Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

To produce socially significant impacts for children and families, it is important to include implementation teams throughout the implementation stages.

Tamara Halle, Allison Metz, and Ivelisse Martinez-Beck, Applying Implementation Science in Early Childhood Programs and Systems[1]

Teams are groups of individuals who are charged with monitoring and supporting each step of Plan-Do-Check-Act. They can include ECE staff (for example, administrators and practitioners) and stakeholders (for example, community members, parents, technical assistance providers, and experts). In the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation brief mentioned above, the authors (Metz and colleagues) state the following: “Ideally, teams should be established at every level of a program or system or to target different aspects of an initiative. For example, for a complex initiative such as a state-wide implementation of an early childhood assessment, separate implementation teams may be established at the state, regional, district, and school levels to monitor and support the initiative.”[2]

The work of going from an idea to daily operations (in other words, from planning to doing) is done by teams of individuals, often called implementation teams. Teams have key responsibilities to guide the PDCA process, ensure implementation, engage community members, and create an environment conducive to implementation. Teams should include members who represent varied perspectives on the project, for example, from teaching young children to program administration to policy.

Teams are critical to success. Evidence suggests that the use of competent implementation teams can produce a higher rate of success.[3] In one study, over 80 percent of the locations where implementation teams were used were able to sustain the initiative for six or more years. This is in contrast to previous research where implementation teams were not part of the implementation plan; for example, in one such study, only 14 percent of sites sustained the innovation.[4] As Higgins, Weiner, and Young state, “Implementation Teams have been called a new lever for organization change in education.”[5]

An Integrated Stage-Based Framework for Implementation of Early Childhood Programs and Systems provides detailed information on teams (for example, selection and membership, communication protocols, and meeting frequency). The brief uses the stages of implementation science, which closely mirror the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, as the framework.[6]

Example of Teams

From 2007 to 2012, the New Hampshire Bureau of Special Education’s federal State Personnel Development Grant—NH RESPONDS: Professional Development for Excellence in Education)[7] —supported a statewide training and technical assistance network to build the capacity of ECE programs and K–12 schools to implement response-to­intervention (RTI) systems.[8] Teams were integral to the implementation of RTI at every level. They were complemented by a Statewide Advisory Board, which met quarterly and advised the leadership team on the direction, outcomes, and sustainability of the program.

At the state level, there was a leadership team, as well as multiple capacity building work teams. The leadership team included representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Education, the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (intermediary organization), the Parent Information Center (intermediary organization), and an outside consulting firm. The team’s purpose was to carry out activities; offer guidance to solve emerging issues faced by schools; ensure that activities were implemented; coordinate with related programs; and advise NH RESPONDS staff of the needs of children, teachers, administrators, principals, specialists, and early intervention personnel.

The capacity building work teams were responsible for carrying out grant activities and for alignment with similar initiatives. These four teams—Institutions of Higher Education, Early Childhood Education, Evaluation, and Secondary Transition Services—each had a group leader and five or more members. For specifics on the purpose and membership of each of the capacity building work teams, please see the Resources section of this guide.

At the intermediary level, district and school administrative unit (SAU) leadership teams coordinated and oversaw the program by supporting demonstration sites, created a plan to support hiring and retaining highly qualified staff, used data-based decisionmaking, and shared data with the program.

At the site level (schools and early childhood programs), collaboration (leadership) teams were responsible for ensuring that the RTI program was understood, implemented, and maintained site-wide. Specific implementation activities of these teams included identifying key problems, conducting a site analysis, revising the RTI program based on data, and communicating with staff and families.

Various resources were developed to support and monitor the teams, including the following examples:

  • The Universal Collaborative Team Checklist is a 14-item checklist on membership, mission, roles, processes (such as decisionmaking), and planning that was used to self-assess the status of priority items associated with team functioning.
  • The Early Childhood Collaborative Team Checklist is like the Universal Collaborative Team Checklist used at preschool sites. This resource measured how well the early childhood team perceived itself to be functioning and was administered twice annually in a preschool’s initial year of participation.
  • The Pre-K Leadership Checklist is used by the Preschool Leadership Team twice a year to monitor implementation of RTI.
  • The NH RESPONDS ECE Summary of RTI Implementation was developed for site teams and project staff. Site teams used it to summarize process and outcome data and to provide an overview of implementation that informed discussions. Project staff used it as a tool to understand implementation across sites and to understand training and technical assistance needs.

For more information on the tools that New Hampshire developed, please see the Resources section.


[1] Halle, T., Metz, A., & Martinez-Beck, I. (2013). Applying implementation science in early childhood programs and systems. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing. Page 36.

[2] See note 4.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Balas, E. A., & Boren, S. A. (2000). Managing clinical knowledge for health care improvement. In Yearbook of Medical Informatics 2000: Patient-Centered Systems, edited by J. Bemmel & A. T. McCray (pp.65-70). Stuttgart, Germany: Schattauer Verlagsgesellschaft.

[5] Higgins, M. C., Weiner, J., & Young, L. (2012). Implementation teams: A new lever for organizational change. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(3) 366–88.

[6] Metz, A., Naoom, S. F., Halle, T., & Bartley, L. (2015). An integrated stage-based framework for implementation of early childhood programs and systems (OPRE 2015-48). Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/es_cceepra_stage_based_framework_brief_508.pdf

[7] New Hampshire Department of Education. (n.d.). NH RESPONDS Organizational structure [Web page]. Retrieved from http://education.nh.gov/nhresponds/organizational.htm.

[8] New Hampshire Department of Education. (n.d.). NH RESPONDS: Professional Development for Excellence in Education [Web page]. Retrieved from http://education.nh.gov/nhresponds/.