Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination

by Mary Howard

On 6/20/19, #G2Great culminated our 5-part intervention series as we highlighted a central feature of this process: Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination. I took great pleasure in writing this post since I also had the honor to write the first post in the series on 5/23/19: Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. My writerly bookends status seemed fitting considering these features reflect two essential factors that hold the entire intervention process together and can ultimately become what will enrich or diminish this process. 

As I reflected back on our #G2Great chat and perused inspired tweets, I wavered in my quest to find a hook for this post. But the more I thought about the five descriptors in our title, the more I realized that intervention success is dependent upon our ability to understand each of those words individually. With this depth of understanding, we can then merge those words in a thoughtfully responsive way. Suddenly I knew it made sense to deconstruct the title word by word: Design, Flexible, BridgeCollaborativeCoordination. After all, how can we create a thoughtfully responsive intervention merger if we don’t understand the critical role each descriptor plays within that merger?

With this in mind and in celebration of the conclusion of our five-part intervention series, I’m going to depart from my usual #G2great post by discussing these five words individually in order to emphasize the importance of each within the intervention process and then reflect on how those words will work in tandem to create that thoughtfully responsive merger of collective commitment. 

Design

The word “design” brings to mind an active process of creating something that could support and enhance our vision for what we want to accomplish. One of the struggles that we have had in creating a powerful intervention process is that too many schools have been weighted down by a design based on flawed mandates and dictates that restrict our efforts rather than to afford us the freedom to create a design based on a wider vision unfettered by limitations. This design must begin with a clear understanding of our vision at a deeper level as we then to consider how we can bring a shared vision to life within a supportive foundation in that spirit. To do this we may need to get out of our own way by breaking down the ties that bind as we refuse to allow marketeers and warped ideas to blind us. What is possible in this design process will come into view only if we don’t let anything stand in the way of a design that would breathe life into possible. 

Flexibility

But creating a design that would bring a shared vision to life is only the beginning. No matter how good our design may be, that design will be compromised by the flawed belief that any one-size-fits-all intervention view will ever be adequate. The choices that we make within our design must maintain flexibility of purpose as we identify intervention opportunities that are student-centered rather than other-centered. If interventions are not based on the unique needs of that child at that time, we miss the point. Our design is the foundation but it is flexibility that affords us an instructional playground with room to make the richest possible professional decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment and child-to-child basis. There is an inherent danger of losing flexibility if we are more concerned about what is easy, cheap or fast rather than what is in the best interest of the child. 

Bridge

I love the idea of a bridge that will maximize our design and elevate our ability to hold tight to instructional flexibility since it’s how we get from where we are to where we need to be. But a bridge assumes a two-way entry point from either end with ample room to meet in the middle and all points in between. Too often, schools create a design with a flexible view but then seem to believe that they have “arrived” and thus see no room for growth and change. The flexible decisions that we make within our design playground are always changing and growing as our children change and grow because our bridge allows for continued movement in any direction. Our success is dependent on our willingness to invest both the time and financial resources that supports long-term professional learning that will thus transform that learning into worthy instructional practices. But as teacher maneuver their way along our bridge, they need ongoing support, preferably through high quality coaching with respectful and timely feedback. Without this, our view along a pathway to a child-centered focus will always be blurred.

Collaboration

But even when we have managed to breathe life into a flexible design bridge centered on the child with the ongoing learning that leads us to professional empowerment, we’ll still fall short until we can invite respectful conversational dialogue to the thinking table. The collective impact of our intervention efforts can’t live in a professional vacuum so dialogue that revolves around the needs of our learners is essential. Interventions viewed from a lens of collaboration has the potential to transform our professional conversations into collective commitment for the greater good of our school, our teachers and the children we support, whether they are in interventions or not. Our combined professional wisdom requires us to embrace this shared learning as we grow into our best selves within a never-ending learning process. Our unwavering dedication to children is a reminder that we can find our way to excellence in the company of others. And as we grow as professionals, so our flexible design bridge grows with us. There is no end point of arrival for achieving this lofty goal. Rather we choose to courageously embark on a shared journey that is oft times riddled in the uncertainty that inspires even more passion-driven collaborations.    

