RTI: Professional Development and Pre-Service Teacher Preparation

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    Response to Intervention (RTI) planning and implementation will play a major role in school reform. As Bender and Shores (2007) state, "In short, this is not merely another initiative; this move to RTI promises to reform education in very significant ways, as educators in every classroom instruct and monitor progress on an individual basis for many of their students. Clearly, this is not business as usual. Within two years, it will become the responsibility of almost every teacher in the nation to develop skills for RTI and implement RTI in their classes." Planning to this extent cannot be accomplished from the top down by one or two leaders in the district. To implement all of the components of RTI effectively, including professional development, districts need to begin with a broad-based leadership team.

    The Huntington County Community School Corporation (HCCSC) started our planning process by creating a District RTI Committee consisting of central office administrators, principals, professional development coordinators, teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, parents, community leaders, representatives from higher education, and students. In selecting the principals and teachers, we made sure that all levels (elementary, middle school, and high school) and core content areas were represented in both general and special education.

    A major benefit of utilizing such a broad-based planning committee is the various perspectives that you get from members. The parents, community leaders, and students often provided those "aha" moments that really contributed to the plan. For example, the group entered into a lengthy discussion about universal screening assessments and how the scores may not be accurate due to a lack of student motivation, especially at the secondary level. The two high school students on the committee offered an interesting analysis of the problem. They explained that at no point during the testing cycles had a teacher ever explained to them why they were taking the assessments — why the scores were needed, how the scores were used, or why they needed to take them seriously. It just illustrated the point that too often education is something done to students instead of with students.

    Due to the type of complex change that we’re dealing with regarding RTI, this team should play a vital role in all aspects of planning within your district. Your primary goal is to build capacity for RTI with all of your stakeholders. That becomes a very difficult task without the input from people representing these various groups.

    There are a variety of stakeholder groups you have to build capacity with concerning RTI within your district. These groups include your School Board, administration, faculty, support staff, parents, and community members. It's primarily the role of the superintendent and assistant superintendents to build capacity with the School Board. School Board members should receive periodic presentations at public meetings to help them understand RTI so that they can support the implementation through policy and the district budget. The HCCSC School Board has supported RTI through the development of our Core Values, Mission Statement, Vision Statement, and Board Goals, which include professional development goals for board members.

    Our board and administrative team have also worked to implement a system of continuous quality improvement that assists in the implementation of initiatives like RTI. There are a variety of quality tools that districts can utilize. We developed a balanced scorecard of all of the key performance indicators that we want to monitor throughout the school year. We then pull out the most important indicators, like the percent of students reading at or above grade level, that we want to closely monitor into our district’s dashboard. Like the dashboard gauges on your car, these are the 5-7 indicators we want to pay close attention to on the performance of our district. Individual schools and classroom teachers then develop their own dashboards aligned to the district's.

    Another valuable tool to monitor the implementation of key strategies for improvement is the system-to-system (S2S) meeting. An S2S meeting is one level of the system meeting with another level to discuss performance data and the implementation of strategies to address areas of concern. For example, our superintendent conducts an S2S meeting on a regular basis with each building principal. At these meetings, the principal shares the data concerning his/her dashboard indicators. The superintendent asks the principal what strategies are being implemented to address low performing areas and how the implementation of these strategies is being monitored. As you can see, in order to properly prepare for these meetings with the superintendent, the principals need to conduct similar meetings with teachers on a regular basis.

    However, when discussing professional development, the classroom is where the rubber meets the road. "Never before has the pressure been so high to find ways to support successful teaching and learning through effective professional development" (Salpeter, 2003). The quality of a teacher is the biggest indicator of student achievement. As Marzano found is his research, if a student has a poor teacher for one year it can take several years to catch up, but if a student has a poor teacher two years in a row, that student will probably never catch up. Due to this districts need to spend a great deal of attention and resources in supporting teachers, administrators, and support staff that work with students on a daily basis.

    Initially, districts should focus most of their attention on Tier 1 of RTI. Tier 1 is the core curriculum and core instruction provided to ALL students. If your curriculum is solid and teachers are using scientifically validated instructional strategies, approximately 80% of your students should be successful. HCCSC has spent the last 4 or 5 years focusing on the following aspects of Tier 1: 

    • Curriculum Mapping to attain vertical and horizontal alignment without gaps and redundancies
    • The development of conceptual, integrated curriculum aligned with state standards
    • The HCCSC Elementary & Secondary Literacy Models that help teachers provide balanced literacy instruction; especially small, flexible guided reading groups
    • Brain-compatible instruction and Positive Behavioral Intervention Support (PBIS) using the Highly Effective Teaching Model developed by Susan Kovalik
    • Differentiated instruction
    • Data collection & analysis of our universal screening and progress monitoring tools so that teachers can use the data to drive instruction

    Our professional development plan is based on two guiding principles:

    1. Teachers cannot change a behavior or practice until they SEE what the new behavior or practice LOOKS like in a real world setting multiple times.
    2. For professional development to truly be effective and sustained, it must be accomplished with on-going COACHING in a non-threatening environment.

