By Dr. Patti Ralabate
NEA Senior Policy Analyst on Special and Gifted Education
Right now, an exciting thing is happening across the country: people who are not special education teachers are talking about RTI. Who are these people? They are general education classroom teachers, specialists, paraeducators, parents, superintendents, school principals, union leaders, state department of education staff, school board members, and attorneys. They are attending professional development sessions or conferences, participating in district or school level meetings, and maybe even reading this blog.
This is a critical juncture. Will they come to the conclusion that RTI is an approach that can transform how schools do business, or will they see it as another way to label and sort children? Will they integrate RTI into their vision of effective practice enabling all students to be successful, or will they relegate it to a time-consuming series of tasks that they don't really want to do?
What makes a significant difference is how people first experience RTI. As you learn about RTI and think about effective RTI implementation, consider these points:
1) Vision - RTI needs to be aligned vertically and horizontally with other initiatives and not piled on as just one more isolated "add-on." For example, efforts to improve school environment should be conducted within a positive behavioral support framework that uses an RTI approach.
2) Leadership - Cross-stakeholder RTI leadership teams should be established at the local, district, and state levels. These teams must be empowered to make decisions and represent all the key voices (e.g., general education teachers, school leaders, parents, students, specialists, and special education personnel).
3) Resources - Effective implementation requires more than simply purchasing a new student data system. In addition to high-quality professional development, educators need time to collaborate and learn from one another. Several coaching models, professional learning committee models, and communities of practice are now available to guide teams in their implementation process. One is provided by the IDEA Partnership at www.ideapartnership.org. Other readily available support includes blogs such as this one and the discussion boards of the RTI Action Network (www.rtinetwork.org).
If RTI leadership teams keep a "big idea" and "big tent" point of view, looking for opportunities to fundamentally change practice across grade levels and curriculum areas, then RTI has a transformational impact.
Have you seen this? Did your first experience with RTI cause you to view your curriculum and instructional practice differently? Or is your district's or school's approach focused only on sorting students into "RTI programs" that are simply new ways of pulling them out of the general education classroom? How transformational is RTI for you?