When a school creates a culture focused on collective responsibility for student learning, ensures that every educator is part of a high-performing team, identifies the essentials standards that all students must master, and frequently measures student learning and teaching effectiveness, a vast majority of the school’s students are going to succeed. But our goal is not to have most students learn. If we want to achieve our mission of high levels of learning for every child, then we must be prepared with additional time and support for every student that demonstrates the need. Invariably, some students will need some extra help from time to time, while a few students will require a lot of extra help nearly every day. In other words, we must be prepared with a system of interventions designed to meet the unique needs of each child. There are three critical considerations a school must address when creating an effective system of interventions.
First, a school must build a toolbox of effective interventions. Students struggle at school for a multitude of reasons, so a school must be prepared with a variety of proven responses. Second, there must be time available during the school day to provide additional support without having students miss essential core instruction. Finally, there must be a systematic, timely, and reliable process to identify students in need of additional support. Without a foolproof identification process, some students will slip through the cracks. Failure to address these three critical components will place a school’s RTI efforts on shaky ground and ultimately undermine the entire process.
Many schools and districts argue endlessly about the language used to define the words intervention, strategy, and core instruction. To bring clarity to the topic, an intervention is anything a school does, above and beyond what all students receive, that helps a child succeed in school. This additional support can be a practice, method, strategy, and/or program. The important consideration is this: if all kids at a school receive it, then it is part of Tier 1 core instruction and would not be considered an intervention. If a specific practice, method, strategy, or program in addition to core instruction is used on the child’s behalf, it is an intervention. Interventions are not only actions directly in support of instruction. If a child demonstrates behaviors that interfere with the child’s ability to learn, and the school provides additional behavioral support, that is an intervention. Attendance support for a child with chronic absenteeism is an intervention. Medical support for a student with severe diabetes is an intervention.
A system of interventions can only be as effective as the individual interventions of which it is comprised. If a site builds a system of interventions with ineffective instructional programs and practices, all students will have certain access to what is not working.