The Importance of Leadership in RTI

Topics: Leadership

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    When thinking about the role of leadership in the RTI process, I always think about the term "instructional leader." If you were to ask 10 people to provide a definition of the term, you would get 10 different definitions or interpretations. As a matter of fact, if you were to do a search on-line, the one thing that would become apparent is that the only agreement that can be made about the term is that it is hard to define. The four most common terms used to describe an instructional leader found in the literature are: 1) principal as resource provider, 2) principal as instructional resource, 3) principal as communicator, and 4) principal who is visible and engaged. We all know that if we are to implement RTI well, the building principal’s involvement in the process is one of the most important aspects of successful implementation. For RTI to happen in a school, the principal must be the head "instructional leader" who is behind the model one hundred percent.

    Recently, I asked Tom Komp, an elementary principal from Gloversville, NY who has been heavily involved in RTI implementation at the school, state, and national levels, to describe the top ten things that a principal should know and be able to do regarding RTI. As you read his list, note that I have taken the four attributes of an instructional leader (resource provider, instructional resource, communicator, and visibility) and aligned them with the items on his list.

    • Time, don't rush the implementation process, allow 3-5 years (resource provider)
    • Schedules — all schedules need to be generated around student success. (resource provider)
    • Sense of HUMOR (communicator, visibility)
    • Ownership of data by teachers, students, principal, support staff, parents, etc. (instructional resource)
    • Good data collection/dissemination system (resource provider)
    • Sense of HUMOR (communicator, visibility)
    • Common professional development for everyone, more in depth for some (instructional resource)
    • Celebrate the successes (communicator, visibility)
    • Tool Box of intervention strategies and programs. One size does not fit all! (instructional resource)
    • Sense of HUMOR (communicator, visibility)

    As you read his list, you may have thought of other things you may have included that he did not. Tom is an outstanding principal and his school has done extremely well; students in his school have shown impressive growth and achievement under the RTI umbrella. The proof is in the pudding, and his school's pudding is thick with success. But, just as there are multiple definitions or notions about what makes an "instructional leader," the same can be said about what we might identify as the top ten things a principal should know and be able to do regarding RTI implementation.

    For me, defining "instructional leadership" or "the top ten things a principal should know and be able to do regarding RTI implementation" is not important. What is important is that we have leaders in our schools who are masters at taking what they have, in the environment that they are in, and creating results for kids. A principal needs to know curriculum. A principal needs to know the research on RTI implementation. A principal needs to understand the change process. The principal needs to know how to motivate and work with people. More importantly, the principal needs to know how to bring all of these things together (and many more) and have the courage to act and be the inspiration for change to realize successful RTI implementation in their school…based on the needs of their school.

    While there is not a definitive definition for instructional leadership, and while we might have a hard time agreeing on the 10 most important things that a principal needs to know and be able to do regarding RTI implementation, I think we can agree on one thing: If RTI is going to successful in a school, chances are it is because the principal in the building is applying his/her definition of instructional leadership and his/her notion of what he/she knows about his/her school culture of the top ten things that a principal should know and be able to do regarding RTI implementation.

    Special thanks to Tom Komp for his contributions to this blog.

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