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Fidelity

by Steve Saville





This is not a word that we have traditionally associated with education but it is one that, over the last year, has been popping up with increasing frequency in educational circles.

It is normally used when  referring to the importance of maintaining the fidelity, the integrity, the tika of a programme or initiative being implemented at a particular school, or across a number of schools. 


It is normally being used to refer to something being introduced to a school (like Structured Literacy for example) and the need to implement it and sustain it in a way that respects it and protects the integrity of the research and mahi behind it. 


The argument being that if you accept this koha, this gift, then you have a duty to maintain its integrity as it was intended otherwise it becomes a watered down version of the original and therefore will fail to achieve the goals it was developed for and introduced into a school to achieve.


No arguments with any of this, it makes perfect sense.


But it presents only half the picture.


If fidelity is used only in reference to an external support or initiative being accepted into a school then it will always be a case of ‘doing to’ a school - and could compromise the need to ‘do with a school.’ At worst it could actually dis-empower a school as they could come to expect, and be dependent, on external forces telling them what to do, how to do it and when to do it,  and, as a result,  lose their own sense of context and identity as they desperately seek solutions to the problems that prevent every ākonga achieving to the best of their ability (and beyond).


For a school to be able to protect the fidelity of the initiative/koha that is being offered they have to be aware of another fidelity… their own.


Before a school can preserve and protect any initiative they have to know who they are.


Really know who they are.


They have to know what they stand for, what their vision means, who their community is. They have to be very clear about their own identity and how they can protect and nurture it. 

Easy words - but the way to ensure that this fidelity is deep and strong is a little more challenging. 


This true sense of contextualized fidelity can only be achieved through the development of meaningful, strong, respectful and honest relationships. It is the development of mutually respectful relationships based on the concept of 'Ako' that an environment can grow where fidelity can be protected.



There has to be a sense of collective purpose and aspiration that unites. There must be an identifiable common purpose that drives everyone together collectively and this can only be achieved after everyone has been heard, acknowledged, and seen as a person of worth. It is only after an individual sees their personal worth that they are truly able to buy into collective institutional purpose.


An important aspect of developing this environment comes from understanding, valuing and deliberately planning for discursive interactions, where communication of sharing of opinions and knowledge is normalized and prioritized. 



It is this collective purpose that is an integral part of the internal fidelity that needs to be defended by all members of that particular school community.


In the same way members of the school community have to examine and understand and feel comfortable with moving from a sense of cooperation to collaboration. Both are necessary, but real institutional strength can only come from the collaboration that is a development of cooperative practices.


In this environment leadership can move to the North-East as there is a common understanding of the purpose and intent that is driving change and there is a sense of shared ownership of that vision.




A school has to see the need for these relationships to develop by prioritizing the times and vehicles for these discussions to take place. And they have to listen.


When a school does have a sense of what it needs to protect and what internal integrity can not be compromised, when everyone is aware this has been heard and can commit to this collective vision and awareness, then - and possibly only then can they accept and absorb the koha of a new initiative in a way that will ensure it is respected and the integrity it needs is protected.


It is only when these two worlds of fidelity meet as equals that the integrity of both can fully be protected.






If that all sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry because help is on the way…

All you need to start this journey is to take a couple of small steps.


  1. Get your hands on a copy/copies of ‘Leading to the North-East’ by Russell Bishop.

  2. Focus on the first two chapters (initially) and unpack them using these highly  interactive resources here: North-East Leader's Walk Through

  3. These two resources will enable you to run a number of staff meetings, or professional learning group sessions, that will ensure staff understand the importance of fidelity and the big picture perspective of being a North-East school in a way that also ensures they have contextualized this information.

  4. In other words these resources and this process will ensure that a school manages and merges the two essential fidelities.

  5. Have fun!


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1 Comment


Mandy Pye
Mandy Pye
Apr 01

Thanks Steve. This principle of Fidelity (the Schools' Fidelity) is what takes a programme (like structured literacy) from an external source and makes it a "tool" within their own school context. I agree. You totally need to maintain the fidelity of the programme so it is effectively used and the fidelity of the school by making it work for your learners in your environment. I am glad you recognise both in your blog.

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