Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Engaging Our Faculty in PRTI

Over the last few weeks, our staff has been working feverishly to create structures that enhance and ensure adult and student learning.  We are refining our collaborative commitments to one another to ensure positive communication, problem discovery and risk-taking in our whole staff and collaborative meetings.  We have designed and begun to implement a collaborative model that enables self-organized learning within a framework of defining guaranteed curricula and recognized struggle points.  And we have done all of this within the context of a collectively defined vision that has been initially formulated by our teachers, but will also be co-created by our parents and our student body. 

As we are doing this while the school year is in progress, suffice it to say the first five weeks have been crazy.  Crazy good.

But this afternoon at our faculty meeting, we had more work to do in terms of the interventions that we have in place to ensure student learning at our school. Over the course of last year, Sa-Hali made a commitment to Pyramid Response to Intervention. As we know, PRTI strives to blur the lines between general and special education to create a systematic means to serve all students, regardless of whether they are learners who struggle significantly or just need some minor 'fine-tuning' to get back on track. And while we have created our CORE team and numerous structures to support student learning through the lens of PRTI, we realized as a group at our Student Services collaborative team meeting last Wednesday (which I was lucky enough to be a part of) that we needed to find a way to familiarize our staff with these structures in such a way that they would be comfortable using them in the future.  

Hmmm. How about a flashy Powerpoint with lots of bullets and animations describing each of the structures that we have at our school followed by a handout at the end that the faculty could take with them?

Yawn. Paper airplane coming up. The design team scuttled that thought in a hurry. "We tried that once, remember?"

Our design team wanted to stay aligned with our guiding principles for faculty meetings around staff engagement and adult learning (from a post early last month called "Inclusive Staff Meetings"), which meant co-creating an activity that:
  • requires the engagement of each staff member 
  • models the use of higher order critical thinking skills for our staff (interpretation, prediction, selection, synthesis, etc) in an exercise they can adapt and apply to their classes 
  • leads to the implementation of a tangible product (such as the chart from our Social Justice class) that is reflective of each of our voices, and subsequently guides us for all of our future staff meetings.
So, in the span of a 45 minute collaborative meeting (and an incredible effort from our Student Services Coordinator and her staff leading up to our faculty meeting), the team created an activity that looked like this (yes, these are the actual handouts below--cool).

  • our staff was divided into groups of 5-6 and given five blank "Scenario Sheets"--these sheets had a large space for "Teacher Interventions" (Tier 1) interventions for group brainstorming plus a blank flowchart below
  • each of our twelve Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions with detailed descriptions were put on to different colors of paper, and each group member given two of these to role play for the other group members
  • the staff was presented with 5 "Student Scenarios" that described fictitious student situations of varying levels of complexity -- things such as

  • in their groups, teachers (equipped with their roles) brainstormed their Tier 1 responses, shared their roles with the group, and evaluated the scenario, and then assessed which other interventions would be most appropriate to help the fictitious student in question as well as the sequence in which they would be enacted.
  • groups then had to report out to the large group so that we could compare solutions, clarify any questions about our intervention mechanisms, and suggest alterations.
I was stunned by the response of the staff to this exercise. Because of the structure of the exercise that our Student Services team presented, I saw 40 professionals dig in, ask questions, respectfully challenge the responses of members of their own groups and other groups, wave the activity leaders off and shout "we need more time with this one", flip through the interventions and shake their heads while saying things like "we don't need to go to that level yet" and "we need to make a connection with kids like this". It was awesome.

And at the end of the exercise, our amazing Student Services Coordinator collected all of the scenario sheets from each of the groups so that she and the rest of the Student Services team could analyze each of the responses to see if there were any gaps that she needed to fill with the staff during their next collaborative meeting. She also wanted to use the results to shape and tailor our PRTI flowchart to ensure the staff could efficiently use the interventions available to them for our students.  

But that's not all.

In the spirit of reflection, as a staff, we looked at the activity that we did. Much like in the past, we could have done a handout. We could have done a 'think-pair share'. But there would have been little guarantee of learning. As a group, we analyzed this PRTI task through the lens of what we were 'saying, doing, and writing' so that our group could 'learn the work by doing the work'.

Our Technology Coordinator and English Coordinator are well-versed in Photoshop for poster creation. With their assistance, our school will design and implement a less-conventional, student-appealing PRTI graphic complete with terms in 'kid-speak' that will be posted in each classroom (and on our webpage). This will allow our students, parents and staff to know each of the supports that will be enacted should students struggle with the outcomes in our courses.

This process took (and will continue to take) a great deal of effort from numerous people on a variety of fronts. However, the very thrust of PRTI is to blur the lines between special services and the regular classroom. By having the entire faculty co-create our PRTI model through an collaboratively developed "case-study"-style activity that we found to require adult participation and learning through our task analysis, I believe we will have significantly more buy-in than we would have by simply listing our interventions on a Powerpoint and hoping people would utilize them.

If you have ideas or suggestions on how we can improve this process at our school, please comment and let us know!

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