Matthew Treadway

Matthew Treadway, EdD, is the former principal of Freedom Elementary School in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, where he led his staff in developing a collaborative culture centered on the three big ideas of a professional learning community.

Intervention: The Critical Safety Net

I've got to be honest, when I see people engage in recreational hobbies like free-climbing, I get extremely nervous. Perhaps the biggest reason is due to my severe fear of heights. I tend to watch with both hands clinging to my face to shield me from the imminent disaster that I'm convinced will occur right in front of me. My anxiousness and absolute certainty that something horrible is about to happen gets the best of me every single time. Finding myself in a scenario like that would only occur in the worst of my nightmares. You know the ones, where you wake up screaming at the top of your lungs and clinging to your pillow for dear life! When ferris wheels are a personally terrifying experience for you, rock climbing is just about five bridges too far.

With all of that said, I do admire those people that take such risks. While I am far too scared to actually do it myself, it's fascinating that others face such challenges with complete certainty and trust in their training. Even for those folks, though, I tend to think they have a great deal of faith in their equipment as well. I mean honestly, when just one wrong step or a slip of the hand is the difference between life and death, it's pretty important to have a strong safety net in place to prevent disaster from occurring.

And yet, I can't help but be reminded of critical question 3 when I imagine the safety gear that catches climbers when things do go badly.How will we respond when they don't learn? Just like rock climbing, having intentional structures to catch students when they don't perform to mastery is critical as well. "Intervention is most effective when the interventions are timely, structured, and mandatory; focused on the cause of a student's struggles rather than on a symptom; administered by a trained professional and part of a system that guarantees that these practices apply no matter which teacher a student is assigned to," (Buffum et al., 2010).

Let’s break that down a little further:

  • Timely- Without question, time is of the absolute essence. Students should not receive interventions weeks or months after initial instruction has occurred. Instead, it should be embedded within the sequence of instruction planned from the very start. This is where our common formative assessments come into play. By utilizing this critical source of data to develop learning plans for students, response can occur immediately.
  • Structured- When critical question 3 is answered by collaborative teams through structured and routine practices, it becomes a regular and expected part of how schools operate. Utilizing protocols will help solidify this work and assist teachers in implementing this step in their classroom.
  • Mandatory- That word extends to ALL learners. As a result, nobody is afforded the opportunity to opt out of recovering grade level essential standards. Regardless of labels, perceived ability levels, or backgrounds, all learners receive support when mastery has not yet been achieved.
  • Focused on cause- At the root of any good system of support is targeted intervention. Addressing gaps that prevent students from achieving mastery requires very specific and prescribed plans that address the next course of action. Utilizing an established protocol will aid in this department as well.
  • Administered by a trained professional- To go a step further, perhaps we could add that systems of intervention are planned and administered by trained professionals. A collaborative approach to developing and administering these critical and targeted interventions cannot be accomplished in isolation. Students thrive when educators work in unison with one another.
  • Guaranteed and viable curriculum- After all, isn’t that what critical question 3 ensures? That all students, regardless of what classroom they are in, are provided the same opportunity to master grade-level standards? This concept should be evident in core instruction and should remain consistent when students fail to master it the first time around.

When it's simply not an option to let a kid slip through the cracks and we have a systematic schoolwide process to ensure it, students are provided the best opportunity to climb to their grandest heights. They can do so with absolute confidence in themselves, their training, and the support structure that will always be there to catch them when they need it. 


Buffum, A., Mattos, M., & Weber, C. (2010). The Why Behind RTI. Educational Leadership, 68(2).

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