How Will We Respond When Students Don’t Learn?
It is essential to implement both professional learning communities (PLC) and response to intervention (RTI) because these complementary processes are considered research-based best practices to improve student learning.
Response to intervention (RTI) is based upon the assumption that schools cannot wait for struggling students to fall far enough below grade level to "qualify" for help. Instead, schools should develop a systematic, schoolwide process in which struggling students receive targeted, research-based interventions at the first sign of difficulties. These interventions can be provided by special education and/or regular education resources. Yet for a school implementing PLC practices, this approach to helping students at risk should not be a new concept, as this process is identical to a PLC’s "pyramid of interventions."
While RTI and a pyramid of interventions (POI) have essentially the same outcome, we would contend that effectively implementing RTI practices is not possible and should not be pursued until a school effectively begins implementing the three "Big Ideas" of a PLC-a focus on learning, a collaborative culture, and a focus on results. These first steps create the foundation needed to more effectively respond when students don’t learn. To skip these vital steps and move directly into creating a RTI/POI program would be disastrous. How can a school be expected to create powerful interventions if the staff has not built a culture that believes all students can learn, has not identified what they want their students to learn, and has not created a timely assessment system that can accurately identify which students need additional help? A school or district would be putting the proverbial "cart before the horse" by requiring teacher teams to use their meeting time to discuss individual student needs, while delaying or neglecting other important, prerequisite team tasks.
Remember that the fundamental mission of collaborative time in a PLC is to focus on student learning. As a school embraces the idea that RTI and PLC are not two distinct "programs," but instead ongoing processes that strive toward this same outcome, the more a school will view their collaborative time as not "PLC time" or "RTI time," but "learning time." In other words, we hope that the lines between RTI and POI continue to "blur" to the point where they are indistinguishable.