School Culture and Administrative Supports for Behavioral RTI

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.

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6 Categories of Essential Behavioral Skills

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Each of these six categories of behavioral skills are essential to success in school, college, career and life. Do we prioritize, model, teach, and nurture these skills within our teaching and learning experiences?

 

Precognitive self-regulation: Students can attain, maintain, regulate, and change their level of arousal for a task or situation. Educators may observe that students have difficulty coping emotionally and may determine that these difficulties are impacted by poor health, nutrition, and sleep; or lack of exercise; or sensitive to sensory inputs; or an ability to process inputs. These abilities are dependent on, and related to, physiological and safety needs as defined within five-tiered theory of motivation.

Mindsets: Students feel a sense of belonging, belief, and engagement. Affirmative responses to the following statements represent a positive, growth mindset:

  • “I belong in this academic community.” Educators know that students are connected to someone and something within the school.
  • “My ability and competence grow with my effort.” Educators observe that students believe that they can improve with effort; that smart is something that you become, not something that you are.
  • “I can succeed at this.” Educators know that success breeds success and that meeting students where they are and nudging them toward greater levels of proficiency is key; students draw on a sense of self-efficacy to persist in learning.
  • “This work has value for me.” Educators know that motivation is dependent on the relevance that students see in classrooms; students have opportunities to explore passions, they see the purpose in learning, and they experience personalized supports and opportunities for personalized paths.

Social skills: Student have respectful interactions with others and demonstrate respect for themselves. Educators observe students cooperating and collaboratively in socially appropriate ways and behaving with empathy for others in both academic and social circumstances.

Learning strategies: Students can regulate, monitor, and reflect on their learning. Educators see students employing effective study and organizational skills, behaving metacognitively, tracking their own progress, and responding appropriately when faced with a task, whether the task is completing an in-class assignment, completing a long-term project, or preparing for a test. Learning strategies can be thought of as cognitive self-regulation; students regulate the level of their learning frequently and make the necessary adjustments.

Perseverance: Students maintain effort and adapt to set-backs; they exercise self-discipline and self-control; they delay gratification; and they advocate for one’s needs. Educators observe that students stick-with-it, typically because they are drawing on positive mindsets, social skills, and learning strategies.

Academic behaviors: Students are physically, emotionally, and cognitively present and attentive within learning and learning environments. Educators note that students consistently complete tasks of high-quality; that they actively participate in learning; and that they appear motivation to learn, succeed, and grow. Again, educators’ observations of academic behaviors typically draw on, and depend on positive mindsets, social skills, learning strategies, and perseverance, the companion behavioral skills in the diagram above.

 

Defining behavioral skills within the context these categories framework is helpful because the framework then becomes an action plan. We can operationalize the research, putting the best thinking of these experts into action and actively supporting students in developing skills and proactively supports students when difficulties exist.

Tier 2 is not Tier 3 lite

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Let’s review what we know about Tier 2 supports, drawing on the half-century of research-based, RTI-based Tiers 2 and 3 (Allington, 2011; Bloom, 1968, 1974, 1984; Buffum, Mattos, Weber, & Hierck, 2015; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Burns & Symington, 2002; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star et al., 2009b; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson et al., 2009a; Guskey, 2010; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007). We believe that one reason why academic and behavioral RTI has been frustrating and less than effective in schools and districts is a simple misun­derstanding of what the tiers actually are. Mike Schmoker (2004) observes, “Clarity precedes competence” (p. 85). Let’s spend a brief moment revisiting the basic purposes of the tiers, paying particular attention to the least understood and implemented tier: Tier 2.

Tier 1 supports represent the high-quality, differentiated instruction—both academic and behavioral—designed to meet the needs of all students. Teachers help achieve this goal by collaboratively examining evidence of student response to academic and behavioral instruction and identifying which differentiated instructional strategies meet student needs.

When a student does not respond to this focused, differentiated core instruction, educators supplement core (Tier 1) instruction with more support (Tier 2), again whether the needs are academic or behavioral. Whether this means additional time or the use of alternative strategies or both, the evidence collected and the collab­orative planning and analysis of all staff members drive supports. This is Tier 2. Decisions to provide these supports are based on evidence of a student’s response to focused core instruction.

