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High-Leverage Approaches and Content

STRATEGY: Determine high-leverage instructional approaches and content.

With limited time and resources, it is important that schools put effort into activities that are most likely to yield positive results for students. To do so, educators at both the district and school levels should ensure that efforts are based on research and evidence, that information is communicated widely across content-area teachers and grade levels, and that student subgroups are provided access and the necessary supports to succeed when these practices are utilized. A focus on high-leverage practices allows for intentionality and can foster coherence and alignment. Furthermore, professional learning can support these practices. Emphasizing high-leverage strategies sends the signal that the district and school are engaging in what works and what has shown evidence in research.


High‐leverage instructional practices are a core set of teaching practices that, when executed effectively and consistently by teachers, promote higher gains in student learning and can create a stronger cadre of teachers. A report by TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan stated that there are nineteen high-leverage practices:

High-leverage practices are the basics of teaching. These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development. These high-leverage practices are used across subject areas, grade levels, and contexts. They are “high-leverage” not only because they matter to student learning but because they are basic for advancing skill in teaching.

High-leverage practices, according to a joint report by the Council for Exceptional Children and the CEEDAR Center, should be those that research has demonstrated can impact student achievement and be used across different content areas and grade levels. Identifying these approaches and the associated content is a necessary activity for school and district leaders; they need to guide their educators to use high-leverage instructional approaches to deliver rigorous content aligned to state standards.

First Steps to Consider

Educators will first want to understand what high-leverage practices are and deepen their understanding of what makes them effective. The success of these practices depends on basic knowledge, understanding of implementation practices, and consistent use across classrooms in a school or district. Furthermore, the ability of educators to stick to their efforts and be deliberate in the implementation is likely to result in long-lasting positive effects on student outcomes.

Quick wins

  • Choose one or two high-leverage practices and communicate evidence of their success in other settings to all staff.
  • Solicit the support of a school, teacher, or some other person or group to “pilot” the use of high-leverage practices consistently and provide close supervision and support.
  • Identify nuggets of early success and share stories broadly.
  • Create videos of students and teachers who embrace the approaches and who can speak to their success.
  • Send out success stories in parent newsletters or other communications.

First steps

  • Conduct an inventory of practices that the school or district already engages in regularly.
  • Analyze the practices, with the help of experts inside or outside of the system, to determine which ones are high leverage, based on research.
  • Determine where these practices are already evident, with success, within or outside of the system and determine how to build from these experiences.
  • Collect, organize, and share these high-leverage strategies across the system, ensuring that they are incorporated into the curricula resources and professional learning.
  • Develop a plan for how these practices will be made available to teachers across the system.
  • Plan for professional learning, including job-embedded opportunities.
  • Emphasize high-leverage strategies, support implementation, observe and praise efforts, and collect data on whole-school use, classroom and content-area use, and use with underserved groups of students.

Complexities & Pitfalls

Two main complexities and pitfalls exist in identifying and implementing high-leverage practices: (1) convincing staff that they should stop doing what they’ve been doing and try something different, and (2) ensuring that there are appropriate procedures or infrastructure in place to support the consistent use of the new practices.

Common pitfalls

  • A lack of expertise in identifying high-leverage practices that are applicable across the various disciplines and content areas.
  • Inadequate training and professional learning opportunities to use the practices in ways that meet the needs of students with different requirements.
  • Inadequate leadership capacity within key job functions in areas such as curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, Title I, special education, and English language learning.
  • A lack of supervision and oversight for implementation.
  • A lack of supportive networks and collaboration.

Guiding Questions

  • Does the school or district have a set of practices that are yielding results for students?
  • What data suggests that these practices are yielding results, and what does the data say?
  • Are subgroups of students also benefiting from these practices?
  • In what grades and content areas and for what subgroups are teachers not getting successful results for their students? What needs have been identified in those areas?
  • What process is in place to determine what gaps exist in the instructional program and how they are to be closed?
  • Who are the experts in the school and/or district who will determine the high-leverage practices that will be added or strengthened?
  • What research and/or external expertise will help to drive the work?
  • What resources (time, funding, training) are needed to build a strong infrastructure around high-leverage practices?
  • What procedures will be used to communicate, house, build capacity, and monitor the use of high-leverage instructional approaches and content?