Focusing On the Common Good

Attending a school that implements RTI truly has its benefits. Increased student achievement, focused instruction, and carefully planned training and professional development, just to name a few. As we think about the development of a schoolwide RtI framework, let’s take a look at Bobby Boondocker, a student who will attend kindergarten the next school year at his local elementary school.

Bobby Boondocker is excited. The next year he will get to go to school and be a kindergartner! He can’t wait. In May, he and his mom go to the elementary school so that the school staff can do some tests with him…something called “Kindergarten Roundup.” When he arrives at school, a nice lady takes him into a room and she weighs him and checks to see how tall he is. In another room he hops on one foot, catches a ball, and he gets to run around the gym. In the last room they ask him to name his numbers, colors, and letters of the alphabet. At the end of all the testing, he and his mom sit with the kindergarten teacher and the school principal and they tell his mom and him how he did on the tests. Basically, he is ready to go! At the end of the meeting, the principal hands Bobby’s mom a pamphlet about something called “RtI.” On the way home, Bobby asks him mom, “What’s RtI?” His mom explains, “The school will do some tests when you start school next year and teach you how to read at your level. After doing the assessments, you will be grouped with other children who have similar reading abilities, with a focus on skills. The skills are more focused, so the teacher can work specifically on your needs and the needs of the every student in the school. The teacher told me that everyone will get reading instruction together, and then all students will go to a one hour, small group for more instruction. She told me that everyone will be getting reading instruction for at least 90 minutes a day. All students will be given assessments throughout the year to see if the instruction is improving your reading. The teacher called this ‘progress monitoring.’ It’s new this year, so I am excited to see how it works.”

The next September, Bobby starts kindergarten. The first few weeks fly by as he learns about the routines of the school. For the first weeks of school, the teacher spends a lot of time “finding out what Bobby knows and what he can do.” At the end of the second week, the teacher announces that all of the students will be put into special groups. The groups will help the students as they learn to read.

I use Bobby to demonstrate that while the school described above does resemble a traditional school in many ways, the RtI process can be detected Bobby’s story by the mention of assessments at the beginning of the year (screening), the focus on specific reading skills for instruction, the 90 minute reading block, and the progress monitoring. Bobby is lucky because he is being educated in a school where the staff have come together to implement the RtI process with and for the students at his school.

When a school decides to move to an RtI process, a lot of changes have to be made by the school staff. Moving to a school-wide RtI Framework in a school is a major undertaking. During the next 3 to 5 years, this school will create a new schedule to accommodate longer blocks of reading time and Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. They will get a heavy dose of professional development on the core reading curriculum and the Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading interventions. They will spend time learning about the impact of the screening and progress monitoring assessments and how to use these assessments to monitor student achievement and their own instructional practice. Most importantly, they will learn how to collaborate around data and how to make decisions as they problem solve student academic needs on a consistent basis. The changes in the school are easily made by some, while others will be stretched. How a school “does business” changes dramatically. If the school rallies around the research on RtI implementation, then the school can act on and address the changes needed for implementation. In essence, the school moves to a “common good.”

Dictionaries basically describe the common good as:

“…certain general conditions that are...equally to everyone's advantage. The common good, then, consists primarily of having the systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend on and work to benefit all people.”

So, how is RtI “to everyone’s advantage?” How does “everyone benefit” through RtI implementation in a school?

Most notably, The RtI process benefits children. Increasing student achievement, specifically in the areas of reading, math, and behavior, substantially over time is the greatest benefit. The research on RtI implementation demonstrates that when replicated as defined in the literature, student growth and achievement is greatly increased.

Teachers also benefit from implementation. In some schools, the old assumptions about student learning are drastically changed to address student needs and their own instructional practice. Concerning teachers, the biggest change is that the focus moves from adults to children. As adults learn and apply the concepts and process identified in the RtI research, a delivery system is created that depends on data to address and support instruction and student needs. The conversations move from “I think,” or “I feel,” to “What does the data say?” The “common good” moves from the individual needs of teachers to the individual needs of children.

We all know that teachers are influential. We all know that teachers will have a life-long impact on the children that they teach. When schools and teachers rally around the research of RtI implementation they truly have the opportunity to influence student learning, impact students for the rest of their lives, and (most importantly) contribute to the future of the common good.
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