Climbing the SIOP Mountain

By Amy Washamamy_washam

“I have been SIOP trained!” Whenever I hear educators say these words, the follow up question is, “Do you implement the features of SIOP into your lessons, and if so, to what degree?” Receiving SIOP training is only the first step to becoming a high-implementing SIOPer. I often use the analogy of climbing a mountain, a SIOP mountain. For most educators, the SIOP training only makes you aware that the SIOP Mountain exists. You do not begin to ascend the SIOP Mountain until you implement the features consistently into your lessons. And you do not summit the SIOP Mountain, become a high-implementer, without lots of experience implementing the features.

While I know quite a bit about implementing the SIOP Model, I am not an experienced mountain climber. So to continue this analogy, I searched, “How to climb a mountain,” and found some striking similarities between the extreme sport of mountain climbing and learning to implement the SIOP Model to a high degree (see

I found out that climbing a mountain requires preparation that includes training, researching the environmental conditions on the mountain, practicing your climbing skills, practicing using your equipment, and it also helps to work with other more experienced climbers. This should all sound pretty familiar to anyone who has learned to implement the SIOP Model well. Training is important, but you also have to implement—begin climbing the mountain—before you can become a high-implementing SIOPer.  

In this article, I learned that when on a mountain, “Inexperience, poor planning, and inadequate equipment can all contribute to injury or death, so knowing what to do matters.” And here the analogy breaks down a bit since poor teaching does not usually result in serious injury or death, thank goodness! But inexperience with implementing the SIOP features does lead to low levels of implementation. To minimize the danger, the article advises novice climbers select easier mountains to climb while they develop their skills and learn to use their equipment. I’m not sure that an “easier” classroom exists. All classes have their challenges, but nevertheless, teachers have to gain practice implementing the features, and it is impractical to think anyone can be an expert the first time we practice a new skill. In the classroom, knowing what to do matters, but it takes practice to know how to implement the features of the SIOP Model effectively.

During SIOP Inter-Rater Reliability training, we watch classroom lessons of teachers who are climbing the SIOP Mountain, some for the first time. The lessons we watch demonstrate various levels of SIOP implementation. We use the SIOP Protocol to rate the level of implementation of the components and features in each lesson and discuss our ratings to try and determine what effective instruction looks like, feature by feature. 

So how do we know when a lesson works? How do we know when we have become high-implementers of the SIOP Model? The Internet article on mountain climbing suggests that climbers are doing it right when the sport becomes an exciting, exhilarating, and rewarding experience. For educators, watching our students learn and make progress toward meeting their objectives is exciting, exhilarating, and rewarding. And that is when we know that we have learned to implement the SIOP features to a high-degree—when our students are meeting their objectives…and thus, when our students are learning!

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