Why I Decided to Join the RTI Action Network Leadership Mentoring Program

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    If you have spent any time at all on the RTI Action Network web site, you probably came across a link to the Leadership Network. During the 2009-10 school year, the RTI Action Network launched the Leadership Network as a way to support schools and districts across the nation as they implement RtI practices in their classrooms and schools. RtI implementation in a district and school has a strong collaborative culture as a base for implementation and I believe the RTI Action Network wanted to model that collaboration through this project. I was honored when I was asked to serve as a mentor and I have really enjoyed the experience.

    As the mentor of a group, I have 17 brave souls who have joined me on our year-long journey. My group consists of teachers, special education teachers, special education directors, Superintendents, RtI specialists, and building principals. My group would be classified as those in the "initial stages" of RtI implementation and we meet once a month via WebEx to discuss a monthly topic. I have members in my group from Alaska, to Texas, to New York State. You would think that with a group so large and diverse that we would "be all over the map" concerning particular intervention needs, but, in reality, the conversations that we have had all come back to the same place — implementation based on research.

    In reflecting back on the year thus far, some central themes keep coming up month after month. In the remainder of this blog, I want to share with you what I have found as a mentor for the Leadership Network. For those of you in the initial phases of RtI implementation, you may find the information timely and relevant. For those of you who have been implementing RtI for some time, the information may also be helpful. Please be reminded that the following statements are my own generalizations and may not represent the RTI Action Network.

    Here are my thoughts:

    • There are a lot of books out there concerning RtI implementation. Don't spend a lot of time buying books on how to implement RtI. The best resources are free, and many can be found on this web site. State Departments of Education are great places to find resources, as well as national organizations and universities. These resources will help you implement the RtI process based on research and best-practice. Here are some great resources:

    • Strong leadership is the key and strong leadership begins with a leadership team. Invariably, as I work with members in my cohort who are struggling with implementation, the conversation came around to either a lack of building administrative support or the leadership had not established clear implementation protocol. Make sure that your district has a strong leadership team with established steps for implementation that is evaluated constantly. Some resources I found very handy:
      • A Roadmap for Facilitating Teams, By Peggy Hayden, Linda Frederick, and Barbara J. Smith. Published by Sopris West.
      • Implementation Research: A Synthesis of the Literature, By Dean Fixen, Sandra Naoom, Karen Blasé, Robert Friedman, and Frances Wallace. The book can be found on the National Implementation Research Network Web site.
      • Leading Learning Communities, Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be able to Do, published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals
    • Fidelity of implementation and implementation fidelity. You might think the two terms are saying the same thing. They are not. When referring to fidelity of implementation, I am referring to core instruction at Tier 1. For RtI to truly be effective, a strong core program must be in place and all teachers need to teach the series with fidelity. In my reference to implementation fidelity, I am making referencing the steps to be taken to implement the RtI framework school wide. Beginning with Tier I implementation all the way through Tier III, certain researched based components must be in place to have the impact we are looking for regarding our students. Again, any of the following web sites will serve you well:
    • The correct use of assessment data is imperative. When screening, progress monitoring, and team problem solving, having good assessment data is most important. The good news is that, as mentioned under the first bullet above, there are many places you can go to find research on assessments that are heavily grounded in norms and research that have been proven to help teachers as they make decisions about students. Some great sites to view are:
    • You need to teach the professionals in your schools to collaborate. Many educational professionals have basically spent their careers in isolation in their classrooms, so they will need a new "skill set" as they work with others.*
    • Support and encourage teacher leadership whenever and however possible. Teachers are the front line of implementation. The more we can empower them within the parameters of the research to make decisions about students and learning, the stronger the program. *
    • Your professional development must align with the best research on instruction, and it must be on-going. As new research comes forward, we need to respond to it and implement it as appropriate. As professionals, we will "never arrive" as educators. We need to get better every day, and use the most current research when doing so.*
      *any of the sites listed under previous bullets address these topics

    As stated above, I have really enjoyed my journey thus far as I mentor other professionals as part of the Leadership Network. I joined because my experience as an educator has demonstrated for me that the RtI model works and impacts students and their learning. Having the chance to share that with others has been special. Even more revealing to me in this process has been the realization that there are a lot of outstanding educators across this country who are coming together under the concept of RtI to improve learning opportunities for children. The more we share, the stronger our instructional practice. The stronger our instructional practice, the greater impact we have on student learning I hope that as you read this blog you will consider joining the Leadership Network next year.

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