Coordination

That brings us to our final descriptor that could further enhance our efforts. We can have the most instructionally powerful flexible collaboration design bridge, but this is irrelevant until we consistently coordinate our intervention efforts within and across tiers. The first four descriptors will offer a common professional lens that makes it possible for every educator who is supporting this child to coordinate their efforts. But success is dependent upon cumulative knowledge of literacy research and our knowledge of the child in front of us. This child-fueled understanding has nothing to do with narrow data points but the daily informants that support our shared decision-making. To know the child assumes that we know the same child and not the one we purport to know individually. Our responsibility to this child will require our efforts to be inseparably intertwined so that we can use that cumulative knowledge to offer interventions based on intensive “in addition to” coordinated support. The minute we create a divide and conquer mentality, we are doomed since our professional choices must be mutually supportive and not at cross purposes. Through this coordinated effort along our collaborative flexible design bridge, our interventions will lead to the accelerated progress our students need.

THE INTERVENTION MERGER

And so, we come full circle as we bring our descriptors together in order to initiate the thoughtfully responsive merger our children deserve. Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination is but an empty promise based on isolated words until we bring each descriptor to life in joyful integrated harmony in the company of children. This is the turning point where we are able to elevate our intervention impact within and beyond the intervention process. For too long we have celebrated narrow ideas based on the shallow terminology that gives us nowhere to go. No matter how grand that terminology may be, those words are meaningless until they come together in celebration of student learning. And we owe that level of dedicated commitment to each and every child.

But now we need to blend the key components of the intervention process one step further. My two writerly bookends reflect only the first and last chats in our series, but the term “series” implies that one topic cannot stand alone. This is certainly true in this case and thus the reason we have three other topics that are all equally critical. If we look to our umbrella title in the series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and then reflect on each of the five topics in combination, we can again see how each of our parts work in combination for the greater good of the whole:

Intervention Series

5/23/19 (#1): Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense written by Mary Howard 

 5/30/19 (#2): Embracing Books as our Strategic Intervention Heart and Soul written by Jenn Hayhurst

6/6/19 (#3) : Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal written by Fran McVeigh

 6/13/19 (#4) : Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions written by Valinda Kimmel

6/20/19 (#5): Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination written by Mary Howard

All five of these important topics are key considerations within any thoughtfully responsive merger that has the potential to translate into intervention excellence. I believe that this spirit of excellence is the only option we have and one that is worth fighting for in our schools.

MY FINAL REFLECTIONS

Before the chat began, we shared one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes that seems like a perfect closing to this post. Our intervention efforts have resided on shaky ground since IDEA 2004 made RTI our intervention reality. Given the research on our lack of success within this process, we need a new reality – a vastly improved reality. We have focused our intervention attention thus far too heavily on the chocolate and as a result have ignored the oxygen that would put us back on terra firma. The oxygen we need will only come when we can refocus our attention on the intervention process from a broader lens. Bringing our new intervention reality to life will require us to know our WHY from a much deeper level so that we can use this to translate our WHAT and HOW in the most purposeful and yes, thoughtfully responsive merger. It is my deepest hope that we will be able to make this reality transformation in our schools in the name of our children. 

In the end, that’s the only intervention outcome that matters!

Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal (3/5)

by Fran McVeigh

The June 7th, 2019 #G2Great chat was the midpoint of five chats scheduled under the title: Rethinking our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and and it was momentous as the Twitterverse was filled with wisdom about increasing volume.

Before we can begin, what exactly are we talking about?

What is volume? This question whirred in my brain for the week leading up to the chat as I thought about my answers to the chat questions and this follow up blog post. Some answers: Not the volume on the TV. Not the “speak louder” for volume in fluent reading. Not the first “volume” in the Harry Potter series. Not the volume measurement in liters.

How do you define volume in reading? In search of a definition of volume, I consulted some reading texts, Google Scholar, and some real life literacy scholars. There are several definitions available. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis define it as “Access + Choice + Time.” Those three elements were present in the pre-chat quotes shown here.

Although literacy gurus agreed that volume was critical to student success in reading and writing, everyone also had just a little different twist that added depth. Allington said it most succinctly when he talked of time spent reading and number of words read.

Scholastic. June 2015

Others chimed in with “meaningful” and “engaged” reading as well as “across the day” although a commitment to time remained constant. Both Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher tell us that if students are not reading AT school then we know they are not reading at home either.

