Family-School Partnerships and RTI
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The fact that student outcomes are enhanced when families and schools work together is well documented. However, both families and schools are often unsure how to avoid difficulties and negotiate roles to share information, goals, and responsibility. RTI is an opportunity to bring about meaningful change in family-school relationships, allowing for the creation of engaged partnerships between educators and families through collaborative, structured problem-solving efforts.
Join Amy L. Reschly, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia, as she answers your questions about creating positive, engaged relationships that center around supporting student learning, sharing of data and decision making, interventions, and collaborative problem-solving. Dr. Reschly will also offer tips and suggestions for numerous ways schools and families may work together within a multi-tiered model.
Read more about Amy L. Reschly, Ph.D.
We are very aware of the serious need for pre-service and in-service training to help educators effectively collaborate with families. In this case, it sounds like you’re talking about just a few teachers, rather than your whole staff. There is always going to be variation in how effectively teachers manage classrooms, communicate with families, teach content areas, etc. Having said that, however, my impression is that there may be room for improvement.
Without knowing more details, I have a couple of general recommendations. First, this is where your problem-solving team can really be helpful in modeling more effective and collaborative ways of working with families and ensuring that families are invited and encouraged to be active participants with the team (e.g., their participation is necessary, not optional; frequent communication is expected, not optional; spelling out expectations for how meetings run and interactions with families, provide examples of desired and less desirable behaviors).
Second, a number of districts I’ve visited have individual professional development plans for educators. This may be a way to target the educator-family communication and collaboration with these teachers through individual consultative relationships (educator to educator), continuing education, goal-setting, modeling, and the like.
Ideally, families should be included in problem-solving efforts as soon as there is an indication of student difficulty (Tier 1). As intensity of interventions increases, so too, should communication and problem-solving efforts with families. One of the things I find so exciting about RTI is that it is a real opportunity to finally shift from calls for parent involvement/working with families to actually doing it. The ‘how’ will vary depending on the RTI model and context, but the school-family literature does provide some guiding principles, such as:
- Experts generally agree that partnerships involve shared accountability, goals, responsibility, contributions, and problem-solving
- Reviews of the empirical intervention literature indicate that the most effective family-school interventions are those that emphasize collaboration and joint dialogue; shared monitoring of student progress; interventions with specific, measurable outcomes; and consultation across families and schools.
This is a good question and one I know comes up frequently around the U.S. as schools and districts are beginning to implement RTI. There is a much greater focus in RTI on providing high-quality, intensive interventions prior to the point of eligibility determination. If the model at your son’s school is well-functioning and implemented with integrity, your son is already receiving a more intensive intervention than typical instruction, and his progress in response to this intervention is being monitored frequently. It shouldn’t be a delay in services (before RTI reforms, it was much more common that we had to wait for a student to fail long enough to initiate services – in many cases these services were through special education).
I think you should be invited and participate in these problem-solving meetings (whatever these meetings are called at your son’s school. Each system has their own name for it). I would hope to see joint problem-solving efforts across home and school focused on how do we best support learning and improve outcomes for this student?
As a parent, I would also want to know about:
a) the interventions being provided (how often, who is responsible for implementation, where, when and why do we think this particular intervention will help?);
b) data collection (what is monitored, who is collecting it?);
c) how the success of the intervention will be determined (how do we know it is working? What is enough progress to be deemed a success?);
d) what I could do to support my son’s progress (One of the keys to creating school-family partnerships is shared responsibility). Parental support for learning may take many forms - there is no one right way for families to be involved or help their students; and,
e) how frequently should we communicate about my son’s progress and our efforts to support his learning?
RTI has brought about significant changes in education. One of these changes is in how problems are viewed – rather than focusing on diagnosing problems within a student, we’re trying to identify factors in the environment that will promote positive outcomes. This change may take some practice for educators.
When we care about and are invested in our students, we should expect that there is conflict at times. It is what happens next that really matters (how do we handle it).
A couple of things come to mind :
- Keep it positive.
- Give each other the benefit of the doubt.
- Keep returning the focus to how you can work together to best help your child.
