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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do Teachers Need Response to Intervention?

By Daisy Dyer Duerr — March 17, 2016 6 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Daisy Dyer Duerr, a former school principal who is now a national speaker and consultant.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is something we talk about quite a bit in education. In fact, there are few successful schools you can enter today that don’t have far-reaching RTI systems of support for their students. When students struggle, they may need something extra to help them along, and other students need an intervention that may be a little more in depth.

As a former school principal, I understand the benefits of RTI. Having been the Principal of a failing school where successful RTI implementation was instrumental in changing school culture and improving student learning outcomes, I can speak firsthand to the powerful impact of RTI practices.

But first...the basics.

Chris Weber and Tom Hierck, authors of “The RTI Roadmap for School Leaders& “RTI is a Verb say the following about RTI: Tier 1 is Differentiated, Tier 2 is Individualized, and Tier 3 is Personalized.

  • Some students will require differentiation and scaffolds to optimally succeed and grow in Tier 1.
  • Some students will need more time and alternative supports at the completion of units of instruction, as revealed by evidence, to master core priorities AND others will be ready for greater levels of complexity and will greatly benefit from opportunities to delve into priorities at greater levels of depth - Tier 2.
  • Some students will be in desperate need of immediate, intensive, and targeted supports to ameliorate significant deficits in foundational skills AND other students will benefit from opportunities for students to dive deep into a passion - highly specialized supports to meet students’ at, and nudge them from, their zones of proximal development - Tier 3.

(Student RTI)

What About RTI for Teachers?
Keeping those general principles in place as defined by Weber & Heirck let’s think about how to create a Pyramid of Interventions for Response to Intervention for Educators. What might a non-evaluative systematic process of supports for educators accomplish. We already have models to follow; highly developed systems working for our students in our most successful schools; why wouldn’t we use these same, proven principles and constructs for our educators?

RTI for students can be beneficial, in fact, I’d contend it’s transformational when done properly at all levels; this I know from my experience as a Principal. As I work as a consultant I apply this experience...only I’m working with teachers instead of their students.

For example, this January I began working with a large district’s secondary principals and assistant principals. My job has been coaching them on how to use the International Center for Leadership in Education’s (ICLE) Collaborative Instructional Review.

ICLE’s Collaborative Instructional Review is a process that involves the administrator collaborating with the teacher on lesson plans; following rubrics established for:

1) Rigor This Rubric supports educators in building effective instruction based on indicators of rigorous instruction from three areas: thoughtful work, high-level questioning, and academic discussion.

2) Relevance This Rubric supports educators in building effective instruction based on indicators of relevant instruction from three areas: meaningful work, authentic resources, and learning connections.

3) Learner Engagement This Rubric supports educators in creating & implementing an effective learner environment that is engaging & aligned to learner needs based on these three indicators: active participation, learning environment, and formative processes and tools.

The administrator observes the lesson the two co-constructed together, takes copious notes while observing, then after some time to calibrate, they debrief together. Besides the co-construction of the lesson the other integral part is that the leader is observing student learning more than they are observing the teacher teaching.

After all, if the students don’t understand the lesson, why teach it in the first place?

During the debriefing there is discussion of what went well, what didn’t go well and why? They also discuss how the lesson could be improved in the future (if it could be) and what the teacher will do moving forward.

The outcome is NOT an evaluation, nor a “one and done” interaction, but the beginning of an ongoing series of collaborations and open dialogue between the administrator and the teacher to improve instructional outcomes. This clearly takes a great deal of relational trust.

While involved in this practice both the administrator and the teacher are engaged in best practices for student learning and have a vested interest in successful outcomes.

It’s my assertion: Highly Developed RTI Systems for Educators will result in higher quality Tier 1 Interventions; causing the need for Tier 2 & Tier 3 interventions for students to decrease.

(Teacher RTI)

How Do Leaders Provide RTI for Teachers?
Today’s teacher/educator evaluation systems don’t provide for improvement/instructional help for educators...in fact many are still reliant on a “check the box system.” In the check the box system, feedback is rarely provided to teachers, so the evaluation becomes a waste of time (for more on that read Peter’s blog about observations).

Observations should be based on cycles that include deeper conversations, and trusting relationships built between educators that result in improvement in instruction and student learning outcomes. It should not be a piece of paper or something you get on your inbox describing your lesson in “check box” terms.

One of the ways to have observations with more impact is for administrators to take on the instructional coaching philosophy in their school. In order for school leaders to provide RTI to their teachers, they need to work in partnership (Knight) with their teachers on a co-constructed goal.

One of the suggestions from a colleague on Voxer was that leaders intentionally schedule their week so they had a full day a week of instructional coaching. Leaders can observe and have partnership conversations with their teachers. However, as enthusiastic as the tone of the conversation began, the ever daunting task is how to approach coaching as a school building leader. The job of being a leader can definitely prevent leaders from taking on their version of an instructional coaching role...and that’s where we go back to lackluster evaluation processes.

I do believe there is a happy medium. I have never worked in a district where my duties as Principal would have allowed for me to spend an entire day doing instructional coaching during the week, but I have done ½ days of instructional coaching often. I believe it’s a matter of being intentional with our time as Principals. There was a consensus in the Vox that principals must be instructional leaders.

I don’t believe this is possible if you don’t model and “do the work” in the classrooms with your teachers. We must find “our way” of making this happen.

Proficiency and Beyond!
We ask for proficiency and beyond from our students; yet we provide their instructors with little to no supports to get them there. Educators need a culture where RTI/Coaching/Interventions is the norm for them; just like our students. Professional development at the beginning of the year is not enough. We need timely, systematic, supports available on a continuum. This is how we will meet the needs of more students at Tier 1. It’s time...we make time.

Connect with Daisy on Twitter.

RTI images courtesy of Daisy Dyer Duerr

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.