Communities of Practice in RTI

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    Those involved in RtI implementation realize that RtI is a set of practices that operate within a problem-solving or school improvement framework. As such, RtI has afforded us an opportunity to make school improvement a more dynamic and responsive process. Initially, "implementation of RtI" will involve seeing all the practices put into motion in an organized and systematic manner. From there on out, the system must rely on the data, structures (e.g., grade level data reviews, progress monitoring reviews) and the research to impact subsequent decisions regarding practices. A powerful and supportive complement to the staff development system we have created has been the use of regional Communities of Practices (CoP).

    In general, a Community of Practice is created by a group of people who share a common interest and value the process of sharing experiences and expertise for the overall benefit and growth of group members. Approximately five years ago, Jodi Henderson started the first RtI-CoP for school psychologists in Kansas. This has been followed by the creation of a RtI-CoP for principals and a newly developing RtI-CoP for reading specialists. This blog will focus on benefits of a RtI-CoP, suggestions for getting started, and ideas to consider moving forward.

    Benefits of a RtI-CoP

    The benefits of a RtI-CoP have been rich and varied in Kansas. Some of the key benefits experienced to date include providing an opportunity for:

    • Professional growth from others in the same position living the same responsibilities on a daily basis with a lens broader than an individual building or district.
    • Peer-to-peer coaching – trying out new tools or approaches with a safe group to share how it worked or what was learned in the process.
    • Talking through the complexities of initiating and supporting change.
    • Engaging in the continuous improvement of change and determining the next iteration of RtI.

    Getting Started

    All that is necessary to start a RtI-CoP is a group of willing and able participants! Some considerations should include:

    • Knowledge Prerequisites. One factor that will influence the group sharing is the background knowledge participants bring to the table about RtI. If the focus of the group is to mature existing RtI implementation efforts, then a prerequisite for participants should be a clear and common understanding of RtI principles and practices and active participation in implementation. If the focus is to share efforts in general and provide an opportunity for "non implementers" to learn about RtI, then this may not be as important.
    • Scope of Membership. In order for more frequent meetings, travel should be minimized and use of technology maximized. In Kansas, our CoP's started loosely based on the state regional system grouping of the districts. Since these districts often work together as a region, the CoP's provided a nice extension to an existing structure.
    • Membership Focus. Kansas RtI-CoP's were started and organized around professional interests within education. While this may not be the preference of your colleagues, it has provided a needed opportunity for principals to share and discuss things with other principals that may not be understood or of interest to those serving in a different capacity.
    • Location of Meetings. In order for the CoP to feel more like a community, consider rotating the hosting site. This will allow members to experience different schools and districts. While this detail may not sound important, it has allowed for the relationships within the group to develop and provides visibility for some of the efforts that have been shared.
    • Group Norms. An important task for the first meeting is to create a set of group norms that will direct member behavior during the meetings. With individuals coming from many districts with the goal being to share and support, it is important to set a norm related to professional courtesy outside of the meetings.

    Ideas for the Group

    My experience with RtI-CoP's is that generating topic ideas for the group has never been a problem. Some discussion-starters we have used that received excellent feedback include:

    • Share protocol, products, and tools following a "theme.”"One of the early RtI-CoP's involved members bringing district or building materials related to core instruction, followed the next meeting by intervention.
    • Engage in an agreed upon book study. One of the book studies the school psychologist CoP selected was Learning Disabilities: From identification to intervention (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). For a recommended list of books and facilitator guides, see Project SPOT.
    • Identify position papers or selected readings on RtI from various authors and jigsaw the articles to point out the similarities and differences. This was a powerful exercise that raised important awareness on how authors use the term "RtI," but have different interpretations of the meaning.


    Generate the next agenda at the conclusion of each meeting. This allows the focus to stay current and relevant. After selecting the topic, brainstorm ideas of what will be discussed and shared so members can all come prepared.

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