Tier 2 supports are fundamentally different than specialized Tier 3 supports. Simply stated, Tier 2 supports prevent students from falling behind or falling farther behind, while Tier 3 supports provide the intensive sup­ports necessary to catch students up. Tier 2 supports provide additional time and access to alternative strategies for more students to master more core priorities at deeper levels—we can predict that this will be necessary for some students. Tier 3 supports provide the intensive, immediate supports that students will desperately need when educators find significant deficits in the foundational skill areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior to be inevitably contributing to frustration and failure—we can predict that this will be necessary for some stu­dents. In our experiences, most schools that have RTI-based systems of supports in place are not offering more or Tier 2 supports to students. They are offering Tier 3, but their Tier 2 interventions are actually Tier 3-lite.

In actuality, Tiers 2 and 3 supports are distinct, and schools must move toward a future in which all stu­dents have access to both and receive both if the evidence indicates the need, along with differentiated core supports. The consequences of not providing Tier 3 supports are easy to imagine: students who are highly vulnerable due to significant skill deficits will become increasingly disengaged and will continue to struggle to simply perform as they currently are. But what are the consequences of not providing Tier 2 supports, even while providing Tier 3 supports?

Let’s begin answering this question by acknowledging a reality: I do not know of any educators who have ever concluded a unit of instruction with all students achieving the depth of mastery that we desire and that students must attain. Likewise, we have never seen a classroom in which all students meet expectations in response to our first, best instruction. Students simply learn at different rates and in different ways. What can we expect if, at the conclusion of a unit, we simply move on? Students will probably feel frus­trated. In spite of the fact that the less-than-complete mastery of some priorities by some students was predict­able, we have not prepared for this reality. Affected students’ grades are negatively impacted. Their motivation for future success, their engagement, and their sense of self-efficacy diminish. The concepts and skills of many (if not most) subsequent units of instruction build on the concepts and skills of preceding units; this is even more true for behavioral skills. Students who have not yet mastered the preceding month’s priorities and are not given an ongoing opportunity (or requirement) to do so will experience predictable difficulties mastering the next month’s priorities. When this situation befalls a student unit after unit and month after month, we can predict that a significant deficit in skills will develop in short order and that a student’s will to engage in their continued learning will similarly suffer.

Importantly and significantly, we have never concluded a unit of instruction feeling that we sufficiently extended the learning for students who have attained mastery. Time for Tier 2 supports can and should pro­vide a service for all students: timely and targeted supports for greater levels of student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind), and enrichment opportuni­ties to engage with tasks and situations of greater complexity so students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding.

Strategies to Meet Student Needs – Systematically, Proactively, Positively

Research-based strategies to support students – no matter the tier of support – exist to meet both students’ academic and behavioral needs. We must use these strategies more systematically, more proactively, and more positively.

Systematically: Use these strategies across the school, for any student, with common procedures, when evidence indicates the need; moreover, use these strategies with fidelity (the way to use them) and for a long-enough period of time for improvement to occur. (While twenty-four useful repetitions are necessary to solidify academic learning [Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001], one hundred useful repetitions may be necessary to solidify behavioral learning [Benson, 2012].) Practically speaking, systematic means that a student in need of scaffolded supports to succeed would receive that support in the same way throughout the school day, no matter the teacher or environment. And, systematic means consistent, both throughout the day and for as long as the support is necessary. When a lack of adequate student progress is at least partially the result of our lack of consistency and follow-through, then we as educators are a major contributing factor in this lack of success. Tactile and sensory supports, a strategy listed above for students who struggle with arousal state regulation (they may be over- or underreactive to sounds, sights, or touch), can involve students squeezing an object or rocking safely in a chair as they manage their behaviors. We would use this strategy systematically by employing such techniques across all classrooms, within all environments, and with all staff members. This would mean that all classrooms and staff members would have the necessary resources (squeezy balls or safe rocking-type chairs) and know how and when to support the student in its use. If a student benefits from this differentiated practice, then we all must use it all the time; it should be used systematically.

Proactively: Screen to identify students whose skill needs that may necessitate the use of these strategies and provide supports to students before they establish more entrenched difficulties and frustrations. Practically speaking, proactive means that we don’t wait; that we provide supports as soon as we possibly can. Proactive approaches can be informed through two processes. First, screening completed at the end of last year or the beginning of a new year will identify students for whom behavioral skills represent a need. Proactive means that the new school year begins with supports already in place within all environments and that all staff members understand and provide the supports. The second opportunity to support students proactively is made possible by the analyses of evidence collaborative teams complete. When the frequent analysis of data indicates that some students need a little more and a little different type of support to be successful, then teams and schools have the opportunity and responsibility to provide these supports as soon as possible. We would use sensory supports like squeezy balls or safe-rocking chairs proactively by beginning the year with these supports in place because we have screened that a student needs them to be successful or because they were used productively last year and we effectively communicated and transitioned from last year’s teachers to this year’s teachers. We cannot, need not, and should not wait to introduce differentiated supports that students need for success behaviorally.

