Partnering with Families in an RTI Framework
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Parents know more about their child than anyone else will, so children are more successful in school and schools improve when families and schools work together. In order to achieve a true partnership, parents must be at the table right from the beginning. But how do you make this happen?
Join the Colorado Department of Education team during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about developing family-school partnerships based on shared responsibility and shared ownership of student challenges and successes. They will also offer tips and examples of materials they developed to nurture the collaborative process through information sharing, problem solving, and the celebration of student successes.
Colorado’s tiered family-partnering framework uses the 40-year research base that supports the effectiveness of home-school learning coordination in improving student academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. Authentic, ongoing family-school partnering is new for many educators and families so Colorado’s team has developed varied training, information-sharing, and support options for stakeholders.
Read more about the members of the Colorado Department of Education team: Cindy Dascher, Cathy Lines, Daphne Pereles, and Ed Steinberg (see bios below)
We have found it effective to share, and then discuss, the legal and research rationale for a shift from “traditional parent involvement” to “family partnering” which includes the following: families and schools sharing responsibility for school success versus it being only the school; ongoing two-way communication through multiple venues versus one-way, formal meetings; and structured volunteering at school for a few families versus supporting learning at home and school for all families. Also, it is important for educators to know that the research suggests that all families want to support their children’s education, but are often unsure and hesitant about their role. It is the educator’s responsibility to invite families and encourage their participation.
In our experience, the following strategies have been helpful to families and staff in shifting their perceptions and behaviors: openly discussing challenges and solutions, identifying partnering “job descriptions” for educators and families, and sharing stories about what works in building relationships. We recommend that there be joint family-educator trainings and discussions, so that knowledge and language are shared.
Tools that might be helpful for team members who have negative assumptions about families: Activities Slides with Notes; Sample RtI Partnering Job Descriptions; Partnering Stories from the Field; Building Trusting Family-Teacher Partnerships; and Challenges and Solutions.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
In the Colorado RtI framework it is suggested that there be a home-school liaison who can support both staff and families in working together. This person can be the classroom teacher or a specialist or a school mental health professional, depending on how a building or team allocates resources.
If the student needs targeted/intensive interventions, the family is participating in the problem-solving process with the team and identifying the coordination and communication regarding a prescribed intervention. Our materials suggest asking the family what can work for them, what resources and support they need, and how is best to communicate reciprocally. Relationships are important; tiered partnering recognizes that sometimes time and individual conversations are needed to develop trust and understanding.
Since this direct, coordinated learning between home and school in RtI is often new for staff and families, the Colorado Department of Education has developed two videos which demonstrate the RtI problem-solving, data-based decision-making process with partnering educators and families, after having worked at the universal level. There is an academic example and a behavioral example.
Tools that might be applicable in supporting parent follow-through in an RtI framework: Sample Teacher Letter; Sample Family Sharing Sheet; and Sample Partners in Learning Pledge.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
Asking families what they need, going into the community, and linking families to other families can all be effective strategies. We consistently share the importance of research results, highlighting that simple, daily home strategies can improve achievement - such as frequent communication about school, encouraging student learning, and providing homework structure.
The Patrick O’Hearn School video is one we describe in our trainings. It shows how teachers at the universal level can create welcoming invitations for all families. The video is one of numerous resources on the Futures in School Psychology Task Force on Family School Partnerships Web site.
A tool that might be applicable to supporting all families, even those who may be unsure, hesitant, or distant: Tiered RtI Family and Community Partnering Checklist.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
This month we are offering a “stakeholder training” and targeting those organizations that work with our families and schools. The RtI vocabulary, use of shared data in decision-making, setting measurable targets, and ongoing monitoring are often new for community personnel. Having all relevant information as soon as possible, from all involved parties in a student’s life, contributes to efficient and effective intervention planning. Similarly, when all interventionists and families are coordinating their work, opportunities for student practice and generalization occur more readily. In our framework, we suggest an RtI liaison who supports partnering between all parties. This might involve shifting responsibilities among staff and/or allocating resources for students, families needing more support.
Research has shown that school-age students spend 70% of their waking hours outside of school, a fact that clearly points to the importance of collaboration. The Harvard Family Research Project (http://www.hfrp.org/) provides many articles and resources relating to “complementary learning” for students.
Tools that might be applicable to working with other agencies and providers in the RtI framework, in addition to families: Sample Principal Community Letter and RtI Family & Community Partnering Reminder Cards (English and Spanish)These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
Thinking about the tiers can be helpful – what specific communication venues might work best universally and which for smaller groups or individuals. We suggest that schools always ask for confirmation, feedback, and then follow-up if they have not heard from a family, emphasizing the importance of their ideas and involvement. We are fortunate to live in a world with texting, email, voice mail, speakerphone, Internet options, and websites. RtI process participants have shared that it has been important to consider team members, including families, as always having a place “ at the table,” even if they can’t be physically present. Their voices can be heard in decision-making and data can be shared creatively and frequently with efficient communication systems – before, during, and after meetings from remote locations.
