What does it take to support both students and educators in response-to-intervention programs? Learn some techniques from Kristen Craig, K–8 reading specialist and ELA curriculum coordinator in Pennsylvania, on how to stay vulnerable, present, and engaged with everyone she works with.
t's no secret that every role in education—whether it's a teacher, assistant principal, or reading specialist—is dynamic and multi-faceted. In turn, many educators play the part of an instructional coach: taking the lead in a co-planning meeting, modeling lessons, or even presenting a new teaching strategy at a department meeting.
For the past 5 years, I've been the head of the response to intervention (RTI) program which requires me to work directly with students, coach teachers in their implementation of interventions, and oversee the ELA department and the literacy curriculum. To effectively juggle these roles, it has required me to prioritize my time, efforts, and resources in order to support students and teachers in their teaching and learning. Luckily, I've acquired a few strategies that have helped me successfully coach teachers in an RTI setting: do your homework and become an expert, listen to and learn from teachers, be consistent, manage your time wisely, and model, model, model!
Do Your Homework, Become an Expert
The influx of educational research can be overwhelming; it seems like a full-time job in itself to keep up with the plethora of newsletters, journals, and blogs. However, it's a critical aspect of professional development when you're a coach who works with RTI to learn intervention techniques and to be fully knowledgeable of the research that surrounds scaffolded instruction, assessment practices, differentiation, and research-based intervention programs.
Learn to Assess Needs
When assessing students, a specialist must craft an action plan geared towards closing achievement gaps and the same applies to a coach who works with teachers in intervention techniques. A coach must be able to problem solve, suggest best practices, and model intervention lessons for teachers based on current intervention research from pillars in the field. Research pillars who support this theory include Fountas & Pinnell, Timothy Shanahan, Lucy Caulkins, and Carol Ann Tomlinson.
Network With Peers
An intervention coach must have access to other specialists—speech therapist, special education department, occupational therapist, etc.—to refer to teachers when it's time to create student intervention plans. In addition, an intervention coach must be well versed in the core curriculum so that interventions can support the efforts of core instruction. The only way an intervention coach can properly support the teachers is by doing some homework and becoming fully aware of what supports, services, and resources would benefit instruction!
There are plenty of relevant blogs, influencers on Twitter (like those mentioned above), and even specialists' websites that can help you stay informed. For instance, organizations like ASCD and the International Literacy Association share resources and access to upcoming conferences to promote learning and networking.
It's imperative to recognize your weaknesses as an expert and seek out conferences, trainings, and literature needed for you to improve in those areas. For example, you can attend a planning meeting to become familiar with the core curriculum, take home teachers' manuals and log into the online components to explore the resources available to teachers, and most importantly, ask questions! Conversations will become second nature between a coach and a teacher when the coach has done his or her homework and feels like an expert. Plus, teachers will trust the advice and support of coaches who are perceived as experts.
Listen and Learn
Coaches are most respected and appreciated when they actively listen to teachers and learn alongside them in the classroom, and the same applies for an intervention coach. I've experienced situations where the teacher had an "a-ha! moment" before me when assessing a struggling learner. This happened when the teacher explained his or her theory about why a student is struggling and has led to some of the best opportunities for growth as an intervention specialist. It's important to recognize and appreciate the expertise of the teachers and acknowledge that they're at the front lines of instruction. Teachers often know more than they realize about their students and a coach must listen and digest their teachers' ideas in order to point out and foster creative intervention ideas.
Consistency is key as a coach and an easy way to achieve this is to just show up! Hang your schedule on your door, post it in the teachers' lounge, and stick to it. Have a process that lends itself support for teachers and assists with effective planning, execution, and post-reflection opportunities. Make sure the teachers are familiar with the process so that they are comfortable with what to expect in a coaching situation. Craft task time into each schedule that's shared with staff so they're aware of your availability.
Remember, trust and respect is built with staff when a coach is present, productive, and equally works as hard as the teachers in the classroom.
Manage Your Time
I often replay the episode of Saved By the Bell when Jesse Spano has a meltdown, with her hands emotionally in the air, as she cries, "There's never any time!" I can honestly relate to the stress Jesse felt in that episode as I am pulled in so many directions as an intervention specialist and coach.
It has taken years for me to understand that time management and prioritizing tasks is integral to the success of a coach. Clearly, the students always come first, but properly supporting a teacher can help to reach an entire classroom of students in lieu of constant one-on-one or small group work with students.
One way to manage this is to design an effective schedule that allocates certain days for coaching and certain days for student interventions. I prefer to work directly with the most at-risk students on Tuesdays and Thursdays and save Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for teachers. If that's not busy enough, don't forget to carve some task time into your schedule to plan lessons, analyze data and action plan, and complete pre- and post-observation notes.
A coach's job is multifaceted and requires someone who can juggle multiple hats on a daily basis. This is true for a coach who supports RTI programs too. However, with proper time management techniques, support of colleagues, and adequate time spent side-by-side with teachers it's possible to ensure student achievement. Remember, when coaches and teachers have an aligned vision of doing what's best for student growth, then successful teaching and learning will ensue.
About our Guest Blogger
Kristen Craig has 12 years of educational experience and is currently a K–8 reading specialist and ELA curriculum coordinator at a charter school in Philadelphia. She earned her M.Ed in Secondary English Education, has an MS in Reading, and holds a K-12 Principal Certification. Her passion lies in the field of literacy and providing equitable learning environments for students.
Follow her on Twitter @KristenCraig20!