Schools are complex environments full of many personalities, teaching styles, and beliefs. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that one of our biggest hurdles in implementing a combined RTI/PBS model has been teacher perception of this project.
When we started the project, one of the first things we did was have the staff complete a school climate survey (Perkins 2006) to find out their perceptions about the learning environment, administration, student behavior, and so on. It was important to us to see how the teachers felt about their school and the daily working environment because we believe teacher morale and student achievement are impacted by the school climate. We learned that, in general, the teachers at Silver Sage Elementary have positive feelings about their school environment and high expectations of their students. They also seem to have no trouble vocalizing their opinions about how things are run in their own classroom, at their school, and in their district! We took their responses to the survey as an indication that they were willing and ready to make some changes in order to implement a comprehensive RTI and PBS model.
Our second step was to provide the staff with an overview presentation of our project before the school year started. We set out to describe the comprehensive model and continually referred to the relationship between the academic side and behavior side as "the model." After the overview presentation, we had the staff get into two groups, one containing a sampling of teachers across grade levels and the other with a combination of members of the two teams (RTI and school-wide PBS (SWPBS)). Focus groups were conducted with both of these groups. The discussion of the focus groups centered on the following questions:
What are some of Silver Sage's strengths with regards to school-wide implementation of RTI and PBS? What could be done that would help with implementation?
What are some areas that need to change and/or improve at Silver Sage in order for the model presented here to be successful?
In regards to collecting data and using the data to make decisions (utilizing a data-driven system) for academics and behavior in your classroom, what do you feel are your areas of strength? What changes need to be made in order to improve your use of a data-driven system in other areas?
What barriers do you foresee being encountered (by individuals and the school)?
The teachers were very responsive, had a lot to say, and seemed excited about the model and implementation. Most felt that the school was already implementing RTI for reading and were ready for the addition of math and SWPBS. Surprising to us, conducting the focus groups was not only informative, but also fun! It seemed everyone left "warm and fuzzy," amped for the upcoming school year, and beginning this project.
What probably isn’t surprising is that after the first universal screening at the beginning of the school year, the warm, fuzzy feelings began to dissipate. We came to realize after several team meetings and another focus group session that the teachers really did not know what "the model" was and were having a hard time seeing the whole picture. The teachers tended to focus on how the PBS side was going, but not looking at the comprehensive model. (In fact, at the second focus group, we were asked what we meant by "the model!") In reflection, we realized that the teachers really didn't have a reference point at the overview presentation of RTI, or SWPBS, or for combining the two for that matter. This was all new to them.
In the Create Your Implementation Blueprint series by Susan Hall, the importance of the process of consensus building and fostering change is discussed. We didn't realize until after the team meeting to review the universal screening results that we didn't have buy-in from many of the teachers. And it only took a couple of outspoken naysayers to rock the boat further. A lot of the negative feelings had to do with the changes that teachers were being asked to make: more data to be collected, new screeners to be used (and more of them), and changes in practices and systems from what was done in the past. Not to mention the bi-weekly team meetings for academics and behavior and quarterly focus groups!
In order to keep abreast of teacher perceptions, we have had them complete a social validity survey at every focus group. In this survey, teachers are asked about their feelings concerning the system changes, data collection management, how the model is functioning in their classroom and the school, and so on. There are also open-ended questions where the teachers can address concerns about the model. Results from the first survey given at the first focus group were favorable — they were excited about the project and ready to see changes in student achievement. On the second survey, opinions and perceptions took a decidedly negative turn. One reason for this is that at the first completion, the project was still talk. By the second completion, changes were taking place, teachers were out of their comfort zone, and the project had become real. To add to the negative feelings, not enough time had passed for teachers to see any real changes in student achievement.
Talking about implementing a tiered system with the staff and actually trying to implement it based on the data was, and continues to be, a challenge. As Evelyn pointed out in the second blog, the teachers felt that there was something wrong with the screeners, not with the core curriculum or how it was being implemented. They also wanted Tier 2 interventions for math and behavior and wanted to get them into place for students right away.
Interestingly, after the universal screenings were analyzed and students were identified, there were many obstacles with setting the decision rules and following them. For almost every student that had been identified with a screener, there was a teacher explaining why they felt that particular student received that score. There was much resistance with actually identifying a student for a Tier 2 intervention!
Change can be difficult. Change without buy-in is even more difficult. Getting and maintaining teacher buy-in will continue to challenge us, as we imagine that it will ebb and flow along each stage in the process and every time teachers and staff are asked to change their perception or a change in the system is made.
In our next blog, we will further discuss the acceptability of the model, teacher perceptions, and the importance of social validity as we move into the second year of implementation. We welcome any questions, comments and suggestions. Please post your own experiences with teacher perception and buy-in for RTI and PBS implementation!
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