Without a staff culture that recognizes the importance of teaching behavioral skills and displays a commitment to doing so, behavioral RTI will be impossible. Thus, you must acknowledge, respect, and nurture building such a culture from the beginning of your journey.
What are the challenges related to culture and designing and implementing a system of behavioral supports for all students, and how can we proactively prepare for them and address them as they arise?
Culture begins at the board and superintendent level. Leadership empowers and expects site principals to live, breathe, and message the vision that behaviors are as critical as academics, that they model and teach behaviors, and that they realize positive approaches are the best.
Long after structures, systems, and processes are in place, culture will determine the extent of a school’s sustained success or the frustration of school’s abandonment of what could and should be have been successful supports for students.
One way, therefore that the challenges associated with culture can be addressed to ensure that behavioral RTI is a priority at the Superintendent and Board level, throughout the district office staff, at the site administration level, for the teachers’ association, and throughout every classroom. Behavioral RTI will be seen as a priority when leaders communicate a message of its importance consistently and when alignment exists among the various elements of school district: board priorities and policies, fiscal allocation, personnel allocation, and professional learning initiatives.
Educators were not prepared in our teacher-preparation courses, in most cases, to teach behavioral skills; their training focused on the teaching and learning of academic skills. But the educators honored to serve students, families, and communities can learn, and there is as much research and as many research-based practices in the area of motivation as there are in the content area of mathematics. Our schools must embrace a culture that:
help[s] students move from being passive recipients of academic content to active learners who can manage their workload, assess their progress and status, persist in difficult tasks, and develop a reliable set of strategies to master increasingly complex academic content as they proceed through school. (Camille Farrington et al., 2012)
Other ways to address the challenges of building buy-in for the shifts associated with behavioral RTI are to:
• Find and share the data that reflects the district and school’s success in helping all students “behave” and perform at high levels.
• Survey staffs’ willingness to nurture student behaviors and their confidence in doing so.
• Engage in honest, positive conversations around current staff realities and attitudes, and the needs of communities and students.
Lastly, change of any kind is challenging, and change and culture are related. Change can be intimidating and even resisted, in my experience, when stakeholders:
• Don’t understand the purpose and need for the change – Therefore, communicate the why, using the information within the Introduction.
• The don’t have the training or resources to feel and be successful throughout the change – Make a commitment to providing the time, resources, and professional learning supports that staff need and deserve.
• They don’t see how the changes benefits them and those they serve – Gather and communicate evidence on the progress and successes occurring as a result of the change, either directly or indirectly. For example, if behavioral skills improve, tardies should decrease, attendance should increase, D and F grades should decrease, work completion should increase, and behavioral infractions should decrease – just to name five data points that schools already regularly gather.
• They aren’t held accountable to make the change – Check-in frequently, provide opportunities for collaboration to occur, and patiently but persistently hold all staff accountable for the changes upon which consensus was reached.
• There isn’t a clear process – Develop a comprehensive plan to follow when initiating and implementing the changes that are required when committing to improving students’ behavioral skills.
Leadership is critical in all school functions that intend to significantly improve student outcomes. Administrators listen, learn, serve, and support. In the area of schoolwide behaviors, administrative support is especially critical.
Behavioral expectations and processes are schoolwide; while grade-level teams, departmental teams, and collaborative teams may have success on their own, only a schoolwide team is best positioned to guide this endeavor. Of course, teacher representatives are part of the schoolwide teams that lead behavior, but administrators, who have a schoolwide focus, should take the lead. Moreover, we want grade-level teams, departmental teams, and collaborative teams to focus on teaching and learning within their grade levels and content areas; in these areas, they take the lead. While all staff members assume collective responsibility for nurturing behavioral skills, administrators serve as the content-area experts.
To meet this challenge, behavioral RTI and systems of supports should be led by the leadership team under the direct guidance of the school principal (Buffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2012). While all staff is involved and responsible for ensuring the success of behavioral RTI, the school’s leadership must take the lead on coordinating efforts.
Last, when helping staff help students develop positive behavioral skills, timely and focused follow-through is critical. Administrators are in the best position to systematically and proactively accomplish these tasks, getting out of the office, into classrooms, and being present. Stated another way (and at the risk of oversimplifying), teacher teams take the lead on academic skills and concepts, and administrators take the lead on behavioral skills and concepts (even though all staff members collaborate on both).
So, have a plan that prioritizes administrators’ active and timely support of behaviors, particularly when students’ exhibit behaviors that interrupt learning environments.
Cultures matter in all ways, but perhaps even in the area of behavioral RTI. And while all educators contribute to a district and school’s culture, administrators lead the way.