Three years ago, three cohorts and I ventured out into Brazosport ISD armed with a basic knowledge of the intervention framework called ‘Response to Intervention’. The Curriculum Director and Special Education Director hired us to implement a new academic intervention structure in K-2 classrooms. We were extremely naive and thought everyone would be as excited as we were about this innovative system for preventing student failure. Naive is an understatement. We did not anticipate the rage and indignation that would be expressed by principals and teachers as we went from school to school talking about how we would help organzie massive screening, progress monitoring and research-based instruction for students in need. On one occasion, as the special education director and I were preparing to present an overview of RtI to campus staff, the principal pulled me aside and said, “Kim, don’t worry, I have asked the faculty to throw only soft items like tomatoes at you this afternoon-nothing dangerously sharp.”
Of course, our approach was wrong on so many levels. New ideas, initiatives and/or instructional strategies must start from the bottom up. How arrogant we were to assume that everyone would jump on our bandwagon when they were already juggling a host of unsupported, poorly managed initiatives. We didn’t know it at the time, but RtI as a district practice was dead in the water even before the sharp objects started flying.
James, Liz, Patti and I have gone our separate ways. We have each taken the research of Deno, Torgesen, Fuchs, Vaughn and many others and applied it directly to teaching children. I am amazed at the immediate results of well-researched reading strategies, the positive instructional influence of progress monitoring and the positive impact of family involvement in the process. Liz, James and I get together on a regular basis and talk for hours about what we are doing, share new books, articles and ideas to improve our practice. We are such nerds.
I will always be grateful to the teacher who shook her finger in my face and declared through clenched teeth, “Do you know what the teachers are saying about you? They are saying you are an idealist!” Misguided, top down idealism was unproductive. Ground up, self-initiated idealism is changing the trajectory of a number of children’s academic skills. Live and learn. Vaya el idealism!