Tools that might support home-school communication about RtI: Sample Principal Home Letter/Newsletter Article and Two-Way Communication: A Teacher’s Practical PointsThese tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
Tools that might be applicable to implementing family-school partnering professional development: Essential RtI Partnering Slides with Notes; FAQs; and RtI Partnering Survey and Needs Assessment.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
What are good questions to ask the parents that will lead to more involvement?
What are bad questions that might alienate parents?
Interpreters, cultural liaisons, and translated materials can be very important in working with ELL families. Inviting families to share their cultural beliefs and understandings about education and likewise, sharing the school and classroom culture, supports the student who lives in both worlds. Again, focusing on the student helps bridge cultural and linguistic differences. More time and creativity in communication is often needed, especially if there are academic or behavioral concerns being addressed through the RtI process. Home visits can be a valid and effective option.
A tool that might be applicable to supporting ELL families in the tiered RtI partnering process: Sample Sociocultural Interview/Interpreter Information.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
First, a Colorado RtI component is to reach out and include all families, and tell families about their importance. Second, there is the allocation of resources to address specific needs and individual concerns in tiered partnering. School mental health professionals or other family supports can sometimes provide strategic interventions such as conflict resolution or peer connections. Third, if there are specific student academic or behavioral concerns at the targeted/intensive level, the RtI problem-solving team process provides a structure for focusing on student success by sharing data, interventions, and coordinated home-school support. This can provide distance and relief from personal past experiences. In RtI, there is an ongoing commitment to “not giving up” because it is about student success.
A tool that might be applicable to rebuilding (and building) relationships with families: Questions for Families, Educators, and Community Resources to Ask About the Problem-Solving Process.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
In 2008, Colorado became one of the states, which requires RtI as one of the mandated criteria used in identifying specific learning disabilities. The state incorporated the explicit language from the Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities, Final Rule, 71 Federal Regulations 300.307 – 300.311, which requires documentation that the a student’s parents be provided data-based documentation of repeated assessments, information on state policy regarding amount and nature of performance data, strategies for increasing the child’s rate of learning, and the right to request an evaluation, among other specific requirements. In Colorado, if a parent or educator suspects a specific learning disability and the decision is made to proceed with a special education evaluation, RtI data are a mandated component of the disability decision-making.
Often this question is asked because we have all had to figure out how to get the needs of our children/students met within an educational system that did not get them covered. Depending on our role, we are used to asking for traditional ways of getting those needs met. When RtI is implemented well and good family partnerships are in place, we find that these questions do not come up because families have been there every step of the way and have been part of any intervention. They are fully aware of progress and are part of the decision-making. When families are not included in this way, there is more confusion about interventions and when a formal evaluation should occur. Ideally, all intervention progress monitoring data should inform this decision.
The Colorado Guidelines for Identifying Students with Specific Learning Disabilities describes how families participate in the decision-making around special education evaluation and partner in designing eligibility “full and individual” assessment.
We have found the video clip, What is the Role of Parents in an RtI Model? as helpful for educators and families to understand the optimal shared partnership in referring for a special education evaluation within an RtI framework.
Tools that might be applicable to understanding the relationship of RtI to special education evaluation: Helping Families Understand the Special Education Process Within RtI and IEP Partnering Within an RtI Model.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
A tool that might be applicable to home-school teaming: Planning Team Feedback.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
1-What can be done (or what is already being done) to ensure that this content is a required aspect of core preservice teacher education and administrator preparation programs across the state?
2a- How do Colorado school districts currently evaluate the performance of teachers/staff/principals in regards to effectiveness in partnering with families?
2b-.... should this evaluation be a reciprocal process where the staff/ educators also provide their impressions of family participation in partnering at their school?
2a. This is a local district and/or school decision in Colorado. It would seem important to include family-school partnering as a performance standard because meaningful family participation in schools has been shown to improve student outcomes, teacher effectiveness and satisfaction, and administrator competence, among numerous other benefits.
2b. This is an interesting idea as in true partnerships there is mutual feedback between partners. Because ongoing, mutual family-school partnering is new to so many families and schools, it might be important to develop a publicized definition, invite shared responsibility, and state clear, expected, roles and responsibilities before assessing participation by all stakeholders. We also find that in systems that are working well, this is not a formal “evaluation” but more of a continuous reflection on practice. Taking the time to ask how things are going along the way tends to allow for a stronger partnership.
In the Colorado RtI framework, family-school partnering is focused on student success. The family members are full and equal team participants. If appropriate, community resource representatives may be part of the problem-solving process in RtI.
Tools that might be applicable to developing family-school partnerships in an RtI early, given barriers: Sample Stakeholder Back-to-School Slides: Tiered Planning Templates; and Sample Completed Templates.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
Providing information about RtI for all families, with genuine partnering language and identified responsibilities is helpful, as is offering options for how participation in the RtI process at all tiers can occur. A designated liaison for questions and ongoing support is a suggestion. If available, providing information in a video or alternative media form provides optional learning opportunities. Colorado has developed a video that describes the family’s importance - Meeting the Needs of All Students.