But is Reading Volume more flexible and fluid than JUST time and words?

Yes, there must be a commitment to time but a small part also says access means a lot of texts as well as the engagement factor or rapture of being “lost in a great book” and then the meaningful conversations that come from conferring and dialogue about books.

How do we measure Reading Volume?

In the past many have tried to measure reading volume with book logs and lists of books read. Questions and concerns arose from those practices: Were the books chosen by the students or the teachers? Were the lists accurate? Did the lists include some “fake reading” titles?

Accountability may have won the battle and lost the Volume War as students did the “bare minimum” or perhaps less only in the name of compliance or completed logs. Time is surely one factor.

But does time only count when provided by teachers?

What about the time when students are “sneak reading”? And HOW would time be counted? Minutes? Pages? Books? If we value time spent reading, there is no time to be wasted “counting” words so we could use “The Google” to find out some word counts. (Try googling Harry Potter and number of words just for fun.) As students build up stamina, how could/should those counts increase?

One way to consider the flexibility and fluidity of time is shown in this table from Simple Starts by Kari Yates. The differences between the fall and spring show the expected growth in time and also reflects the increased difficulty of texts throughout the course of the year.

Heinemann link

A commitment to access to quality books (chat #2) and quality Tier 1 (chat #1) are a great beginning to improving interventions for striving students. Where do we find Access, Choice and Time that are necessary for reading VOLUME? We will need to continue to say NO to programs that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to continue to say NO to interventions that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to “magic bullets” that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to spending money on resources that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read.

How can these tweets add to your knowledge bank?

Tweets curated from Wakelet

What conversations do YOU need to have about VOLUME?

#G2Great Embracing Books As Our Strategic Intervention Heart & Soul

By Jenn Hayhurst

May 30, 2019, marked the arrival of Part 2 of our 5 part series, Rethinking Our Intervention as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We had an inspired conversation about how we might embrace books as our strategic intervention heart and soul. When teachers use excellent trade books as a centerpiece for a classroom intervention, they are rewarded with authentic reading experiences with children. Good books combined with responsive teaching is just what is needed to bridge student gaps.

What is it about that word, intervention? To me, it gives off this negative connotation that students need something overly complex when what they really need is good teaching. So when our #G2Great team thought about having a chat that focused on using books as an intervention tool, it just felt right. The #G2Great PLN also seemed to agree:

We refer to books as a strategic intervention heart and soul because connecting with books is life changing. Literacy changes who we are in very real ways by influencing what we think about and even who we aspire to become. When teachers know who their students are they have this immense power to put students in touch with books that will resonate and reflect their identities and values back to them. It may sound lofty but as I read these tweets I see that this is inherently true:

There is so much potential for growth if we were to make a commitment to embrace books as our strategic heart and soul. Think about it. An intervention program that is built on good books and thoughtful teachers is one to celebrate. Invest some time getting to know students, add in a teacher’s expansive knowledge of books, and now there is real potential. There is the potential not only to improve a child’s ability to read but also to shape the identity of the reader. I think that Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly say it best in their book, Reading to Make a Difference:

Teachers build their bridges for their students one book at a time. Truly, the most effective interventions are both elegant and simple. A teacher, a good book, and a student with an open mind can change the world. Believe it.

On a personal note, I’d like to welcome, Brent Gilson to our #G2Great team. Welcome, Brent! What was once only three dedicated teachers has grown into a bigger more vibrant team.

Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense

by Mary Howard

On 5/23/19, we launched the first of a five-week #G2Great chat series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We knew that our first exploratory venture of the series should highlight the central intervention feature so we set our sights on Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. Considering the critical nature of this topic, the passionate twitter dialogue that grew to a fever pitch followed by early twitter trending did not surprise us.

From the first inspired tweet, I felt a sense of gratitude that I was bestowed the honor of writing this post on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I have been quite vocal about my hopes and fears for Response to Intervention since IDEA 2004 made RTI a reality in our schools. In fact, it was my perpetual two-pronged hope-fear conflict that first prompted me to write RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (2009 Heinemann) and since then write extensively about this topic on my Facebook page.  

