In this day of data, feedback, and accountability, it seems our whole focus is on student progress. Because we are so focused, we don't always see that we are making great strides in areas that don't show up on a data sheet. We sometimes need to step back and look at the progress we are making in other areas as we implement Response to Intervention (RTI) in our schools. Collaboration is something schools have not concentrated on until recently. It has been in the educational literature for years with a main focus on school improvement and school improvement models. RTI has redefined collaboration. Instead of working on school improvement initiatives and going back into your classroom and teaching, collaboration in the RTI framework asks teachers to come out of their classrooms and huddle up to talk about kids and instruction as it is happening on a daily basis. Collaboration in an RTI model is much more dynamic, and schools must spend time learning how to collaborate.
Using an RTI model, teachers need to meet frequently to discuss students, pedagogy, data, student groupings, and schedule refinement. Without this collaboration, RTI could not occur in schools. Schools that implement RTI sometimes neglect the fact that, for true collaboration to occur, teachers need clear organizational parameters and training on collaborative procedures in the school. Schools sometimes infer that "everyone knows how to collaborate." For most of us, all we have to do is think back on the last school initiative to know that this is certainly not true. There are those who "embrace" a new initiative; those who are "neutral;" and there are those who, no matter the situation, state "Heck no, I won’t go." Everyone's need is different, and everyone needs to be recognized and supported. We do know that for true collaboration to occur, agreements must be developed in a school and training must be implemented to address and support these agreements. Schools want to avoid spending way too much time on "personalities," and more time on what really matters, student achievement.
Organizing for collaboration is imperative. To truly implement RTI, schools need to have a plan to address the collaborative needs that the RTI process demands. In Peter Senge’s book, "Schools That Learn," (2000) he lists six guiding principles that schools should incorporate into their culture "…to facilitate the development of professional community and collective accountability for student success:"
Scheduling time and space for teachers to meet and talk
Physical Proximity (Those who work together have classrooms that are close together)
Communication Structures (Identify how information and knowledge will be exchanged throughout the school)
Teacher Empowerment and School Autonomy. (Teachers need to be given the opportunity to make decisions about their work)
Rotating Roles (Rotating membership on committees helps to allow for the diversity of the professionals in the school and allows all professionals opportunities to positively contribute) (Peter Senge, Schools That Work, 2000).
All of the guiding principals identified by Senge take a lot of work…and planning. To schedule for instruction, develop teaching structures, communicate, allow for teachers to make decisions, and identify roles and responsibilities, professionals need to turn to each other in a professional way — through collaboration. As professionals in a school come together and address the importance of collaboration, be open to the fact that not everyone is ready to meet and collaborate on issues surrounding RTI. As time goes by and RTI gets off the ground in a school, the school staff will have a high sensitivity towards each other as they find their way through the RTI process. Know that this sensitivity slowly diminishes. Through individual reflection, professionals in a school begin to recognize their "place" in the RTI initiative, and their role is defined over time.
As time goes by, the professionals in a school will come to the realization that collaboration is happening in their school. It will not be painless, and there will be small setbacks and large victories, especially as student data shows that through the collaborative effort of the staff, student growth is occurring. You will not be able put any information down on a spreadsheet on how the collaborative energy of the professionals impacted this student growth, but you will know that because you as a school took the risk to step out of the classroom and come together for children, everyone benefited.
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