The first time someone told me to teach a program with "fidelity" was roughly 10 years ago and I remember doing a double take when I was told that if I JUST teach the math program with FIDELITY my students will learn. If I don't, that's why they don't get it. I even tried it once, for a hot second. And then I knew it was a buzzword that had to go. But it is still swirling in the heads of people that make decisions about teaching...but never actually do it.
What does it mean to teach with "fidelity?" It means you are loyal to the program. You teach it EXACTLY as it says to teach it. And you never ever waiver. And that is an AMAZING plan! If you want your students to fall behind or to get stuck wherever they may be in their learning. I fought it in the beginning because I felt like I needed to be a voice for my students. I tried to teach a math lesson with "fidelity" to my 5th graders all those years ago. And in the middle of the lesson I could clearly see that some of them were completely and totally lost, while others had already figured it all out and were ready to move on. But my directive was to teach with "fidelity" and apparently that meant that the kids who were lost, and the kids that already mastered the skill, would just have to suck it up. What was important? Teaching the PROGRAM with fidelity. I have never and will never teach a program with fidelity. I refuse to, due to the fact that my job is to teach the KIDS and not PROGRAMS. Thankfully for me, nobody has asked me to teach anything with fidelity in some time.
I was talking about the amazing resources teachers create with one of my nerdy teacher friends and she said, "I feel like fidelity is the antonym of differentiation." She is so smart. The idea of teaching a program with fidelity is everything that is wrong with our schools. People that don't teach, telling people that do teach, how to do something that they aren't able to do, is what is wrong with education. It's about control. It's about money in some cases (new programs cost a fortune). And it is about blame. It's about blaming teachers for the failures of our students on standardized tests. Educational "leaders" can then sit around and discuss how the teachers have failed to teach with fidelity. The worst test scores I have ever seen are from people that teach to a program. And it's not rocket science to figure out why.
Real teaching is about figuring out where your kids are, and meeting them right there. Rick Wormelli said, "Fair is not always equal." And he couldn't be more right. If you hear someone tell you to "teach with fidelity" you can be certain they haven't stood in a diverse classroom in quite some time. And if they have, they didn't do a very good job. Students come in all shapes and sizes, at every level, with emotional needs, with learning disabilities, with genius IQs, and with a plethora of experiences that makes each one of them unique. There is NO program that can meet all of their needs.
Instructional programs can be an excellent framework and starting place, but that's all they can be. Great teachers use them that way, but find innovative strategies, engaging lessons, and differentiated resources to teach each kid, on any given day, based on what THEY need and not what the program says to do next.
When you tell teachers to teach programs with fidelity, you strip your greatest resource of their ability to create and innovate and help the kids they have right in front of them. So my advice to any teacher that is told to "teach it with fidelity" is to smile and nod. And then do what you know you have to do for your students. Our kids deserve better than a canned program that promises the world. They deserve a teacher. And teachers deserve some credit.
Recently I was sitting with some administrators that I had just met. We were talking about the work I do in curriculum and assessment, and the ELA materials I create for teachers. They figured I must have the right answer since I have a doctorate in curriculum and instruction and have taught all subjects and numerous grade levels. They asked me, "How would YOU make sure that teachers teach a new program with fidelity?"
My answer was simple. I wouldn't. Ever.