Tools that might be applicable in helping families to feel part of the decision-making team: Sample Problem-Solving Family Invitation Phone Script; Sample Problem-Solving Process Referral with Family Input, Student Strengths, Community Resources; Sample Problem-Solving Meeting Invitation; and Sample Problem-Solving Process Home Information.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
In addition to RtI terms, we felt suggesting a “partnering vocabulary” would also support families, schools, and community resources working together for student success within the RtI framework. This includes such words as "we", "our", "us"" and such phrases as "What are we EACH doing?" or What is best for OUR student?" Or "How will WE know it is working?"
Finally, one of our favorite training quotations, a Chinese proverb, might be applicable here: Tell me, I forget; Show me, I remember; Involve me, I understand. When family members and educators are working together, focusing on their shared student’s success, both learn the meaning of RtI concepts and practices as they apply them through the process.
The research highlights the importance of effective home-school collaboration at the secondary level, but also identifies differences from early school years. Specifically, these include: the importance of students’ partnering participation and need for adult guidance as they develop more independence; families’ need for encouragement and education as many may feel insecure with upper level curricula and post-secondary options; teachers’ need for explicit training as most see students for a short time each day and are often not told working with families is an expected responsibility; and if a student struggles, families report being worried, scared, angry, and/or hopeless. We have tried to create a specific focus on the importance of families partnering in secondary RtI, as they bring unique data and history, which adds crucial information for effective problem solving. We also stress the importance of students as team participants, engaging in personal goal-setting and self-monitoring.
In order to support secondary educators and families in partnering throughout the RtI process, Colorado has created a video highlighting the important implementation components.
A tool that might be applicable to implementing RtI partnering in secondary schools: Secondary Schools’ Fact Sheet.These tools may be found in the Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit.
As a result, families and relevant community resource representatives are considered “on the team and at the table” as equal partners. They are to be aware and have understanding of universal behavioral expectations and positive supports for all students, both school-wide and in the classroom. If a student might need more individual intervention or support to learn successfully at school, family members would participate in the RtI problem-solving process by sharing data from home, jointly establishing measurable goals, mutually designing coordinated interventions, monitoring progress, and adapting interventions as needed, based on data.
Developing pro-social and effective behavioral skills, like all learning, requires practice and generalization. This occurs most efficiently when there is home-school coordination and communication. The student experiences continuous reinforcement and support from the most important adults in his world – at home and school. And if community resources are involved, they can be aligning their work as well, focusing on student school success.
However, coordinating academic and behavioral interventions between home and school can be new for all - school staff, family members, students, and community resources. It is often a shift in thinking, skills, and time. In order to support schools and families in tiered RtI partnering, the CDE team has developed some adaptable, practical tools applying research-based principles, many with family input. These will be mentioned, where applicable, in answering questions during this Talk and can be found as individual components of the RtI Family & Community Partnering: “On the Team and At the Table” Toolkit. Tools will only be mentioned on one occasion, but may be relevant to several of the questions.
Tools that might be helpful in working with behavior (and with academics too!) in RtI: Sample RtI Intervention Plan with Home-School Coordination and Communication; School-Home-School Notes: Description and Sample; and Conjoint Behavioral Consultation: Description and Sample
Can we partner with programs such as PTO?
The National PTA is focused on partnering for student success and the organization’s recently revised Standards have provided important national guidance.
For example, I have had activitie such as Snuggle and Read Day with parents Prek-Kindergarten. Would you recommend extending these activities or starting partnering with families in a RTI framework at this level?
Can you talk about any work you have done to align multiple initiatives in your state/district? How are you tackling the need to shape a common vision and message about your RTI system?
I am here with a team of parent leaders in Alexandria, VA. They support parents of students who are culturally and linguistically diverse, and students who are receiving Title I and Special Education services.
One of the difficulties we are running into as we try to develop common messages to the community is that there are so many initiatives underway in our district.
We appreciate your thoughts on this and thanks for your great leadership in CO!
Examples might be offering childcare, food, including students, and providing smaller venues. Another “out-of-the box” possibility might be family-school events in the community where families can host and share their neighborhoods with school staff.
There is no confusion between special education and the RtI process if families have been “on the team and at the table” throughout the tiers. Conflict is minimized, or non-existent, with the focus on student learning. The RtI framework is for all students and continues if the child is identified as having a disability.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, the Colorado Department of Education team, for their time today.
Please also take a few moments at the completion of this event to give us your feedback by taking our survey!
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
- Colorado Department of Education Family and Community Engagement Toolkit
- Colorado Department of Education Guidelines for Identifying Students with Specific Learning Disabilities
- Colorardo Department of Education’s RtI Framework, with Videos, Tools, Manual
- Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE)/Harvard Family Research Project
- Jenkins, T. (2007). When a child struggles in school. Charleston, SC: Advantage.