    To accomplish this, we have several Professional Development Coordinators that provide ongoing training, coaching, and support in Demonstration Classrooms. All of our teachers (currently K-5, we're working to develop a similar secondary model), take part in four comprehensive, 8-week training modules that include: goal setting with their coach, professional development & coaching on a specific strategy, observation of that strategy in the Demonstration Classroom, time to implement the strategy in their classroom with follow-up coaching, and reflection on the goal. This model has allowed us to make huge strides forward over the past two years to improve the Tier 1 instruction in all of our elementary classrooms.

    As we started the process of shoring up Tier 1, we realized our teachers needed time built into their day to Curriculum Map and collaborate. To help support our teachers in this process, our School Board approved a 45 minute collaboration time for teachers every Wednesday morning. To accomplish this, we delayed our bus routes by 30 minutes and combined that time with an additional 15 minutes of contract time without students that each building was able to find. This weekly 45 minutes allows teachers time to work on their curriculum maps and collaborate with colleagues on important matters like analyzing universal screening data.

    Besides time, you also need to provide teachers and administrators with tools that allow them to work smarter, not harder. There are several good Curriculum Mapping software programs on the market. HCCSC uses Rubicon Atlas. HCCSC has also purchased licensing to the Pearson Inform Data Warehouse and Academic Intervention Plan (AIP) which will assist administrators and teachers in managing all of our universal screen and progress monitoring data and documentation concerning the implementation of interventions/goals at each tier. Tools like these put the valuable information teachers and administrators need at their finger tips, especially when deciding when students need additional services at Tier 2 or Tier 3.

    If you initially focus your professional development efforts on Tier 1, it makes the entire process less overwhelming. Tier 2 and 3 professional development then primarily focuses on specific intervention strategies. For example, we're piloting READ 180 at one of our middle schools for our struggling readers. The only teachers that needed training on that program were the handful of teachers that were going to use the program to deliver direct instruction. Professional development at this level typically moves away from ALL teachers to the specific few that will be providing the services using that intervention strategy.

    Parents and community members are other important stakeholder groups that you need to provide support. There are a variety of ways to include these groups in your efforts to implement RTI. Stakeholder focus groups, committee involvement, and stakeholder satisfaction surveys are valuable tools to gather input from these groups. However, don't forget that you also need to build their capacity to understand RTI. To reach that goal, HCCSC has implemented a Family Academy. The Family Academy consists of several learning opportunities for parents and community members such as: Recognizing you child's strengths: why so much TESTING?, Reading at home: building vocabulary & comprehension skills, or Building math power at home. These sessions are offered several times at various buildings led by our own teachers.

    The second area of this discussion concerns the preparation of pre-service teachers for RTI. I'm not going to spend much time on this issue, because to me the solution is pretty simple. As institutions of higher education begin to plan their course requirements for pre-service teachers concerning RTI, they need to make every attempt to integrate RTI concepts into existing courses and not develop a standalone course for RTI. Pre-service teachers need instruction concerning the following key components of RTI:


    • curriculum development,
    • scientifically-based instructional strategies,
    • differentiated instruction,
    • literacy instruction in all content areas (K-12),
    • universal screening & progress monitoring,
    • data analysis & data-based decision making,
    • multi-tiered service delivery models,
    • problem-solving models,
    • classroom management that includes PBIS, and
    • cultural competency & responsivity.

    These components can and should be easily integrated into existing classes. RTI is not about doing more, it's about doing things differently, and that should be reflected in the course work.

    In closing, you improve student achievement by improving people, not programs. "There is no substitute for a well-trained staff's knowledge, commitment, and ability to interact with the target population. These factors are fundamental to the success of any intervention" (Neuman, 2007). Everyone in education is working hard and trying to do what is best for their students. Educational leaders at the national, state, and district levels need to continue to support administrators, teachers, and support staff in finding more effective and efficient strategies, and providing them with tools that allow them to work smarter, rather than harder. As Maya Angelou stated, "We did then what we knew how to do, when we knew better, we did better."


    Bender, W. & Shores, C. (2007) Response to Intervention: A Practical Guide for Every Teacher. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

    Neuman, S. (2007). Changing the Odds: Research-based principles of early intervention explode the myth that nothing works for economically disadvantaged children. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 16-21. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

    Salpeter, J. (2003) Professional Development: 21st Century Models. Tech & Learning.


    For more information about teacher preparation and professional development, view the archived videos from "Creating Capacity: Preparing Educators for RTI," featuring Mr. Grable and other nationally renowned RTI experts.
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