After the chat, I excitedly dug into the inspired tweets as renewed hope quickly rose to the surface along with pride and gratitude for our #G2Great family. That joy was soon clouded by feeling lost in a sea of twitter goodness. After all, making Tier 1 our central intervention feature feels like an overwhelming prospect and yet irrefutably is the most crucial professional imperative of all. I didn’t want to just replicate the not-to-be-messed-with-twitter-wisdom since that’s what our Wakelet artifact is for. While I was utterly inspired by this wisdom, the sense of direction I’d hoped to find was fading.

When my writerly worries rise to the surface as they often do, my coping mechanism usually pushes me to take a side trip to my favorite thinking playground (aka Google). Realizing that accomplishing this lofty Tier 1 as the first line of intervention defense requires us to establish non-negotiables that would transform our imperative into reality, I hopefully tossed the word “non-negotiable” at my google friend. Lo and behold, my new favorite word came instantly into view:

The word sacrosanct felt like it oozed a sense of intervention urgency.  I suddenly realized that the best way to approach this post was to narrow my thoughts to a few critical factors we must regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with. Problem solved. Sense of direction back in view.

And so I give you my six “Sacrosanct Priorities” that I hope will offer a thoughtful nudge to ensure that Tier 1 does not continue to get lost in the intervention shuffle, but rather will regain a much deserved role at the very center of our efforts:

Sacrosanct Priority #1: BELIEFS

I can’t imagine how we can ever achieve Tier 1 as the central intervention feature without naming and highlighting the innermost beliefs that we hold professionally dear. I often visit schools and as I enter the building I’m usually greeted by a framed vision statement. While the calligraphy lettering and glowing language are visually impressive on the surface, too often I find a glaring mismatch between what is alluded to in that frame and the reality of Tier 1 on a day-to-day basis. The truth is that these framed papers merely represent shallow words until we are able to verbalize our values so vividly that we can show our commitment to them in the company of children where they matter most. Our beliefs are the promise that we make to our children but they mean nothing until we are able to bring them to life in our classrooms. Making our beliefs public becomes a visible reminder that anything less is simply unacceptable – not in theory but in practice. 

Sacrosanct Priority #2: CULTURE

But breathing life into our beliefs does not mean that any teacher can opt out. We do not identify our beliefs so that those who want to embrace them can do so and those who don’t can do whatever they choose even if in direct conflict with those beliefs. We must create a culture of excellence that stretches from from one side of the building to the other so that our children are not relegated to the luck of the draw. Wishing and hoping on every professional star in the belief universe will never turn those beliefs into a culture until we have collective commitment. This means that every teacher must embrace those beliefs so that we can carry them in our back pockets every day we walk into that building no matter who we are. But to do that, we must transform our beliefs into actionable experiences so that those things we value will become the beating heart of the entire building so that we will all be in professional sync. This is especially important at Tier 1 since this is where interventions students will spend the bulk of the day. Why would we make excellence optional?

Sacrosanct Priority #3: TIME

Ah, the great intervention belief killer. I’ve always wondered why most of our interventionists have a healthy respect about our limited time, respect that is not always evident in Tier 1. My theory is that the more we have of something the more we tend to forget just how valuable it is. Wealthy people seem to throw vast money sources away while those without much seem to conserve it. Perhaps this is also true in our schools where those who have thirty precious minutes to spend with children expend that limited time wisely while those who have six hours with children may feel a sense of complacency about some of those minutes. But time is precious no matter how little or how much we may have, especially for students who need more intensive support. Interventions cannot be something that we relegate to any one person. They are owned by all of us and so should happen in the Tier 1 setting. The clock intervention clock is always ticking so we can’t afford to waste a minute no matter how much time we have. The question that begs to be asked at Tier 1 is, “Why are we?” 

Sacrosanct Priority #4: INTENT

Based on my extensive work in schools, this unfortunate wasting of time isn’t always the fault of teachers. As long as we mandate belief-sucking, time-wasting culture-killing nonsense that is in direct conflict with what we purport to value, the promise of Tier 1 at the center of our intervention efforts will remain ever out of view.  If we force-feed teachers (and thus children) one-size-fits all boxes and computerized programs, interventions that could actually make a difference will be out of reach as we send mixed messages and the very practices that would be thoughtfully responsive for meeting the needs of our intervention students would be out of reach. If we set our sights only on the most effective practices then we’d have a full six hour day to intervene across virtually every curriculum area. Intent allows us to make reading, writing, talking and thinking the heart of our learning day. But this will require us to address the myth of a full day of whole class instruction so that we can we return a balance to Tier 1 with I Do, We Do and You Do experiences that include whole class, small group and side by side teaching and learning. Intent, or choosing experiences that enrich the learning lives of all children all day, creates a culture where our beliefs inform where we spend our time collectively.

