I must preface this lengthy analogy with the assertion that I am not an RTI expert, and I write completely based upon my own informal, independent research on the subject within my experience as both a regular high school classroom educator and an elementary school administrator.
Having been a theater teacher and school theater director in the past, it occurred to me today the similarities between the RTI provided during the rehearsals for a production and the RTI provided in our general education programs.
Too often, we consider effective RTI too difficult a requirement to incorporate into what we are already doing to support our students. To be quite frank, I think what intimidates us most is the re-prioritizing and re-organizing of what we have held onto for many years because we naturally teach how we were taught or through the lens by which we experienced education, and the unnatural integration of some other support system is uncomfortable, and skeptically, we doubt its effectiveness since it is neither what worked for us nor what we think has been working for our students in years past.
To break down RTI into what I see as the same process as preparation for a theatrical production, it is important to set forth some disclaimers. RTI requires that all students have a role on stage in the final production and that all students are expected to perform their roles so that the “show must go on.” Though the federal “No Child Left Behind” program faced much scrutiny for being somewhat idealistic and for its flawed and inconsistent support for implementation, insistence that all students receive support academically such that they will be best equipped within their cognitive means to perform successfully is both equitable and imperative. No child will should be or will be hidden in an effective RTI implementation. With this being overtly mentioned, RTI should not set out to be a Comedy of Errors or Love’s Labours Lost; instead, the production should reflect more of an end that All’s Well that Ends well.
Before tackling the Tiers of tears, it is important that RTI be systematically organized, especially to handle the uncertainties of the implementation and to establish and maintain momentum throughout the process for all students. The cast must be committed to an excellent production at all levels and must not intend to ride on the merits of previous productions nor be discouraged by the previous failures.
As with any production, a director must fully engage and monitor fidelity within RTI, but a plethora of other experts must be consistently involved in orchestrating what the director has designed. The director (oftentimes a school administrator) must always be receptive to the concerns and difficulties expressed by those orchestrating the plans and responsive by adjusting resources and strategies to best equip the cast members for the final production. Costumers, a stage director, stagehands, set designers, and various “behind the scenes” personnel must be working collaboratively with the director(s) throughout the stages of preparation for the production. Every angle of the production must be considered analytically so that even unexpected mishaps can be averted.
Another element that must be clear is a script, schedule, and date of production that reveals the full scope of the timeline and rationale for RTI. Without a coherent sense of the date of production or the script beforehand, the backstage staff will wander aimlessly from one standard to another without a clear sense of the overall goal.
Once the vision is clear for all participating, other pieces need to be set in place and appropriately adjusted during rehearsals or intervention/extension times. The prop master is perhaps one of the most important roles in tier two and three interventions. This person ensures that the appropriate tools are available to the teachers and students for effective “performance.” One can not expect to place the same props in the same place for everyone and to see all roles performed with proficiency. Every student plays a different role in his or her aspiration to be part of a successful production. This is important, too, that each student recognizes his or her individual performance as a critical component of the school performance.
In implementation, RTI must continue to focus on specific hindrances from the conveyance of a coherent message, both by its individual constituents and as a production company. One of the sharpest criticisms that I have made of my own analogy here is that it focuses too heavily on an end product or comparison of the performance to the assessment; however, it is important that the assessment is seen formatively in the same way that theatrical performances are seen as formative assessments of whether or not preparation for the production was appropriate.
If we were to extend this analogy too far, certainly it would fall apart on multiple other levels, but my reason for explicating it in this way is primarily to demonstrate that RTI is not simply a one size fits all program, nor is it possible without multiple levels of support. Its primary purpose should be student learning irrespective of an assessment-based production, but those who know that the show will go on in spite of any difficulties that may arise may use this analogy and develop it more coherently such that they can reveal the need for meticulous planning and attention to detail. I have attended and have been a part of both dynamic and flat performances, and having been responsible for producing plays myself, I know that the attention paid to the initial schedule and during rehearsals to the details of each individual’s performance in the form of progress monitoring makes the difference in what we will see when students are expected to perform.