MTSS/RtI During a Pandemic (part 1 of 2)

Four weeks ago, the nation was thrust into panic-mode. Teachers were working 12 – 15 hours a day to get their curriculum online. District and campus administrators were struggling to help staff, students and their families, and community members. Teachers and students were grieving a sudden and unexpected loss. Many parents were (and still are) losing their jobs and coping with enormous stresses. Everyone was working tremendously hard, and everyone was tremendously tired.

Now, most lives are settling into a new normal. A very odd new normal. What Dr. Andrea Ogonosky calls “a now normal”. Things are still extraordinarily difficult for many of us. But we are also beginning to figure it out.  Families are finding new routines at home. Teachers and students are adapting to online learning. School staff are contacting parents. Even virtual ARDs and 504 meetings are happening regularly.

Districts and personnel have accomplished a huge task: they’ve achieved some stability in a very unstable time. So, Dr. Ogonosky is declaring that it’s time to talk about RTI. Thus far, there hasn’t been any direction regarding RTI, and now campuses need to take it upon themselves to get back to the business of the RTI process. The good news? They probably already have, they just haven’t realized it or thought to label it as such.

Tier 1 support is for all learners—all students—in academic and social-emotional growth. For the first time ever, the learning environment is now the home environment. From the district perspective, Tier I is manifesting in all the content that is going up on school websites: the apps and games that support academics and social-emotional content; the information linking families to support services like food pantries and financial assistance; and the updates issued from TEA.

To best support students when they eventually return to campuses, we must immediately begin looking through the Tier I lens by analyzing how students and families are operating with what has been provided to them over the last few weeks. Meetings are already happening all the time with all levels of personnel.  Either begin to include the RTI support staff like classroom teachers, LSSPs, counselors, etc. in these meetings (if they haven’t been already) or begin to schedule meetings specifically for the purpose of the RTI process. And remember: any meeting in which the needs of students are the topics of discussion is certainly an RTI meeting. Tier I is about supporting all kids and identifying anyone who is struggling; therefore, most every meeting happening lately is essentially an RTI meeting. The key is to document it, of course.

Begin to examine how things are working for students thus far in light of the resources they have been provided. What’s the current pulse of the community? What is the holistic picture? What resources are needed at this point? What holes do we have in the resources we have provided to families, and how do we fill them? Then you can begin to home in on more specific items. What students were you concerned about prior to the school closure? And who have you become concerned about since the school closure? What can be done to help them now? This is where you can begin thinking forward to Tier 2. Begin reaching out to these students and their families, and then document a list of students who will need interventions when they transition back to campus. If you are proactive now and instigate these conversations before the return to campus, you can help ease the transition for these students who will need interventions.

It’s vital to conduct a trend analysis of the current data on hand regarding student need. Granted, this is all qualitative data, but it is extremely useful. Use this information to create a baseline for when students return to school. Analyze what your campus or district has done and what it will do in the next few weeks, and then use that to inform what you need to do when schools reopen.

The goal is to strengthen connectedness in order to reach all the kids in your school community. Use the RTI process to forge purposeful connection with students and their families right now in order to gauge their needs, calibrate the data, and make a plan to provide additional support.

RTI weekly meetings need to be happening now. The wonderful news is that you’ve already been doing them!  Permission is granted to start labeling them as RTI meetings! Document everything and get serious with your existing data. Begin thinking forward to Tiers 2 and 3. And sit tight till next week when Dr. Ogonosky and ED311 share ideas and advice for Tier 2 and 3 support!

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