Making change can be challenging. It requires us to take a step back, assess our current practices in schools and classrooms, and talk honestly about whether things are working for students. This often puts us in an uncomfortable place, because the safe feeling that comes with what we know, is often more appealing than fear of all the unknowns that accompany change. So even though we may know change is necessary, it’s still difficult and filled with many growing pains. Last year, my colleagues and I embraced the challenge of changing our school’s PLC structure to a more collaborative learning space called Learning Labs. I feel so fortunate to have had the support of my administration, teachers, and the Tch community to learn so much from the experience and document the journey.
This year, I’m excited to continue learning with everyone and working through another important change in the current state and district structure — RTI. For those who are not familiar with RTI, it stands for Response to Intervention, and I discussed it a bit at the end of my reflection post from last year. For RTI, we place students in tiers based on various measures, and pull the intensive students out of class for 50 minutes of extra support each day. While I love the idea of giving students the extra support they need, I can’t get past the labeling, grouping, and removing of students from their K-5 classrooms to get that support.
Moving beyond how I feel about it, the current data is not supporting the process. We say the students have achievement gaps, but don’t discuss students’ “opportunity gaps,” and although we see a lot of movement of students out of these intensive tiers in K-1, once they are tiered in second grade, they rarely become untiered. Something isn’t working. I want to work on improving this process to create better opportunities for students within their classrooms and with that, comes change.
The reading specialist, Erin, and I believe no change should happen without a discussion about the current situation, so we began this conversation with the staff at the end of last school year. There was an overwhelming feeling from the staff that RTI was not working. Since we, as a collective group of teachers, couldn’t say that what we were doing was truly best for all of our learners, our discussion signaled an alarming need for change. Because RTI is mandated across our state, we can’t simply throw it out, but we can make some serious changes to its implementation. To get us started, we asked each grade level team to brainstorm characteristics of a perfect RTI scenario. We compiled the results, shared them back with the staff, and spent the rest of the school year and summer planning for our big change this year.
The Things Our Teams Discussed About “Perfect RTI”
- Small Groups With Support
- Differentiated Instruction
- Programs With Scope And Sequence (Materials)
- Keeping Your Own Students vs. Having Students Pulled From Class
- Push In Model For Tiered Students
- Instruction Should Be Engaging
- Help With Data That Needs To Be Collected
- Learning Labs Tied To RTI
- Extended Core Time Needed for Tier 3 Students
Since I didn’t want to lose all the momentum and success we had had with our Learning Labs last year, I thought the suggestion of embedding this RTI change within our Learning Lab structure was a brilliant idea, and thus begins my journey of Getting Better Together. This year, I’ll be sharing my work in Learning Labs as we restructure our RTI process and try some new things out. This, unfortunately, means that the collaborative planning for individual lessons may not happen during Learning Labs as it did last year.
But, not to worry, I have a plan for that, too!
I’ll also be documenting my coaching journey with teachers as we plan math lessons collaboratively and experience the lesson with one another in classrooms using Teacher Time-Outs. I’m SUPER excited to create a collection of short Number Routine videos along with the planning of — and reflection on — these routines as well!
Kristin Gray is a National Board Certified fifth grade math teacher at Richard A. Shields Elementary School in the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Delaware and a Teaching Channel Laureate. During her 19 years in education, she has taught 5th–8th grade math, and spent two years as a K-5 Math Specialist. She feels fortunate to be involved with Illustrative Mathematics and Teaching Channel on projects developing math tasks, facilitating professional development, and blogging about these experiences. She is always excited to share her love of teaching at conferences such as NCTM, NCSM, ISTE, as well as on her blog. Follow Kristen on Twitter: @MathMinds.