Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shift Happens

Team Design from RtI Training

Sometimes you don’t realize how true your words are until they are brought home to you. A few weeks before school started this year we had a leadership change, welcoming both a new principal and assistant principal. Both are experienced and talented leaders but unexpected surprises. Right now we are all learning our way. The shift happened.

The other big shift, not only at our school but also across the nation, is Response to Intervention (RtI). Last year felt a bit like a page from the story of Chicken Little. Instead of saying the sky is falling, we went around saying “RtI is coming! RtI is coming!” Classroom teachers, being focused on their current students, waited for this shift to happen.

Being a proactive sort of person, I felt we needed to design a system for RtI. If RtI was going to happen, we needed to be prepared for it. I started reading. RTI from All Sides (Howard, Heinemann) became my go-to text, followed closely by When Readers Struggle (Fountas and Pinnell, Heinemann). Websites, especially the, provided us with ideas and models to build our design. My iPhone became filled with podcasts on RtI. It was amazing what one could find in a short amount of time.

With just under 1,000 students, our school is not only large but also complex. We are a center of both English Language Learners (ELL)  as well as student with significant cognitive delays. Luckily we are staffed with quite a few teachers to work with our special needs and ELL students. In RtI  all students get the core curriculum in Tier 1. If they require additional support, such as Tier 2, then the label or lack of label is not a consideration of support. If they need help they will get help.

What has always hampered getting support to kids who need it has been finding the time. There is no additional time in the school day so we had to find a way to streamline and identify instructional times. The blog post on Scheduling Considerations for RTI at the Elementary Level ( was extremely helpful in designing the master schedule. We created a schedule that built in blocked times be used for RtI Tier 2 and 3 instruction. Fitting in the legal requirements and setting academic priorities were the first rocks we put in place. Reading, Math, Writing, Science/Arts, state mandated 30 minutes of daily physical education, a little lunch and – Bam – we were done. Working under the “decision of least loss” we started to identify students who were in need of interventions in reading and, using the blocks of intervention times, started filling in the schedule.

I’d like to say this has all been smooth but in reality it is very chaotic and still in progress. Tempers can flare, collaboration is strained but the vision is becoming reality. Materials are being shared. Space is being shared. Conversations about student academic needs are being addressed openly and professionally. What is the best part is the shift in thinking and perception. “Those kids” are becoming “our kids” not only in word but in action.

Shift Happens. Some times the shift feels like an earthquake. Other times its like loose sand underneath your feet. It may make you feel unstable for a while, slow you down or make you slide. After the initial shift you just dust off and keep going.

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