RtI Just Won't Fit Into an Old Instructional Model



We all know that in the field of education, programs and change initiatives come and go. As we look at implementing RtI, we know that RtI is a process, not a program. It is a framework that encompasses a wide range of interconnected activities and programs that come together to create an instructional delivery model based on sound research. The cultural shifts that must occur in a school to implement RtI based on these sound research practices can be overwhelming, especially if a school tries to implement RtI practices within an old instructional model. When I speak to an old instructional model, I am referring to the typical instruction found in any typical town in the USA. These schools teach the curriculum basically as it has been taught over the past 30 years.

In advising those who are trying to implement an RtI model in their school within the current way we have provided education over the past half century, my advice is--"Don't!" Paddle upstream without a paddle; it’ll be easier. As stated earlier, when relying on established educational models, we have had a hard time getting innovations to "stick." What we can do is take what we have learned from the past and be proactive about RtI implementation. Again, some initiatives have worked, and some have not, but the ones that have worked have done so because the adults made the necessary changes needed to guarantee success. As you begin RtI implementation think about the past as you prepare for the future.


Programs and initiatives do and have come and gone. Talk to a veteran teacher and they can't count the number of "bandwagon" initiates that they have watched pass through their schools. Usually a program might last a year, maybe two. Some common reasons for the failures might be:


  • The program was implemented from the top with no constituency input in the decision to implement.
  • The teachers or the administrators did not support the program.
  • The program was not monitored or evaluated for effectiveness.
  • Teachers could not see the relevance for using the program in their classrooms.
  • Professional development was weak and there were no follow-up professional development opportunities.


RtI is not a "bandwagon"initiative. RtI is here to stay. The research around RtI is too strong, and we will never see RtI slide out the door like other programs and initiatives. Some schools will do a better job than others when implementing RtI, though, because they know that to do it well that they have to move away from current reality and move to a system of change that encompasses instructional delivery in new ways. Other schools may not be as successful because they will try to implement RtI within what they are currently doing in their schools, not making the full-scale changes needed for full implementation. Many schools want to hold on to the past, so they try to fit RtI into the current reality--the old instructional model. I have watched these schools struggle with implementation. I have come to see these struggles center around three basic premises: 1) Process, 2) Product, or 3) Relationships. A definition has been provided below for each of the three premises:


  • Process-The how? When implementing RtI, schools need to look at the school vision or purpose, the processes and procedures for decision making, the collaboration model, the creation of the schedule, the fidelity of implementation, the problem solving process, how data will be used to make instructional decisions, and/or the professional development plan. This is a short list as there are many more RtI elements for implementation that could be added here.
  • Product-The what? Here I am talking about the screening process and selected assessments, the core curriculum, the diagnostic assessments selected, the progress monitoring assessments selected, and the evidence-based instructional practices used.
  • Relationships-The who? All of the constituents involved in the implementation process. This includes the local school board, the superintendent, the principals, the teachers, the parents and the students. Heck, if you can get him, the school janitor!


As you consider the processes, products and relationships in your own school, you may discover the reason your school is struggling with RTI implementation is that you are trying to maintain an old instructional model. The best advice that I can give you is, "Throw off the notion of trying to implement RtI within your current framework." It just won't be effective. You might have limited success, but the research on RtI implementation is very clear: Full scale change needs to occur for successful implementation. In order to implement RtI well, the structures and roles within a school must be changed to meet the needs of the students. If you are implementing RtI in your school and you are struggling, chances are your school has not made the changes necessary needed for full implementation.

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