Positively: Let’s avoid employing these strategies with reluctance and from a deficit point of view; instead, let’s consider them as we would consider the use of differentiation strategies for reading difficulties and communicate a growth mindset. Practically speaking, provide differentiated supports positively means that we do not blame students or their parents for difficulties; rather, we accept, and even expect, that some students are going to need a little more time and an alternative set of supports to be successful. A positive approach also means that we expect these differentiated supports to work and that we believe in every student’s ability to grow. We do not, alternatively, go through the motions of providing supports (that we do not expect to work) so that we can move toward special education assessment and placement. Last, positive means that we provide feedback, recognition, and reinforcement when students are behaving in appropriate, productive ways; we do not only provide feedback (punishment or consequences) when students do not meet behavioral expectations. Using the squeezy balls or safe-rocking chairs positively means that this strategy is normalized—it’s normal that students need them and can use them. Such a strategy is not unusual and it is not a punishment, as in, “If you can’t settle down, you’re going to need to use your squeezy ball!” The use of behavioral differentiation strategies such as these should be as normal as differentiation strategies that we use to ensure students successfully access text in a reading lesson.

It’s inevitable that we will need to provide differentiated supports for students to meet behavioral and academic expectations, so let’s be ready.

Strategies to Meet Student Needs – Systematically, Proactively, Positively

Research-based strategies to support students – no matter the tier of support – exist to meet both students’ academic and behavioral needs. We must use these strategies more systematically, more proactively, and more positively.

Systematically: Use these strategies across the school, for any student, with common procedures, when evidence indicates the need; moreover, use these strategies with fidelity (the way to use them) and for a long-enough period of time for improvement to occur. (While twenty-four useful repetitions are necessary to solidify academic learning [Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001], one hundred useful repetitions may be necessary to solidify behavioral learning [Benson, 2012].) Practically speaking, systematic means that a student in need of scaffolded supports to succeed would receive that support in the same way throughout the school day, no matter the teacher or environment. And, systematic means consistent, both throughout the day and for as long as the support is necessary. When a lack of adequate student progress is at least partially the result of our lack of consistency and follow-through, then we as educators are a major contributing factor in this lack of success. Tactile and sensory supports, a strategy listed above for students who struggle with arousal state regulation (they may be over- or underreactive to sounds, sights, or touch), can involve students squeezing an object or rocking safely in a chair as they manage their behaviors. We would use this strategy systematically by employing such techniques across all classrooms, within all environments, and with all staff members. This would mean that all classrooms and staff members would have the necessary resources (squeezy balls or safe rocking-type chairs) and know how and when to support the student in its use. If a student benefits from this differentiated practice, then we all must use it all the time; it should be used systematically.

Proactively: Screen to identify students whose skill needs that may necessitate the use of these strategies and provide supports to students before they establish more entrenched difficulties and frustrations. Practically speaking, proactive means that we don’t wait; that we provide supports as soon as we possibly can. Proactive approaches can be informed through two processes. First, screening completed at the end of last year or the beginning of a new year will identify students for whom behavioral skills represent a need. Proactive means that the new school year begins with supports already in place within all environments and that all staff members understand and provide the supports. The second opportunity to support students proactively is made possible by the analyses of evidence collaborative teams complete. When the frequent analysis of data indicates that some students need a little more and a little different type of support to be successful, then teams and schools have the opportunity and responsibility to provide these supports as soon as possible. We would use sensory supports like squeezy balls or safe-rocking chairs proactively by beginning the year with these supports in place because we have screened that a student needs them to be successful or because they were used productively last year and we effectively communicated and transitioned from last year’s teachers to this year’s teachers. We cannot, need not, and should not wait to introduce differentiated supports that students need for success behaviorally.

