On March 12th I posted a blog titled Looking For Feedback From Educators telling you that I was attending the National Association of Elementary School Principals National Convention to get feedback from principals from all across the nation about their experiences with RTI implementation in their schools. It became very clear to me that my investigation would take me down a somewhat different path than I had anticipated. I still encountered some principals who gave me a blank stare when I asked them about RTI, but most principals I spoke with were implementing RTI and were looking for answers to deeper questions. Below I have outlined some of the common threads that came out of those conversations:
A Search for in Depth Professional Development
Many principals have moved past the informational stages of RTI implementation. These principals are deep into implementation and they are searching for professional development that addresses specific RTI implementation "conundrums" that have occurred in their schools. As an example, many principals asked me what to do for the students that are not responding to the interventions used in a school. This is a "nuts-and-bolts" kind of question, and one that may not be answered in an introductory overview of RTI implementation. This type of question involves everything from researching strategies to scheduling extended learning time for students. It is not easily answered. So practitioners, researchers, and presenters, if you are listening, it may be time to move away from an "overview" of RTI to professional development activities that are deeper in scope and address those hard questions that are starting to come up as schools are 2 to 3 years into RTI implementation.
Many principals talked about a waning in implementation energy. After 2 to 3 years in the RTI process, the energy for implementation has slowed down. Maintaining the vision over an extended period of time, especially if the rate of success is not as high as expected, can kill any innovation in a school. Ultimately, principals, teacher leaders, and staff need to have a good understanding of the change process and how to identify "implementation roadblocks" and what to do about them when they see them. If we are going to make the full scale change in schools regarding RTI that we crave and want, then we need to address the notion historically demonstrated in schools that "this too shall pass" by helping teachers see the benefit of RTI and helping them to begin to change their beliefs about teaching and learning. Only then will we see sustainable change taking place.
Principals spoke of three issues surrounding research-based interventions. The first was that teachers are not researchers, they are practitioners. The second is that teachers and principals do not have time to research interventions for their school. The third, and the most frustrating, according to the principals that I spoke with, is that many companies claim to have "research-based" programs available to sell to schools. Yet many of these programs are very weak in any type of research support, or they are not based on any research at all. This is very troublesome for schools, as even in good times schools have very limited financial resources. Some principals told me that they are aware of where to go to get information about research-based “best practices” for RTI implementation. The RTI Action Network, the NASDSE website, the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Center on Response to Intervention are great places to find information concerning research- based strategies to use in schools.
Based on my conversations with principals, we have come a long way in providing services using an RTI model in our schools. We are farther down the road regarding implementation, and the question has moved from "What is RTI?" to "How do we get better at RTI Implementation?". The questions now being asked are much deeper, and there is a pursuit for a greater understanding. This is good news. It is very good news indeed! As we find answers to our questions, students can only benefit. After all, we all become educators because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. Implementing the RTI process is an excellent way of doing just that!
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