In terms of blame, experts in the field have written about strategies to enhance communication and reduce blaming (Weiss; Christenson & Sheridan) – some of the techniques they mention are things like: deflecting blame by focusing on solutions, keep it from being personal, having shared goals and responsibility for student performance, taking a problem-solving orientation, sharing information to co-construct an understanding of student difficulties, and give concrete (rather than global) examples of your concerns.
I'm referring specifically to middle school-where there are several teachers involved and being on the same page is more challenging than in elementary school.
It is more challenging for everyone to be on the same page in middle and high school. Unfortunately, I can't give you a specific answer as to which form of communication is most effective because this is going to vary so much by personal preference, school site, the technology that's available in each school, and family access to the internet. Some districts are using systems that parents can log into to track their student' daily progress. In other cases, it may be helpful to pick a main contact person to regularly collect and organize information from colleagues to be shared with those families with who you are in more frequent contact.
If parents think the only way their child will receive the help he/she needs is through the traditional multidisciplinary assessment, I can understand why they would be concerned when they first hear about this. The key here is that high-quality interventions are provided with integrity and data are collected frequently, not where the student is served or whether special education eligibility was determined.
A friend of mine refers to RTI as a 'reversal of the eligibility-need continuum. I would focus on how the school is supporting a student’s progress and inviting parents to be an active part of the process as soon as screening data indicate there is an issue.
Yes. Families should be invited at the start of RTI. I’ve used the word 'opportunity' frequently when talking about families and RTI. I feel very strongly that RTI provides a wonderful occasion to meaningfully connect and work with families to improve student outcomes early in the development of difficulties rather than after problems are severe. What families do (e.g., providing motivational support, supervision, focus on learning in the home) is much more important than who they are (e.g., single parent, lower SES) in affecting student outcomes. And we all know that what families do has a major impact on students.
By inviting families and working collaboratively with them to address student difficulties, we will have a much greater effect on students because we’re working across the two main socializing influences for youth – homes and schools.
The roles for families are varied. When I think about joint problem-solving, I think of family engagement in each step – Problem Identification, Definition, Exploring Solutions, Implementing Solutions and Problem Resolution (Deno's Problem-Solving steps). Families and teachers can share their perspectives with respect to concerns and together generate ideas for intervention. Families can inform educators about their children, they may support interventions that are in place at school or may implement additional interventions at home, families and schools together can work to promote congruence across home and school with respect to messages and expectations for students. As noted in some publications with colleagues, families may also help in data collection, present reports, and provide peer support to other families.
The answer to your question about time is that it depends on the district's model and state guidelines.
If you ask families, most of them will say they want to be involved (but would like to know 'how'). As educators, we have to remember that involvement and support may take many forms - it isn’t just that they came to the bake sale or volunteered in the book fair when we asked. The focus on prevention and early intervention, along with the kinds of data we collect and use to determine progress in RTI provide a wonderful opportunity to start engaging families and working collaboratively with them early on in the process. I hope to see family invitations to problem-solving meetings as soon as the process is initiated.
How frequently families and educators meet should be determined by the intensity of the interventions being provided – greater intensity = more frequent data collection as well as more joint problem-solving and collaboration with families. Following an initial problem-solving meeting and initiation of a more intensive intervention, I would expect that progress is shared weekly (some behavioral interventions may call for more frequent communication, such as daily reports).
There are a significant number of parents in our schools who either have very little experience with our educational system or had negative experiences. Karen Mapp at Harvard has written and presented extensively on this topic.
In a chapter she and Sue Hong wrote for our forthcoming handbook, (S.L. Christenson & A.L. Reschly (Eds). (in press, expected publication June, 2009). Handbook on School-Family Partnerships for Promoting Student Competence. New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis), they noted these 'hard to reach' or 'disinterested' families are often those educators describe as having limited formal education, families of color, recent immigrants, or those who first language is not English.
Unfortunately, there isn't a quick or easy 'laundry list' fix. She and her colleagues discuss how school culture is what often stands in the way of reaching those families. The fundamental beliefs they endorse for changing this culture are: all parents have aspirations and desire the best for their children; all families have capacity to support their children’s learning; parents and school staff can be equal partners but the responsibility for establishing these partnerships rests with schools (Mapp & Hong, in press).
