Bigger than the Details: Topics to Build into Faculty Discussions

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    In the district I serve, we’ve made considerable advancements with our RtI practices. We have a district protocol that has served us well for several years. We are expanding our protocol into our preschool settings and we continue to work hard to integrate our academic and behavior structures. We have a multi-year approach to growing our skills around evidence-based practices, data-based decision making, and the application of the problem-solving process. Yet, while every building in the district could make the list of particular practices they want to improve and strengthen, there are some important topics that deserve some conversation and acknowledgement among our faculties.

    For those colleagues who like to outline topics for faculty meetings for the year, I thought I’d offer a couple of topics and references that would be worthy of pause and conversations. They are areas that, at the core, can create your “tipping point.” They are topics that ensure we are individually, and collectively, focused on making the most difference we can in children’s lives. They get at who we are as educators, and as a faculty. The evidence-based practices involved with RtI are powerful – but can be even more powerful when implemented in an overall healthy and focused system of educators who know what they do, why they do it, and use each other in important ways for the betterment of important outcomes for children. It is my hope that these conversations can be overt demonstrations of leadership that illustrate the “mortar between the bricks” with the practices.

    Growth Mind-Set vs. Fixed Mind-Set

    One of the key assumptions with RtI is that all kids can learn (Batsche et al., 2005). The purpose of early identification, teaching core with powerful instructional techniques, putting in place a strong and focused intervention, and monitoring student progress is with the expectation that we will change learning outcomes for students. We use the problem-solving process to help us make judicious decisions about next instructional moves with students for whom we haven’t found an instructional match. We must be astute to how they are interacting with our instructional materials and teaching strategies so that we can develop a plan that is customized to each student’s learning needs. This approach could be considered a perfect match for those educators who have, what Carol Dweck calls, a “growth mindset”. On the other hand, having a “fixed mind set” creates dissonance during RtI planning and data review processes. The Mind-Sets and Equitable Education article from the National Association of Secondary School Principals will generate discussion important to a faculty as they think about the impact that their belief system has on student achievement, as well as generating discussion about how they can create classrooms that promote students learning to have a “growth mindset.”

    Discussion Questions:

    1. In what ways does this message resonate with you as an educator?
    2. Dr. Dweck states on page 28 “Teachers with a growth mind-set don’t just mouth the belief that every student can learn; they are committed to finding a way to make that happen.” Discuss the changes that have been put in place with RtI. What do you see as the connection?
    3. Discuss in what ways having a growth mindset is of heightened importance for students who have a history of difficulty in school (academic or social).
    4. Compare what it would be like to be in a classroom with a teacher who had a growth mind-set versus a fixed mind-set. What would the differences sound like and look like?

    Habits of Mind

    When Kansas adopted the Common Core State Standards, they astutely folded in to their training package an emphasis on the Habits of Mind from the work of Arthur L. Costa Ed. D. and Bena Kallick, Ph.D. The Habits of Mind represent 16 dispositions that successful individuals demonstrate as responses in difficult situations. For example, the Habits of Mind include striving for accuracy, thinking flexibly, thinking about your thinking, and listening with empathy and understanding. Some have called them the “soft skills” behind the academic standards we teach. When we think of teaching and reinforcing these dispositions, we are able to explicitly reinforce the learner habits that students need, especially as they engage with a more rigorous curriculum and learning tasks. I have used the one-page handout on the habits of mind during grade-level and individual student problem-solving meetings as a way to generate stronger strengths and needs profiles related to learning. Prior to their use, I thought the generated list seemed shallow and tangentially linked to learning tasks (e.g., has friends, is kind, doesn’t ask for help). When used, the profiles represented stronger profiles related to the student as a learner – broadening the scope of what we acknowledge as learner strengths and needs.

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Over the past week, which of the Habits of Mind have you had to demonstrate?
    2. Where are opportunities to explicitly teach and reinforce these Habits of Mind? (see related blog from Terrell Heick on making classroom connections: Integrating the 16 Habits of Mind. Generate an additional classroom idea to each Habit of Mind and compare with colleagues from a different grade level.
    3. How would the Habits of Mind intersect and add value to your data reviews that are part of RtI (school-, grade-, and individual-student level reviews)?

    Those of you who lead your RtI efforts can think about how best to utilize these resources and facilitate the discussions. Here are some ideas:

    • For a 30-45 minute discussion at a faculty meeting, consider providing the resource and discussion questions ahead of time so more time can be spent in discussion and each person can have some “think time” in advance.
    • Have grade levels read and generate a discussion question prior to a faculty meeting or inservice. At the gathering, break into vertical teams and have each grade level representative lead with their question/discussion starter.
    • Divide the Habits of Mind up by grade levels. Allocate time at faculty meetings and have one Habit of Mind shared by a grade level with questions or ideas. This would be visited across 16 meetings to cover all the Habits of Mind.

    If you use these references, share back your experience in the comments below!

    Batsche, G.M., Elliott, J., Graden, J., Grimes, J., Kovaleski, J.F., Prasse, D., et al. (2005). Response to intervention: Policy considerations and implementation. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

    Dweck, C. (2010, January). Mind-sets and equitable education. Principal Leadership, 26-29.

    Heick, T. (2012, October). Integrating the 16 Habits of Mind. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from
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