Positively: Let’s avoid employing these strategies with reluctance and from a deficit point of view; instead, let’s consider them as we would consider the use of differentiation strategies for reading difficulties and communicate a growth mindset. Practically speaking, provide differentiated supports positively means that we do not blame students or their parents for difficulties; rather, we accept, and even expect, that some students are going to need a little more time and an alternative set of supports to be successful. A positive approach also means that we expect these differentiated supports to work and that we believe in every student’s ability to grow. We do not, alternatively, go through the motions of providing supports (that we do not expect to work) so that we can move toward special education assessment and placement. Last, positive means that we provide feedback, recognition, and reinforcement when students are behaving in appropriate, productive ways; we do not only provide feedback (punishment or consequences) when students do not meet behavioral expectations. Using the squeezy balls or safe-rocking chairs positively means that this strategy is normalized—it’s normal that students need them and can use them. Such a strategy is not unusual and it is not a punishment, as in, “If you can’t settle down, you’re going to need to use your squeezy ball!” The use of behavioral differentiation strategies such as these should be as normal as differentiation strategies that we use to ensure students successfully access text in a reading lesson.

It’s inevitable that we will need to provide differentiated supports for students to meet behavioral and academic expectations, so let’s be ready.

Preparing Educators to Model and Teach Behavioral Skills

advice-advise-advisor-7075Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

If we as educators would like to see changes in student behaviors, and if we commit to doing whatever it takes to serve all students and ensure that all students achieve at high levels, then we must also prepare our­selves. While you have already established a culture of collective commitment to the need for a curriculum of behavioral supports in your school, it is also important to establish a shared vision of how to integrate these supports and to establish a safe, positive environment that engages your students. It is also crucial to develop, within each individual teacher, the attributes necessary to nurture such practices in others.

Behavioral skill planning, instruction, and assessment will continue to be an afterthought if not integrated into all aspects of the teaching and learning process with consistency. This shift begins with a commitment to integration. The integration of behavior and academics will only be effective if there is a true belief that the two are complementary and interdependent. We should apply the same vocabulary, thinking, and pro­cesses to planning and implementing Tier 1 behavioral instruction as we apply to planning and implement­ing Tier 1 academic instruction.

There are some who will not believe that it is their job to teach behavioral skills; others who do not believe that they have the time; and still others who do not believe they possess the skills. If not us, then who? We will achieve when we make a commitment to nurturing behavioral skills; when we make the time to define, model, and teach these skills in our classroom; and when we consider academic and behavioral skills as two sides of the same coin. The coin, in this case, is readiness for college, career, and life. Integration applies to how we prepare and implement.

High-quality instruction in both academics and behaviors requires a school culture and classroom commu­nity where every student feels safe and affirmed and is fully engaged. Knowing students is the key to growing students; student growth in both academics and behaviors requires that staffs commit to improvements in our relational skills with students and our pedagogical skills in facilitating the teaching and learning process. Understanding the complexities of behavior requires that we understand the complexities of communi­cation. Communication is a vital skill, and while students often have a difficult time with understanding what they are communicating and the implications of what has been perceived, adults also struggle with communication. We should reflect on our communication and ensure that none of our words leave students feeling angry, misunderstood, judged, or devalued. As Jim Wright notes, “Helping educators to adopt positive communication as a routine, consistent ‘habit’ should be the goal of every school.” In my own experience, my staffs collectively created and maintained a list of “things we should never say to students” and “things we should say to students” in an honest effort to communicate positively with students and give honest recognition that we haven’t always succeeded.

Finally, we must prepare to teach behavioral skills by developing our own precognitive skills. Precognitive self-regulatory skills involve:

  • Learning how to read, reframe, and redefine student misbehaviors
  • Assuming that every student has the capacity to change
  • Teaching, modeling, and nurturing appropriate behaviors as a preventative endeavor
  • Helping students recognize stressors
  • Guiding students to master the steps involved in self-awareness
  • Ameliorating causes of high stress within schools, in neighborhoods and homes, and in collaboration with community partners
  • Reframing misbehaviors as stress behaviors

There is no magic formula or shortcut to developing these skills. These skills will only be improved through courageous and vulnerable self-reflection, professional learning, and collaborative practices with our col­leagues as we seek to continuously improve.

The First Steps in Behavioral RTI

blur-child-dress-758859Photo by Min An from Pexels

If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. This core phrase is at the heart of RTI. It allows us to identify, anticipate, and prepare for our students’ needs, and to proactively respond to these before frustra­tion and disengagement set in. We as educators predict and take measures to prevent student difficulties in academic skills—but how can this predict-and-prevent attitude apply to our model of behavioral RTI?

We can predict that a lack of adequate core instruction in the behavioral skills as the introduction describes will compromise student success—both behavioral and academic. We can predict that not all students will possess the mindsets, social skills, perse­verance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors that will lead to success in school and life when they arrive in our classrooms. Thus, we can conclude that if we do not identify, prioritize, and teach these critical skills, there will be some students whose suc­cess is negatively impacted. We can prevent this negative impact if we establish behavioral skills as a priority along with key aca­demic concepts.

