Leadership in RtI: Three Big Ideas

Topics: Leadership

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    One of the things leaders in education do as a part of their professional careers is work on leadership skills. Initiatives such as Response to Intervention (RtI) require leaders to set a vision for how their school can look, work towards it, and sustain the focus over a relatively long period of time. Leadership is critical, very few would disagree. As a part of our leadership development, we are told of the many leadership behaviors that are correlated with student achievement. I recently participated in a multi-session leadership development program that identified no fewer than 66 different behaviors that might lead to better results in our schools. No kidding!

    Reflecting on that experience is not comforting. Indeed, it has left me with more questions than I have answers to. How can one attend to all of these things at once? What if I forget something, will I doom the initiatives I am involved with? The entire experience was unsettling, until I sat down and started to think about it all in context. Leadership in schools is not about the myriad of key behaviors that are correlated .25 or more with student achievement. Leadership is not about trying to remember all of the variables that may have an influence. It’s not about checking off the degree to which I'm doing each of these on a daily basis nor about whether others notice.


    Leadership is about inspiring others to become leaders.  Leadership is about creating possibilities within a school.  Leadership is about people.  And leadership is a lot of hard work.  All of which got me to thinking.  What exactly is it that leaders in effective schools do to produce achievement gains in their students?  Boiled down, bare bones, most important stuff.  First off, they don’t focus on scores of things.  Indeed, they focus on a small number of things.  More importantly, they focus on the RIGHT THINGS.  Which again started me thinking, what are the right things?  I thought about what I know from the research, but more importantly, I thought about what I have observed in school leaders who are extremely effective, those who invariably raise student achievement.  What is it they do?  And I came to a strong and I am certain, overarching generalization.  Leaders who are effective do three things — they do them relentlessly and they do them extremely well:


    1. Effective leaders cause their school to define what it is that they want their students to know and be able to do;
    2. Effective leaders cause their schools to align their curricula and instruction to teach students these things;
    3. Effective leaders keep score.  And they use results from their scorecard to improve teaching in a continuous improvement manner.

    Everything else is attendant to these big three.  They place in priority those things that are central to our mission for our kids.  They give schools important focus.  And importantly, they produce results.  In reflecting on these big ideas, it occurred to me that a big part of the reason RtI is effective for schools is because RtI itself embraces these three concepts and provides tools for school leaders to breathe life into them.  Perhaps that leadership training course I took wasn't all that bad.

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