The Seven I’s
As principal of Viers Mill Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland, from 1997 to 2005, I learned a great deal about the benefits of operating as a professional learning community (PLC). As a community, we tried to keep our focus on the four critical questions. We had a specific emphasis on question number 3: What will we do when students haven’t learned it? In school, as in life, some of the best lessons come from the mistakes we make. At Viers Mill, we tried for several years to respond to student needs by providing after-school club experiences for those who were not meeting the standards. Implementing the clubs involved numerous committed teachers and staff members who worked very hard to provide support for our struggling students. Despite these efforts, we were not seeing the results that we wanted and needed for our children. The breakthrough came when we started to ask ourselves additional questions about the supports we provided—questions about the long-term goals for each student, the specific learning problem that was holding the student back, the root cause of their difficulty, and the specific strategies that could be used to address that root cause. Over time, we began to see that we needed to include additional steps in our process if we were to really meet the needs of individual kids. The sequence that we came up with was The Seven I’s.
First I: Imagine
Anything meaningful to be done with students begins with having a clear vision of what you want them to be able to know and do. This is a great opportunity to imagine and visualize the future success that you want for these students. The Imagine step is also closely tied to the review of curriculum and agreement on essential outcomes. The future that we imagine for students includes meeting and exceeding all grade-level expectations so that one day they are truly prepared for success in college and the world of work.
Second I: Instruct
All plans for student success have to begin with a focused emphasis on great first instruction. Principals, teachers, and staff have to do the work to ensure that essential outcomes are being taught and that instruction is carefully planned and implemented in a way that engages students and meets individual needs. The importance of great first instruction cannot be over-emphasized.
Third I: Identify
Once the essential outcomes have been identified and taught, student mastery needs to be assessed, both formally and informally, and through a variety of methods. This assessment process can then be used to identify the students who have not mastered the content as a result of the first instruction. Individual teachers and teams work collaboratively to review student data to identify those who need additional support.
Fourth I: Individualize
Next you need to drill down to the root cause for the student’s difficulty so that an intervention can be planned to address that root cause. At Viers Mill, we saw tremendous strides in our students’ reading performance as we got more and more specific about their individual reading difficulty and then planned an intervention support to address that particular problem.
Fifth I: Implement
Clarify all of the logistics (i.e., staff, time, and materials) that are needed to successfully implement the support and ensure that they are in place. Do everything possible to maintain the fidelity of the support, living by the credo that the fundamental purpose of every school is student learning.
Sixth I: Investigate
Soon after you begin the implementation of the support, you need to investigate whether or not it is being implemented effectively and whether or not it is positively affecting student performance. In other words, “Is it working?” Review this data carefully to determine if any adjustments are needed.
Seventh I: Improve
Based on review of student progress and other data, collaboratively discuss upgrades and improvements. What could we do to make this more effective for this student? How could we tweak this strategy to make it more effective for future students? This is also a great time to involve the student. Ask students who have received interventions and support for feedback. Did they like the support? Did it help them? Would they recommend the experience to a friend, etc.? Then you are ready to start the process again.
In working with many schools over the past 10 years, I have found many that overemphasize the third and fifth I’s, sometimes completely forsaking the other steps in the process. They identify kids for support and then implement an intervention. They then find, as I did at Viers Mill, that this will not meet the needs of all students. Once we made the shift, as part of our PLC journey, to devote ourselves to all seven steps, we saw marked improvement for all our students. This achievement growth culminated with selection of Viers Mill as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2005. Since 2005, under a great principal named Matt Devan, the Viers Mill staff has continued to go the extra mile for students. As a result, all student subgroups score in the mid- to high-90s on all state assessments. I encourage you, as you consider interventions for students and implement RTI strategies, to consider what we learned on our PLC journey.