The first step in designing a system of supports that nurtures the mindsets, social skills, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors within students—behaviors that are so critical to their success—is for educators to accept responsibility for this critical but challenging task. Parents and communities can positively shape student behaviors, and schools should complement these supports. Schools, however, have the unique opportunity to nurture behavioral skills that educators can apply and practice when engaging in the intellectual tasks in which schools specialize.

The nurturing of behavioral skills is consistent with innovative learning environments in which stu­dent voice, choice, and agency are priorities. Ryan Jackson, executive principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone and practitioner of behavioral RTI, notes that:

Schools adapting to the Netflix generation mindset, where purpose, passions, and empowerment reign supreme over compliance, standardization, and simple engagement, can be highly successful. These schools are building a sustainable model of behavioral skill success, starting from the ground up with trust and respect as a foundation, and goal-setting and commitment as the catalysts. (R. Jackson, personal communication, June 19, 2017)

Creating this sort of staff culture and learning environment starts with a belief in and high expectations for all students’ success and a commitment to not letting anything (such as poor attendance, apathy, or deficits in reading skills) get in the way. The central importance of belief and expectations should sound familiar to proponents of PLCs at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, & Mattos, 2016). They are foundational Big Ideas. A culture of high expectations, of doing whatever it takes, and of recognizing that the only way to ensure that every student learns at high levels is through a commitment to collaborative and collective action has always been at the heart of PLCs at Work.

So, how is this nurturing learning environment created? I believe that there exist several foundational prin­ciples that educators should address, discuss, and ultimately accept regarding student behavior.

  • Behavior is as critical as academics; behavioral skills include the categories of precognitive self-regulation, mindsets, social skills, learning strategies (such as metacognition, cognitive self-regulation, and executive functioning), perseverance, and academic behaviors (such as participation, work completion, attendance, and engagement).
  • Students behave and misbehave for a reason, purpose, or function, and educators have a great deal of influence regarding the ways in which students behave.
  • Educators must define, model, teach, and nurture the behaviors that they want to see.
  • Educators will be most successful nurturing behavioral skills when they align the definitions, steps, and process of behavioral RTI to those of academic RTI.
  • Staff members must assume collective responsibility for nurturing student behaviors.
  • Great relationships between educators and educators, educators and students, and students and students lead to better student behavior and greater levels of engagement and learning.
  • Great classroom environments with high expectations and clear procedures and routines lead to better student behavior.
  • Engaging, rich, and sound pedagogies, strategies, and tasks lead to better student behavior.
  • If educators want student behaviors to change, they must be willing to change.

Begin your collective work on building a system of behavioral supports by collaboratively reflecting upon and discussing these foundational ideas, and reference them throughout the process. Do they ring true? Do “yeah, but. . .” and “what if. . .” comments and questions arise? Transparent and courageous dialogue on core principles such as these can help serve as a vision or “North Star” that guides and shapes these critical efforts.

Behavioral RTI: The Research is Clear

The research is clear. We understand the realities. The nature of the futures for which we are preparing students is undeniable. We, as educators, are the answer we’ve been waiting for to help students develop the behavioral skills they need to succeed in school, college, work, and life.

There is a clear need for educators to teach behavioral skills to students with the same emphasis that they place on academics. The strategies exist for teaching these skills to all students at the Tier 1 level, for implementing and monitoring supports at Tiers 2 and 3, and for providing effective feedback and differentiation. Yes, there are predictable challenges that may occur and there are proven ways to overcome them. It’s up to us!

We will be most successful when we align processes for behavioral RTI to the more familiar process of academic RTI with which I and others have had experience and success, from PLCs at Work through the three tiers of RTI.

We must also expand our definitions and understandings of behavior from beyond social skills to include mindsets, learning strategies, perseverance, and academic behaviors.

With your leadership teams and key stakeholders:

• Begin to define the why behind behavioral RTI and to build a case for improving supports for students. Begin to plan for a patient but persistent process for involving more stakeholders in the process and for doing the work described in this book.

• Anticipate challenges that may emerge and develop plans to meet these needs. Reach out to other districts, schools, experts with experiences in behavioral RTI, and those who have experienced difficulties and overcome them.

• Develop a communication plan for when, to whom, and how ongoing efforts to nurture behaviors will be shared with stakeholders and how feedback from stakeholders will be heard and incorporated into ongoing efforts.

