We all mean well. Teachers, administrators, counselors, school psychologists, bus drivers, lunch monitors, support staff. All of us.

Contrary to what some believe, most people involved in schools want what is best for students. However–and it’s a big “however”–we are so overwhelmed with the task oriented aspects of the job and the limitations of schedules, that we are unable to collaborate on perhaps the most important purpose of our job: intervening when students are not growing, either academically, emotionally or socially.

Response to Intervention (RTI) has provided us with tiers, but managing those interventions has proven to be both a stumbling block to successful implementation of RTI and an opportunity for educators to take ownership over the way we measure our interventions. Multi-Tier System of Support plans hope to streamline the ways we service students and increase the likelihood that interventions are well-thought out and based on data, not a hunch.

Don’t get me wrong. As a classroom teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, I get hunches. And, I’m usually right. However, the best way to help students is to provide a multi-tiered approach that will manage the situation–not just me sprinting down to guidance on my free period to let the counselor know that “something is up with Johnny today.” In order to have big results with kids, we need to have a well-defined approach, based off those hunches of course, but within the framework of a plan.

Recently, I was lucky enough to go through the process of developing just such a plan with my principal, assistant principals and a room of teachers who were chosen to participate in building an intentional intervention system from the ground up. During this process, I learned three things that are important for all of us to consider when employing interventions.

1. Academic Interventions Can Alleviate Behavior Issues

So often when a student is disrupting a class, the tendency is to focus on the behavior of the child because that is the easiest to see and measure. After all, when you note that Jane has spoken out of turn four times, sworn at you twice and eventually left the room, it is pretty clear that she–and by extension those who are charged with educating this student–have a problem.

However, Rachel Brown-Chidsey and Rebekah Bickford, authors of Practical Handbook of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: Building Academic and Behavioral Success in Schools, assert that academic interventions should be sought to alleviate some of the behavior issues. For example, helping a student develop his or her reading skills can often result in gaining acceptance and confidence, which in turn can negate the need for attention seeking behaviors that are meant to divert the attention from their academic deficit.

In our workgroup, Marie Simoncelli, a graduate of Columbia University and Canisius College, and an experienced elementary teacher who just recently moved to the middle school where I teach, said it best, “Usually the discussion is about one or the other. Let’s get creative and get the most bang for your buck.” Through our discussions, it was clear that thinking more globally about a child’s behavior and its causes will be crucial for an intentional intervention system.

2. Structure and Protocol Matter

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big believer that some of the best things that happen in schools grow organically and don’t occur in a meeting. However, intervening when students need us is too big and too crucial to hope that the appropriate parties will somehow have lunch duty together and an amazing intervention will spring forth–not that it doesn’t happen, but rather that we can’t leave this important work to chance.

Rachel Brown-Chidsey, in this webinar posted by SMART Learning Lab entitled “MTSS for Schools (Multi-Tiered System of Support),” explains that there must be an intentionality that exists, as well as an accurate and user-friendly tool to track student’s progress based on the interventions that are implemented. She says, “I can’t emphasize this enough. Structure matters. How do we nail this to the wall?”

For our workgroup, the priority was to create a tool to keep track of the interventions and measure the effectiveness every five weeks. This is not to say that we won’t have weekly team meetings or discuss students. But again the intentionality in convening a special meeting, as well as requesting educators to document progress, creates a structure that will encourage the entire building to “get on board.”

3. A Paradigm Shift is Needed

As my earlier example indicates, so many times “we tend to interact with both teachers and students when they aren’t doing well–when they mess up, we let them know,” explains Rebecca Bickford in the webinar. She suggests that we must engage in a paradigm shift that recognizes positive behaviors and academic achievement as well as, “actively teaching these [expectations] to students and offering feedback to them.”

This shift requires a growth mindset on the part of the entire building. Everyone should recognize that the academic, social and emotional learning that occurs is happening on a continuum where growth is always possible and should be celebrated. Incremental changes will lead to the successes we seek for our students, and the most effective way to achieve this is through intentional interventions, best measured by a structure that works for everyone involved in the process.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I think , as educators we should realise we are dealing with whole students not just academic, personal/social components of learners.
    Quite often it is the school/academic programme which is likely to disturb many students -they have to fit the system, not the school fitting to the many facets of learners. Child centred sounds a bit old fashioned – but in the true many of the concept schools must adapt to learners present and future needs.

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