Getting Your Year Off to a Great Start with Reflection and Dialogue

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    Part of my back to school activities involves participating in our district wellness check up routines. I sign up for an early time slot, forego my morning java, and show up for the routine checks – weight, muscle mass check, cholesterol check and the host of details they look for with my blood sample. While my trend in some areas may not be exactly what I’m aiming for, I have to say that I receive a relatively good report each year. While my numbers may be in a good, or safe range, that doesn’t seem to stop the nurses from reiterating the need for a solid exercise plan (to be followed), eating good an nutritious meals (does not include my coffee to coke exchange at 10:00), and managing stress in healthy ways (?). At my last visit, it gave rise to an activity I facilitated at one of our schools that I highly recommend as a back to school activity.

    I started our time together sharing my experience with the health check up because we were going to be doing the same thing in reflecting on what our data are showing four years into implementation and an off the ground dialogue regarding what are areas of strength, areas to strengthen, and a list of identified needs. The staff I was working with is not new to RtI implementation. They are at least four years strong with data reviews, but like most schools, still maturing their dialogues and data analysis.


    In advance, graphs were created showing each grade level’s fall incoming data over the last several years. They included our screening measures (DIBELS Next and MAP – added in grade 3) and our Kansas Assessment data. Each grade level visual was enlarged to poster size so it could be laid on the table like the tablecloths at some Italian restaurants. 

    Group norms were established as a best practice protocol when we engage in data discussions. With this being conducted in the fall, new staff members were introduced to the practice of establishing norms and returning staff members were able to create norms that would facilitate healthy discussions from the onset.

    Facilitating the Discussion

    A series of questions guided the reflections and dialogue. Many buildings in our district are seeing a slow change in demographics over time that are influencing the incoming strengths and needs of incoming students. This activity allows us to see and discuss the possible implications of the trend data in relation to curriculum, instruction, and environmental factors that should be considered.

    Question 1: What is the incoming status of our students this year?

    Looking at trend data stimulates our discussions around what we have seen in the past few years as a predictor of what we expect to see this year… We know that discussion should have an impact on what we think about with regard to curriculum and instruction…

    Question 2: Are we keeping kids on-track? Are we changing the risk status for those not on-track?

    Healthy schools work relentlessly to align people, practices, and programs to stretch students on-track and change the risk status for those not on track…

    Grade-level teams were to capture their observations and data summaries right on the tablemat. Like the restaurants, I provided colored markers for them to draw with – they could put exclamation points, comments, questions, reactions etc. Basically, they could interact with the data.

    The next facilitated discussions steer teams to the areas that impact the results we achieve – the foundational pieces of what we do and how we do it. Going back to the analogy with the wellness check up, I identified areas for my own reflection that included eating habits, exercise, reducing or managing stress, quality of life, and managing finances. From an RtI perspective, the areas for reflection by grade-level teams included the items listed below, which became sections within the Data Dialogues Form. For each section on the form, the teams had a scribe capture strengths, ways to strengthen, and identified needs. The building leadership team could then compile the results and determine a plan for addressing identified needs.

    Effective Delivery of Core Instruction

    We know that students benefit from research-based, carefully sequenced, explicit core curriculum and instruction.

    In this section, we reflected on adherence to the master schedule and clarity on the “must-do” list for our reading series.

    Effective Use of Workshop

    We know that teachers need time for planned differentiation to better meet the individual needs of students.

    In this section, reflections included how teachers planned and executed differentiated workshop for students on track with literacy skills. They were given consideration points related to arrangements (collaborative group work, independent work, and meeting individual needs) as well as distinguishing between student “must do’s” and “may do’s.”

    Model of Support

    We know that students in need of support need strong teaching, consistency, and for concentrated periods of uninterrupted time.

    This area included a lot of considerations including who is providing intervention (with the district mantra of the most qualified with the most in need), the duration of support (30 min. for students needing strategic support and 60 for those demonstrating the need for intensive support), where the interventions are occurring (conducive environment? Minimal transition time?), and how often the interventions are taking place (3-5x per week for those with strategic needs and daily for students with intensive needs).

    Intervention Matched to Need

    We know that interventions are most likely to be successful when they match the needs of the student.

    While it can appear simplistic, this is an area needing continual support. We continue to work hard to ensure teachers are comfortable and accurate with interpreting the data, and can carry the conversation forward when discussing implications. The child’s classroom teacher is their first and primary teacher so it is imperative that they are comfortable articulating areas of strength and needs and making recommendations for intervention. In addition, the team needs to watch the group sizes and be careful to keep them small.

    Productive and Meaningful Data Reviews/Problem Solving

    Strong teams use data as a starting point for meaningful dialogue and problem solving for groups, as well as, individual students.

    This final area of reflection led the conversation to both the frequency and quality of grade-level benchmark data reviews, progress monitoring reviews, and to the building-level problem solving for individual students when warranted.

    You can imagine that this back to school activity quickly jump-started our year. For teams who have been implementing at least 2 years, I would highly recommend this as a way to begin your efforts in the fall.
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