As with any change process, the hardest part is to build consensus to ensure that the change is lasting and positive. We took some special steps to ensure that the implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI) would be successful and that it would not be another flash in the pan.
The first step that we took was to form a leadership/assessment team. Our team consisted of the reading specialist, the special education teacher, the school counselor, our instructional facilitator, and myself, the principal. The purpose of this team was to gather information and data that would lead to an increase in student knowledge and skills. These people were chosen because of their key positions within the school and also their expertise in working with and analyzing student data. Many of these people are well respected among the staff and are looked to as role models in our building. No classroom teachers were chosen simply because their main focus is in the classroom and we did not want to overburden them with other duties that were outside of their classroom. We emphasized to the teachers that we wanted them to continue to meet the needs of students in their own classrooms and not focus on the school as a whole; this was a relief to many of them. After doing a lot research and looking at No Child Left Behind, it became very obvious to us that using an RTI method to improve student performance was the best way to go. Another clincher was the fact that as we delved deeper and deeper into what RTI was and how it had the possibility to really address the individual needs of each student, the staff became more and more excited about the possibilities. In fact, at the end of the school year last spring I proposed that we may want to wait another year to fully implement RTI because I was concerned that we may not have all of our interventions in place, and this suggestion was met with a resounding no; the staff wanted to implement our RTI model in fall and I needed to get out of the way.
The next step was to look at data. I would like to take a look at a couple of pitfalls that occurred when we began to look at our data. The first was that not all staff members were comfortable or knowledgeable about data. We had to take some time to train staff about what some of the numbers meant and how to interpret them to make sense for our specific situation. The members of the assessment team were perfect for this because they had experience in looking at data and were well respected by the staff. The biggest eye opener came in the form of some teachers who took these data very personally. When the data showed that some students were not doing well, teachers took this as a personal assault to their teaching ability. Teachers were leery to look at data, as they were afraid that it was going to be used against them. We had to spend a lot time talking about the fact that even though the data showed that students were not performing well and that we were going use these data to help improve student performance, this was not meant as a "gotcha" for teachers. After a few tears and heart-to-heart talks, we now look at a data in a brutally open and honest manner. Our teachers have come to appreciate what the data are telling them and use that information as a weapon to fight for what our students need. They use data to adjust instruction and curricula to ensure that students are meeting standards. Because we have just started with RTI, we will also be using data to determine the effectiveness of the interventions that we use with students.
For a final consensus-building activity, we were able to take most of the staff to the Teton Institute this last summer. This institute focuses heavily on RTI and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). The trip was a tremendous opportunity for our staff to listen to some of the leaders in the field of RTI and also to discuss how best to implement RTI in our school. It further strengthened our commitment to RTI by allowing us to create a common foundation and hear success stories of other schools that had implemented RTI.
Surprisingly to us, parents bought into this process rather easily. We had an open house and showed them that by looking at specific data we would be able to pinpoint the specific skills that their children needed help with. Then we showed that we were going to provide a means through RTI to address these needs and ensure that their students were getting the necessary knowledge and skills they needed to be successful later on in life. Parents loved this; many of them commented about how wonderful it will be to know what to work on at home with their children and not have to guess why sometimes their students were not being successful at school. We also spend a lot of time at parent–teacher conferences talking individually with parents about the specific needs of their children. By doing this we have built quite a bit of support in the community.
We were lucky to be able to build such broad and enthusiastic consensus in our school for RTI. Our staff recognized the need to improve student performance and was thirsty for the best possible means to do this; RTI provides this means.
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