Educators become very familiar with buzzwords each year. The ideas and concepts do not necessarily change, but the words do. Differentiated instruction, growth mindset, rigor, evidence-based… these are just a few of the terms that every educator today hears on a daily basis. Another one that we hear a lot right now is response to intervention, or simply RTI. The problem with buzzwords is that educators can sometimes use them without fully understanding what they mean.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a Solution Tree conference in New Orleans. The conference was on RTI (Response to Intervention) and the keynote speakers were; Mike Mattos, Luis Cruz, Nicole Dimich Vagle, and Brian Butler. This was, without a doubt, the best conference I have ever attended. Each session I went to was engaging and purposeful. Sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed because of the amount of knowledge each presenter had to share. Yet, anytime I had a question each one of these renowned educational leaders sat down and patiently worked through my hang ups with me.
I went down to New Orleans with a limited view of RTI. I thought RTI was just pulling students out of class for make up work or reteaching. Maybe it includes some one on one tutoring time. I thought that if our school simply built our schedule around providing this time, then we just needed a little training on best intervention practices and we were good to go.
I was so very wrong.
On the way home my husband asked me “so what is RTI?” This question was met with complete and utter silence. RTI is so much larger than just some interventions and pull outs. It is the way a school approaches education all together. RTI is the mission of the school that says that ALL students learn grade level content or higher. It is the way teachers plan together. It is the way teachers teach and collaborate together. It is the way teachers use data to drive tier 1 and tier 2 instruction. It is the screening process to identify students who have years of educational gaps for tier 3 instruction. It is the way that the entire school comes together to teach academic and behavioral skills to students. All of those pieces are still not a comprehensive explanation of RTI, but it is a start.
Upon returning to work I had a debrief session with my administrator who sent me to this conference. He asked me what my top three recommendations were for the school. This was a tough question, but I knew I was going to be asked this and had spent a lot of time considering my answer.
- Teachers have to have a common time to plan together. This is a school wide effort and every teacher has to be involved and committed.
- Teachers need to identify their 3-5 essential standards for the grade/content area. These standards are the must haves for all students before they leave that class.
- With my specific school functioning on a block schedule, I said we needed to help train teachers on how to use the time they have to provide tier 1 (regular day to day teaching practices) and tier 2 (reteaching for the students who did not understand after the first time) interventions within the schedule. Neither of these interventions should be done with a pull out system where children are missing other classes.
Each school will have different needs, but someone has to start the process. The top three recommendations for any school are the building blocks that will start the restructuring of education that is long overdue. So if you are just starting to have RTI conversations and are looking to make the change here is my advice.
Do not expect everything to happen over night. Implementing all of the pieces will take years. RTI is a long and ongoing process, but it is worth the outcome. As an administrator be prepared for push back from your staff who are not seeing immediate results. As an educator understand this is a marathon and not a sprint.
I was speaking with a principal at a PLC school and I used the term “teacher buy-in” and she very kindly said that she prefers to use the word “commitment”. One of the core aspects of RTI is collective responsibility among the entire staff. It takes the entire staff committing to the mission so that all students can learn grade level or higher content.
The guiding coalition is the name for the RTI committee responsible for the implementation and guidance of the RTI processes and systems. Each school needs to identify a team of the most qualified people for this committee. This should not be a volunteer based team, but rather the administrators need to identify which people can help run the school-wide RTI system most effectively. This team has to meet regularly. Once a month is not going to be adequate, especially at the beginning of the implementation process. I would recommend weekly as the school is starting the RTI process.
Professional Learning Communities
Having a team of educators to learn from each other on a weekly basis is crucial to RTI and is a non-negotiable. There is not a set schedule that will work for every school. Each school has to commit to making PLC time a priority and all teachers have to commit to functioning together as a unit. This does not mean that instruction should look the same in each class. Part of PLC discussion is to see how each teacher taught content differently to learn from one another.
As of right now with the structure of standards in the United States, there are too many standards per grade. Teachers struggle to teach all of them in a school year. As educators, we all know that some students will not master all of the standards each year. To make this feat more manageable, each content team (including SPED and ESL) needs to define 3-5 essential standards that teachers commit to, and that all of their students will master by the end of the school year.
Do not try and do too much your first year. Tier 3 can come later on down the road, so just focus on getting the ground work set for the entire structure. These changes do not have to start at the top. Teachers are the ones working with students every day. Start implementing little changes to reflect RTI and it will catch on. I received the book “Taking Action: A Handbook for RTI at Work” by Austin Buffum, Mike Mattos, and Janet Malone. This is a great resource for anyone who is wanting to learn more. Please email me with any of your stories about implementing RTI, including what has worked and what has not worked, because we are in this together.