Sacrosanct Priority #5: RESOURCES

But in order to make balanced literacy a reality in the Tier 1 setting, we must ensure that we make a financial investment in the resources our Tier 1 teachers need. We can’t embrace beliefs, culture, time, or intent until we provide the resources that support those things. This begins by showering teachers with the books that will enrich the entire learning day across the curriculum. Imagine what would happen if we said “NO” to the $500,000 basal program so that we could say “YES” to investing those dollars in the resources that would make a real difference for teachers and children, such as filling our Tier 1 classroom libraries to brimming. We have decades of research to support the role of dramatically increasing the volume of reading, especially for our intervention students. But until we choose to expend available financial resources on those instructional resources designed to increase rather than decrease volume, we will forever be doomed to repeat past mistakes. We don’t have an intervention problem; we have a commonsense problem. We could start to right this wrong by taking the checkbook away from irresponsible others so that our expenditures reflect our beliefs, not what blinds us to those beliefs, and thus culture, time and intent would follow.

Sacrosanct Priority #6: KNOWLEDGE

But none of those five Tier 1 priorities will ever be possible until we make a commitment to ensure that every teacher in our building has the research-informed knowledge that will fuel the entire learning day. This knowledge guides teacher decision-making and the ability to use formative assessment that will support us in using that research in practice. Our Tier 1 teachers are then far more likely to embrace each of our sacrosanct priorities and far less likely to hit Teachers Pay Teachers activity buy buttons, complain that there isn’t time for independent reading or suggest that a scripted read aloud can come even close to the invitational read aloud that can happen only in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher in the company of curious listeners. Unless we are willing to make ongoing professional learning a high priority every day, we cannot blame teachers for making the choices that derail our efforts to elevate the Tier 1 learning day. Our growing knowledge will fuel our efforts and thus become embedded in all we do, buy, say, think and support when we create a wide range of opportunities for respectful professional dialogue across the learning year in support of ongoing learning.

So, let’s play a little Mary style math here. If you add up my six Sacrosanct Priorities of Belief, Culture, Time, Intent, Resources and Knowledge, you get the ultimate Tier 1 magic: 

Child at the Center

And that, my friends, is the Tier 1 united sacrosanct priority at its finest! I believe that the potential for our intervention success rests on our ability to keep Tier 1 at the center. But this requires us to take a long hard look at what has thwarted our path to this point and how we have (or have not) thus far positioned Tier 1 within this process. Our intervention efforts must become a force of good for the children who need them and this resides within Tier 1 where children spend most of their time. The path from 2004 to present has reflected many successes to this end, but that path has also been littered with missteps along the way that are far from the force of good our children deserve. Until we honor those things we regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with, I don’t think Tier 1 will ever be positioned as our first line of intervention defense. And that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

And so we stand at the crossroads once again…

We are at a crossroads. We can either use response to intervention as an opportunity to rebuild a positive climate or allow it to devolve into something that takes us even farther from the reason most of us became teachers.

Mary Howard, RTI from All Sides, Heinemann, 2009, page 2

Where we go from here is entirely in our hands, but I believe that if we could initiate the same kind of inspired dialogue we all witnessed on Twitter May 23, 2019 from 8:30 to 9:30 EST… well, then we would stand a chance to alter the course of our Tier 1 efforts and ultimately meet the intervention promise that I first saw in 2004. But that will never happen unless Tier 1 is leading the way as we alleviate our view of thirty-minute fix-it rooms and opt to re-envision a full day where Tier 1 can become our intervention superpower. 

As we stand at the intervention crossroads, it is my deepest hope that we choose the Tier 1 priority pathway. Anything less robs children of our best hope – a classroom teacher who should know their intervention needs more than anyone.

And that makes the Tier 1 teachers sacrosanct, doesn’t it?