Blog – Communicating RTI needs, strategies, and results (without mind-numbing documentation requirements)

Please! Do not make a lack of documentation prevent a student from receiving Tier 3 supports. We get it – we need documentation to justify a referral for a formal evaluation to determine special education eligibility. But, that’s not what we’re talking about. We hope and expect that the student will not need a referral. We’re going to intensively intervene now, immediately upon the identification of a serious need. And because we specially target the students’ most immediate need, and because we relentlessly adjust until eh student adequately responds, the majority of students will response to intervention and not require that referral.

So, we’ll document a lot…after the students is screened, diagnosed, and receiving the Tier 3 reading support. Documenting and communicating data and documentation is important. Try this: Create a Google Doc for each students and share the document with only those students who will benefit from and contribute to the document. Yes, there must be a expectation that the Google doc is faithfully used, but documentation need not be complicated of burdensome and we may not need another meeting. Asynchronous collaboration works. We have the technology.

So there you have it: A plan for a leaner, meaner Tier 3. You can hack the Screening-Diagnosing-Prescribing-Monitoring process with little or no cost and with a sense of urgency. Students with a significant need in any foundational skill area (literacy, numeracy, behavior), but most immediately in the area of reading, can and must receive targeted and intensive supports without delay. Screening can be done using existing resources and data and is, after all, not dependent upon a test, but is instead a process for determining students most in-need. Diagnosing reading needs only requires a short passage of text, a few comprehension-based questions, and 10 minutes of time. Free or low-cost resources exist to meet all students’ reading needs in PreK-12; current schedule and staff can be creatively repurposed so that time and personnel can begin to be dedicated to the needs of students who will simply not be successful in school, college, career, and life unless we address reading needs. Valid and reliable progress monitoring tools and assessments are available, most (again) on no cost or low cost so that we can frequently check on student growth and make adjustments if necessary.

Because all student can learn at all levels. All students can be supported to catch them up in the area of reading. It simply takes a belief that it can occur and a commitment to providing Tier 3 intervention in ways that we may not have previously done. It requires that we hack a better solution.

Un-Common Sense Students can hit any target they can see and that holds still for them – Three common sense approaches

We know it’s true. We cannot, should not, and need not simply limit ourselves to the use of assessment to measure learning – sometimes known as assessment of learning. Assessment can be for learning (to inform future teaching and learning) and assessment can even be an integral part of teacher and student learning (assessment as learning).

In missing this opportunity, we miss a chance to motivate, engage, and involve students in their learning journey and to start with the end in mind. Rick Stiggins, wise assessment sage, said it best: “Students can hit any target they can see and that holds still for them.” It’s un-common sense that needs to be common.

There are three primary ways that we can make this happen:

1. Learning Target Trackers

We share learning targets – the essential outcomes of unit – with students prior to the beginning of a new period of learning. These 5-7 targets are presented in various ways, but the purposes and uses are the same. Students know what they’ll be learning before the unit begins. They self-assess their confidence of mastery, on a learning target tracker, along the way in relation to each specific target and also note their progress based on the evidence and feedback they produce and receive from teachers. When misunderstandings occur, they reflect upon why they occurred. They seek, and teachers provide, specific reteaching support specific to the target in which extra assistance is needed. Students and teachers know the target for which a little more time and an alternative way of learning must be provided. And, not insignificantly, progress is noted on the learning target tracker as learning improves. The student sees the progress; it’s growth mindset in action.

2. Backwards Planning

Why is teaching to the test forbidden? It’s not just students who can hit any target they can see and that holds still long enough for them. The same applies for teachers. The rigor and format of instruction must match the expectations that are represented on the unit assessments. This can only be assured if teachers know this target. Let’s trust teachers. They will not “cheat” by explicitly preparing students for the specific items on a test (assuming we do not attach over-bearing, evaluative-related high-stakes to these assessments). But, teachers (and students?) must know the destination…the success criteria. It’s common sense.

3. Buffer Time

If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. Can we not predict that some students will not yet have learned the essentials toward the conclusion of a unit of study? Can we not predict the consequences of moving on to the next unit without responding to this reality? So, follow Benjamin Bloom’s advice of 50 years ago. Build in Buffer Time within or between units to provide intervention or enrichment, based on evidence of learning gathered throughout a unit. This is Tier 2 of RTI/MTSS. And, it’s just common sense.

Teaching and learning is complex. But we are making things too complicated. Let’s apply common sense, like these ideas above, to our practice and collectively help improve outcomes and successes for students.