RTI: Response to Intervention
Often when people say "RTI" (Response to Intervention) you might hear a chorus of groans followed by a lot of opposition. However, those are often the responses obtained because there is not a clear understanding of its purpose and how it is supposed to be implemented. If implemented properly it is a vital approach to identify children who have a true neurological learning disability from those who just need extra help, support, or remediation of specific skills.
Ten years ago when I was working in public schools this was the new "thing". Prior to a special education referral some type of intervention was to be attempted in order to differentiate those with a true learning disability from those without since special education services are for those children with a specific disability, which requires specialized instruction and often times a more restrictive learning environment.
After meeting with some educators and parents I was reminded of how misunderstood this process is and because of that it is being implemented incorrectly. This process should be an opportunity to remediate specific areas of deficit in order to measure how the child responds to that specific intervention. Response should be quick IF the intervention is specific and accurately addressed in the designed intervention. If an intervention is NOT providing the expected result the intervention team should regroup and determine why. Maybe the intervention is not specifically matched to the skill identified as needing intervention. Maybe there is a foundation or prerequisite skill that is weak and therefore interfering with the child's "response". Maybe the intervention is not being provided frequently enough to result in a measurable change.
When I am asked to review the interventions being provided or review RTI process for school here are some of the issues I have identified that are interfering with the effectiveness of this process.
This is certainly not an all inclusive list but just a few of the issues I have witnessed. As a therapist it is easier for me to implement a RTI program because it is very similar to speech and language therapy. As a SLP I have to interpret test data, identify specific measurable goals, and then design activities that target these goals during each therapy session. I must measure the effectiveness of the intervention/activity and the child's response after each session. Depending on the child's response I have to design an appropriate intervention for the following therapy session. Maybe the child struggled and I need to adjust how I am intervening with a specific concept. Maybe the child responded beautifully and I need to increase the level of difficult of the intervention for the following session.
Unfortunately RTI has gotten a bad reputation not because it is an ineffective program but because we are not implementing it correctly simply because we don't understand it's purpose. If you are interested in learning more about the RTI process or how to make this a more effective process for your school please contact me at email@example.com. Often times there are steps that can be taken that can make a tremendous difference not only in the effectiveness of the program but also in the performance of the children!!!
Working With Not Against
Collaboration can be very difficult sometimes. In my opinion, there are some key qualities that individuals need to have in order to collaborate with other professionals or with parents. First, one needs to recognize they do not know everything even if they know a lot more than everyone else. No one is perfect nor does one person have all the answers. Second, listen first and speak last often the words not spoken are what what's most important.
I bring these two things up because in the past few weeks I have been contacted by several parents and professionals who are at the end of their rope and desperate for answers and assistance. These individuals are desperate to do what needs to be done but just like with the children they are trying to help, there is a roadblock interfering with the progress. It can be tricky navigating these situations and I find myself on all sides of the argument and there are many sides. Some of the sides include, the child, the parent, the teacher, and the administrator.
It is much easier for me to stand back, observe and identify the break down in a child's educational plan than it was when I was in one of the above mentioned roles. A fresh perspective can be priceless. This can be difficult to obtain and sometimes the fresh perspective can be difficult to hear. Here is an example with my own child. As a parent I have struggled to not let my emotions and need to protect my child get in the way of really hearing what my children's teachers are telling me. At the very first parent teacher conference of kindergarten for my oldest child the teacher pulled out a CHECKLIST!!! I knew exactly what was on that checklist and what she was going to say before she ever said one word and I was livid. It was all I could do to remain seated in my chair and not scream and yell. I don't think I have ever been more quiet in a meeting in my entire life! There was a war waging inside myself between the mom who wants to protect her child from any and every possible threat and the professional who has pulled out an identical checklist explaining to a parent what his or her child needs in order to be successful.
If I am being completely honest, even to this day I enter there parent conference not with my parent hat on but with my professional hat on because that is the only way I can REALLY HEAR what the teachers are trying to tell me. It's not always easy to hear because I immediately take it personally. Both of my children, who could not be more different, had the same kindergarten teacher and she had taught for many many years. She pulled out that checklist not because she wanted to label or limit my child. She pulled out that checklist because she saw her potential and wanted to do everything in her power to remove the barriers that might prevent her from meeting that potential. I am extremely grateful for her love and bravery because we were able to get my child what was needed in order for her to be successful and her early elementary school years were a lot more positive than mine and she is just like I was at her age.
After I left that conference, called every colleague I could, cried, and verbally abused myself for all the mistakes I made in the 5 short years of her life, I calmed enough to come up with a plan. It was then that I saw what her teacher was trying to do because I was no longer blinded by my own experience in school. When I was young, my own parents received many notes about my behavior in class. I wish I had a dollar for every time I wrote "I will not talk in class." I would be a multimillionaire! I spent many days sitting on the wall during recess because either I didn't finish my classwork, I was talking in class, or both. It was a difficult time for me which came to a head in 5th grade and the scars from that teacher are still with me today. That time in my life was the fuel behind my initial rage toward that teacher. If I had acted on my initial reaction, that conference could have gone south very fast.
I share this because it is hard to admit when we are wrong or if we don't have all the answers. This concept is difficult for me to grasp because as knowledgable as I am, with all my specialized training, and all of my experience there is always one child each year that challenges everything I thought I knew. Those are often my favorite kids because they challenge me to learn more and seek another perspective. When people ask me how I know what I know or where did I go to learn how to help kids it is difficult for me to answer because there was not one place or one training. There were thousands of children who have crossed my path and shaped me into the professional I am now. It's okay not to have all the answers. If we as professionals admitted our personal limitations then maybe parents would feel they could collaborate with us instead of hiding information or testing to see if we notice if there was a change in the child's behavior. I have had parents fearful to share evaluation reports with teachers and schools for fear they will ask their child to leave the school. Some are fearful they will only see the scores and inadvertently limit and underestimate the child's potential. Sadly this information may be exactly what the teacher needs on order to know how to best meet the needs of the child.
On the flip side, educators and administrators are often cautious about how and when to share information with parents because there is always the looming threat of a lawsuit. There are rules that govern our schools and the programs available in certain areas. There are so many in the world of special education it can be overwhelming. It is not a utopia and often it is the rules and circumstances that influence the recommendation of professionals or the options available to a child. It may not be ideal but it is often the reality so what can be done to remedy this situation?
I know there is not a simple solution to this very real problem. I know that I will always have a professional warn me about "THAT parent" or a parent warn me about "THAT teacher/professional." Sometimes those warnings will be accurate and other times they will not. Regardless, in the midst of all of this, there is a CHILD that needs the tools and support to overcome any obstacle preventing him or her from succeeding in school and later in life. Our children need opportunities for their future and these opportunities are influenced by the childhood and education they receive. So I challenge you.....the next time you feel the need to state how much you know or how much of an expert you may be on a topic, pause for a moment because there may be something more you can learn. I also challenge you to listen, really listen with more than just your ears but with your heart so you can hear what is not being said because often times that is the most important information. Maybe if we can do those two things, we will not feel the need to work against each other and instead collaborate which will result in success for a child.