As with any important journey, several factors need to be taken into consideration when using the RTI Roadmap:
- What’s our destination?
- What’s our starting point?
- Who’s “driving” (the change or desired outcome)?
- Who’s with us on the trip?
This roadmap will provide guidance while enabling educators to make midcourse adjustments and bring context to the journey. The successful implementation of RTI requires two things from a school or district and the educators who populate it—a redefined set of tools to help students learn and a new way of thinking about their responsibility to ensure this outcome is met. The RTI Roadmap is structured around key sections of a successful journey:
Where Are We Going?
Sometimes school leaders often implement new approaches based on the success someone has heard about, read about, attended a conference about, or experienced in a previous role. We advocate the use of a model to help schools with the planning at this stage of the journey as we believe that models can serve as targets from which staff members can backward plan and from which they can learn. Through the analysis of a mature RTI model that serves as a guide and inspiration, schools will launch their efforts by responding to these questions:
- What are we already doing?
- Of what we’re doing, what are we doing well?
- What are the gaps in our supports for students?
We recognize that presenting schools with the mature RTI model of another school, a school that has spent years refining and improving their processes, is both a blessing and a potential curse. Examining models is a blessing because it confirms for schools that it can be done—that schools can build capacity, collaborate professionally, focus curriculum, alter schedules, repurpose staff assignments, acquire resources, administer assessments, and analyze data to improve all students’ learning. But models can provide an overwhelming negative sensation for some—a sense of gloom. Educators may feel that they lack the resources to build such a system. They worry that they are so far away from the practices represented in the model. They fear that they do not have the commitment or the expertise to successfully transform practices. They feel as though the model represents the only way in which an RTI-based system can be built.
We believe in the power of models and strongly encourage school leaders to avoid the pitfalls that can sidetrack staff members when they are presented with a model that might seem to be impossible to emulate. The truth is that every school can successfully ensure that all students learn at high levels. The liberating news is that there are many pathways toward this goal.
Where Are We and What Are the Next Steps?
Every school has some method of supporting students in their academic, social, and behavioral growth. Before embarking on a new practice, it is important for educators to take a detailed look at what they are currently doing. A school’s starting point can be established by using a data- and evidence-based self-analysis of that school’s current realities and state of readiness. This “current status” report will help to reveal gaps and overlaps and initiate the collaborative approach that will be necessary to refine or overhaul current practices. Building and sustaining an RTI-driven system of supports involves multiple processes, including:
- Guiding staff through the change process, including discussions about why the change is necessary, what the change will involve, how the change will be supported, and how the success of the change will be measured.
- Reflecting upon and refining core Tier 1 instruction for both academics and behavior.
- Identifying students in need, and diagnosing the causes of their difficulties.
- Researching, acquiring, and gaining competency with intervention strategies and resources.
- Researching, acquiring, and gaining competency with tools for monitoring student progress.
- Developing systems for a cyclical problem-solving process.
Determining which of those elements have not yet been addressed, which have been initiated, which have been established, and which have been successful is the first step of the RTI Roadmap model.
Initiative fatigue is a very real condition in our experience. School teams that attempt to tackle too many challenges or attempt to implement practices too quickly can anticipate difficulties. A collaborative examination of the evidence from Sections 1 and 2 can help guide schools in their first steps, or in their next steps. There are several questions that can guide this examination:
- In what areas do our students need the most support?
- In what areas would our staff members benefit from more support?
- Which initiatives would most significantly benefit students and most impact multiple content areas and domains?
- For what initiatives are we most prepared, both in terms of culture and structures?
Determining in which direction to take the first steps of the journey is a critical decision for schools following the RTI Roadmap. Building in early “wins” ensures ongoing commitment to being part of the journey and energizes educators to tackle some of the bumps on the road.
How Are We Going?
Successful school change requires similar check-ins and a similar capacity to adjust to unforeseen difficulties and opportunities. What is the plan we should follow to initiate, monitor, revise, and sustain RTI-based school improvement practices? Just as students sometimes experience difficulties with executive functioning skills such as planning, organization, and time management, school teams can become stalled or sidetracked in their improvement efforts if the initiative is not nurtured. By following a systematic plan, one that prompts staff members to check in on progress and one that anticipates pain points, school leaders can ensure success. Success will not be achieved without obstacles emerging along the way. Randy Pausch (Pausch & Zaslow, 2008) describes these obstacles or brick walls educators encounter along the path to change as tests “to determine how badly we want something” (p. 52). If the intent at the start of the initiative is to look for a reason why it won’t work, brick walls will materialize. If the intent is to see the work through because it’s the right work, was co-created by all, and will positively impact student outcomes, those walls will only be temporary obstacles. When progress is transparently and frequently monitored, when evidence is analyzed and revisions are made, improvements to student learning can be achieved and sustained.