Boise State University
A lot of technical assistance is available on RTI -- for example, on its specific components and how those are operationalized through the use of specific assessments, curricula, and instructional programs.
Reading about the specific components of RTI might lead someone to believe that successful RTI implementation is largely a technical issue -- meaning, if we adopt the specific tools specified within an RTI model, implementation will be successful. The technical component of RTI is only one part of the story, though. Schools also need to pay attention to the school culture, context, and values as they adopt an RTI model.
In a recent issue of Learning Disabilities: Research to Practice, Doug Fuchs and Don Deshler (2007) outlined the necessary conditions for successful RTI implementation. These include:
- Sustained investments in professional development programs.
- Engaged administrators who set expectations for adoption and proper implementation.
- Willingness to stay the course.
- Willingness to redefine roles and change the school’s culture.
- Providing staff sufficient time to understand the changes, to accommodate changes into their current practices, and to have their questions and concerns addressed.
This list of necessary conditions highlights the important roles of school culture and shared leadership in supporting the implementation of RTI. Teachers can learn new processes, but if they don’t value these processes, if their understanding of their roles as teachers is inconsistent with these new processes, or if the school leadership does not foster and develop a school culture that allows teachers to make sense of these processes -- the likelihood of successful, long-term, sustainable implementation is diminished.
So how does a school go about developing the necessary conditions for successful RTI implementation?
One successful way that schools have accomplished this is by using RTI principles as their guiding vision for the school. All actions are undertaken because they assist the school in accomplishing its stated goal, which typically is something like “All students learning every day” or “Improving the academic achievement of all students.” Then, every aspect of the school functions in such a way that their collective actions support this mission. For example:
- The professional development opportunities are aligned with curriculum, intervention, assessment, data collection, decision making, and so on;
- Time to collaborate and discuss new programs is built in to the school day, so that teachers and staff can understand how these new practices impact their current approaches to teaching;
- Infrastructure (to include time, resources, and personnel) is developed to support the implementation of the process; and
- School leaders support their staff in what Spillane calls “human sense-making."
In one school I’m working with, the principal collaborated with staff to establish Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and supported staff to become leaders on the various teams. In another school I’ve worked with, the principal aligned teacher observations with the RTI process and then used the observations as a way to inform professional development needs.
Finally, one of the most powerful ways that a principal can help create the necessary conditions, as outlined above, is to lead by example. Drawing again on the example of Cheyenne Mountain Junior High, Principal Dr. Lori Smith has made a professional and personal commitment to the RTI process in numerous ways. However, the one that has the most impact (in my humble opinion) is that in the six years of RTI implementation, she has NEVER missed an RTI leadership team meeting where student data and outcomes are discussed. In so doing, Dr. Smith has demonstrated to the school staff her commitment to the process and to supporting all students and their learning needs.
I’ll post more soon about some of the promising results that secondary schools are seeing with RTI implementation!