At Pitts School Road Elementar y School in Concord, N.C., a pilot RTI initiative is “blurring the line” between special and general education students. Chuck Borders, the school’s principal, told Achievement Today about how RTI is helping teachers improve and differentiate instruction.
Tell us about the RTI initiative at your school.
A few years ago I sat through one too many parent meetings in which I had to tell them, “Sorry, we know your kid needs help but he doesn’t qualify.” I came across RTI and was very enthusiastic about it, and then our district wanted a school to pilot it so I jumped on the opportunity. We are in our second year of implementation.
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What’s been the biggest change?
We’ve really blurred the lines between our exceptional children’s program and regular ed. We’ve done away with “these are your kids and these are my kids.” Instead we developed a culture in which all the adults work for the kids. Before, when children were struggling in class teachers handed them over to the EC program. Now that’s not occurring. The teachers are focusing on what they do instructionally. They’re doing some things a lot differently so that we are able to meet individual needs better.
On a day-to-day basis, what are teachers doing differently?
We are focusing in math and reading with RTI, so it’s about guided instruction in both areas. It’s not just whole group instruction. We have ability grouping—very small, flexible groups that work with the teacher, and then there are learning centers set up for the rest of the children. They are not just busy workstations but very well thought out and planned and implemented learning activities. It gives the teacher time to really be a little more flexible and meet the kids where they are.
What has been your experience with professional development for teachers?
The first year really involved a paradigm shift on their part in terms of thinking about their jobs. We did a lot of talking about the need to be reflective, the need to not just talk about being a lifelong learner but also model it. And a big part just involved becoming very data-driven. They had to get used to making decisions based on the formative data they were accumulating. We knew going in that it wasn’t going to be easy and we kind of had a few basic principles to guide us. One was that we wanted to do things right rather than fast. We looked at this as at least a fiveyear process because we didn’t want to rush through it.
How have your teachers responded to the RTI initiative?
There are always frustrations, but we didn’t have too much pushback. The RTI leadership team decided that we wanted to remove all barriers or excuses for doing this. We wanted to make it as user-friendly as possible so we adopted a good data management tool and we help them tremendously with the assessment and benchmarking. We also have grade level coaches, so anytime there’s a question, that coach is at their disposal. We monitor the data and give them feedback and are there to answer any questions that they have.
Given your success with RTI, what advice do you have for other school administrators?
There are two areas that come up that are the sticking points. The first is an administration that is not supportive, or that’s supportive in word, but not in deed. The other is data management. I think you have to have a tool for properly managing the data. If you expect your teachers to do all the data management by hand it’s too cumbersome. It’s not going to happen. It’s just too much to accomplish.