There are some publications and guides on the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory’s website that you may find useful:
Early childhood special education has generally done very well with involving and working closely with families. Perhaps you should consider setting up some intermediate or short-term (monthly, quarterly) shared academic goals (since this is the primary area of concern for parents) between educators and families, regularly measure progress toward these goals, and have regular "check in's." The check-in times could be an opportunity to discuss what is and isn't working, establish new goals, discuss specific intervention strategies, how you’ll work together to meet the next goal, etc. It would make sense to have the goals tied to kindergarten academic expectations.
I'm not an expert in early childhood, but goals like knowing letters, learning sounds, writing one's name, counting to 10, may be examples of common kindergarten expectations.
You may also want to think about whether there is room for improvement in your classroom-wide behavior management plan.
My daughter's 504 review is soon. She is an A/B student with accommodations. They will try to take away 504 stating excellent grades, however she needs extra time accommodations to achieve this. Could you suggest strategies for negotiating? Thanks.
It is hard to be helpful in my answer without more information, particularly with respect to their rationale for modifying or removing the 504.
The focus here is on how best to support your daughter (when meetings are contentious, it is sometimes a little easier to lose that focus). You may also suggest a compromise whereby the 504 is not rescinded but a modification/reduction in accommodations is given a trial period.
I'm sure your special education staff is very appreciative to have such a supportive group of parents. I think the best thing you could do would be to ask the teachers about the types of support you can provide as a group. This might be a good time also to speak with them individually about what you can do to support your child at home as well as at school.
One of the most difficult challenges as a former educator and parent of a child with disabilities is once the child has been identified is keeping track and good record keeping of what works and what doesn't. Also, if say for example a reading program is not a great match for a child and not much improvement is being made how can the program be changed if that is the only program being used by the district? I have found that building level administrators seem to have their hands tied when it comes to changing programs. How can parents effectively collaborate in finding what works best for their child?
One of the changes that should occur with RTI is the on-going collection of student data. We’re essentially creating an individual database of effective and ineffective interventions for each student who enters into RTI. These data and graphs should follow students across tiers of intervention and become part of their IEPs.
If a student is already receiving special education services, it should not be so difficult to modify their individual plan, particularly in light of data demonstrating little progress. If you are asking about Tier 2 interventions and whether or not the program they’ve selected is working, I would look for evolutionary changes to the program, rather than revolutionary ones (I wish I could take credit for the 'evolutionary/revolutionary' terminology, but it comes from a colleague, Todd Busch). Can modifications to the program be made (e.g., adding an additional fluency intervention, a vocabulary component) for the student? I think the exception to this might be if there is no progress at all (i.e., flat-line), then revolutionary changes to the program may be needed.
Collaboration is critical to establishing partnerships to promote positive outcomes for students. Blue-Banning and colleagues found that communication, commitment, equality, skills, trust, and respect were the key components to establishing collaborative school-family partnerships. Those are the dimensions; the actions should include things like sharing of information, establishing joint goals, and working together through the Problem-solving steps.
An example of a more intensive and explicit problem-solving process across home and school is Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC) – there is a manual, forms, and a research base behind CBC. Sue Sheridan at the Univ of Nebraska is the leading expert in CBC.
There are a number of resources on the National Center for Learning Disabilities' websites and the RTI Action Network website that should be helpful to you.
- Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model by Edward S. Shapiro
- NCLD’s Parent Advocacy Brief, A Parent’s Guide to Response-to-Intervention
- Parent Information Center’s A Family Guide to Response to Intervention
Building trust is a key element of creating partnerships between families and schools. I hope some of my other answers posted in this talk will be useful. Specifically with respect to this question, I think it is important to explain the benefits and address concerns parents may have (e.g., services are being provided), make the process as transparent as possible, and establish frequent communication regarding progress toward shared goals.
This is one place where schools may need to be creative with scheduling. Some sites have created a block that may be used for intervention or enrichment activities with different groups focusing on different activities depending on need.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today.
Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our expert, Dr. Amy L. Reschly, for her time today.
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- Schools, Families, and Response to Intervention by Amy Reschly
- A Parent Leader's Perspective on Response to Intervention by Debra Jennings
- Engaging Families in Early Childhood Education by the University of North Carolina's FPG Child Development Institute
- NCLD’s Parent Advocacy Brief, A Parent’s Guide to Response-to-Intervention
- Parent Information Center’s A Family Guide to Response to Intervention