School culture matters. Regulations, whether related to RTI or another initiative, rarely mention the importance of culture. However, we are certain that, six months into any new effort, the difficulties that schools face will relate to the culture of the school, not the structures that have been established. RTI is organized passion.
In Part 3 of 3, I describe a few practices in schools, districts, and divisions, that have greatly contributed to positive cultures:
• Schools and school leaders who have successfully led RTI-based initiatives have demonstrated a respect for change. We know that change creates anxiety because we fear failure, a loss of control, lack of support, change’s personal impact, and the unknown. Knowing the potential resistance to change by some, and the reasons why change might be resisted, schools and school leaders must: describe the why and what of change; present research on the change; provide time for stakeholders to reflect upon the change; provide staff the opportunity to voice opinions; describe the professional development for the new endeavor that will be provided and the ways in which the effectiveness of the new endeavor will be measured; determine whether consensus for the change exists; and then hold one another accountable for implementing the change. Change is a complex process that must be led with persistent patience.
• Like all initiatives, RTI must be implemented with transparency and trust. There is no such thing as over-communication. Leaders must continually and repeatedly describe why the change is necessary, what is expected (and what is not expected), and how successfully the change is progressing. We can anticipate that some stakeholders will have concerns and questions at some points in the implementation of RTI. We recommend that site, district, and division leaders schedule frequent times during which staffs can voice their concerns and questions, and during which leaders listen. Whenever appropriate, leaders should respond to these concerns and questions and make the revisions to efforts that are appropriate.
• Leadership and change require courage. Proposing change requires courage. Initiating the change requires courage. Holding colleagues accountable for change requires courage. Making modifications to the change requires courage. How can leaders muster the courage to lead? We believe that ensuring that all students graduate from high school ready for college or a skilled career is a social justice issue. It’s an ethical and moral issue. It’s a life and death issue.
• The success of any endeavor – and the success of implementing RTI-based change in particular – requires that schools intensely focus on the most essential work. We believe that focus applies to the work of RTI in two district ways. First, RTI cannot be one of many new initiatives and it cannot be this year’s new initiative, to be followed by a new initiative every subsequent year. Initiative fatigue is a very real burden on staffs and schools. If we want to improve fully, deeply, and sustainably, we must focus. We feel that a focus on RTI is even more justifiable because we interpret Response to Intervention as synonymous with Highly Effective Education. The characteristics of RTI, as described in this volume and as practiced at schools across North America, involves all aspects of schooling – academics and behavior; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; structures and cultures. The second way in which focus is relevant and important to RTI is that we must create more focus in terms of the academic and behavioral skills that we guarantee that all students will master to the level of depth and complexity required of 21st century learners. The greatest threat to the standards movement is the sheer number of standards (Marzano, 2001). We believe that a large percentage of children diagnosed with a disability have in fact simply been the victims of instruction that progressed too quickly and addressed content too briefly. We advocate greater focus so that depth is favored over breadth.
RTI is organized passion – the passionate actions that embody the collective belief that all students will learn at high levels.