for understanding, and move students to independence when they’re ready.

But we also know that there is a hierarchy of skills needed before we can teach anyone anything. Behaviour and attentional control need to be explicitly taught to teachers as much as to students.

What I would like to see is an acknowledgement of the capacity-building that’s needed. It doesn’t happen at scale through mandates and good will. Teachers can’t be expected to pivot and succeed without the retraining needed.

There is too much at stake for this project to stumble and fall.

This article was first published on the author's blog. Read the original post in full here.