Daniel Gardner

Principal, Randolph Elementary School

Reach Out to Reach In

With winter break and a multitude of unexpected snow days, I was able to finally read Lead Like a Pirate, a book by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. It inspired me to invest in a little reflection time I’m calling “Reach Out to Reach In.” The premise, you need to reach out to authors, common practitioners (principals), teachers, and your local colleagues in order to reach within yourself to refresh, renew, and revise where you are headed.

Lead Like a Pirate pushed the reader to connect to the #LeadLAP Twitter Community. As I started to post my thoughts or the authors’ quotes I was encouraged by direct replies by @BethHouf and @burgess_shelley. I realized that posting quotes served several purposes. It made me look for nuggets that spoke to my own practice (usually ones that would sharpen my craft). It served as a journal of sorts that I could go back to. It reminded past readers or introduced new ones (on Twitter) to the content. And lastly, it grew my professional learning network (PLN).

I was amazed at the snowball that happened while reading the book and tweets. It reminded me of when I took health care law and became addicted to cascading from one court case to the next when they referred to previous court rulings. As people would notice my tweets I would follow them. Active educators I met at the 2016 NAESP conference were all still active (@TechNinjaTodd, @danpbutler, @PrincipalNauman, @RossCoops31, @PrincipalStager, @PrincipalMS, @TonySinanis, @Joe_Sanfelippo, @GustafsonBrad, @awelcome, @Joe_Mazza) and cross-promoting publications of active colleagues (@PrincipalJ, @casas_jimmy, @burgessdave, @TechNinjaTodd). My Amazon Wish List exploded – (The Wild Card, Culturize, Stories from Webb, The Coach Approach to School Leadership to name a few). I started learning the Twitter Chat schedule for networks such as #LeadLAP, #TLAP, #NAESPchat, #dadsasprincipals, #PIAchat). Participating in the chats would lead to following 20 more people. And then I added some personal interests too with regard to NPR programs, dad stuff, and local connections.

One specific connection that was powerful to me was to Kim Marshall. I had subscribed this summer to his Marshall Memo. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. He takes away the guilt of never getting to all of the monthly publications I should be reading. He gleans the best/current articles, summarizes them, and then archives them into pertinent topics. As we are exploring the teacher observation process heavily in our county I was drawn to a lot of resources. I emailed him back and he was happy to connect to talk on the phone. My book list expanded further (Leverage Leadership, Thanks for the Feedback, Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation).


I was reflecting with my wife on all these things I wanted to do, all these things that other people were accomplishing, pondering how these authors were fitting it all in, stressing out about keeping up with the Twitter feed, doing my job more than well, being a dad, being a husband. Of course, many of these authors have a chapter related to improving oneself comfortably – but it’s one small piece of all their other advice and magnificence.

Amazingly that very morning of brain dump I ended up clicking on an Educators Lead podcast with Jeff Zoul (http://www.educatorslead.com/jeffzoul/) (@Jeff_Zoul). Out I went on a 30-minute run – and boy was it spot on. I could not have asked for more karma. Just like Lead Like A Pirate his speaking style and advice was approachable and resonating. He answered many questions that were popping around in my head and his words and the run calmed me. They also excited me and lead me to get up at 4:30 am on a Saturday to write this. But it fed my soul in a way that gave me room to breathe.

And so where am I this morning with everything, realizing that it may change tomorrow due to new inspiration, fatigue, one of my awesome teachers, too many emails, my wife/kids, or the unexpected? For now, I give myself this advice – and perhaps something for you to reflect upon:

  1. Don’t feel guilty about not reading all the Twitter feed, professional Facebook feeds, blogs, articles, and books. Know that at any moment you plug in there is likely something to inspire or soothe. Those moments are part of the connected amazingness.
  2. Take Jeff Zoul’s advice of dedicating time several mornings to reflect and grow.
  3. Take Maya Angelou’s advice to heart as when I worry about not becoming a better leader faster “You did the best that you knew how. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.” (Thanks Jeff Zoul for this quote).
  4. Keep reading without the goal of trying or remembering it all. All of the authors’ stories and advice will become of your being that will positively shape future decisions.
  5. Use ANCHOR from Lead Like a Pirate (especially the A – appreciate others!) This means write notes to teachers/staff, praise kids, and thank members of your growing PLN when they inspire you.

By reaching out I have been motivated to reach in. I feel more inspired and more supported. I hope that I can do the same for others!

RTI: The setup

The setup depends of course on the players.  Ideally you’d have funding for interventionists that are licensed teachers and able to rotate through groups of students all day long.  For our setup at Randolph we utilize our Reading Specialist for Tier 3 reading intervention.  On some grade levels special education teachers provide Tier 3 instruction.  Tier 2 math and reading is provided by general education teachers, special education teachers, and instructional assistants.

Here is a picture of our 2015 schedule that will help further explanation (sorry about the quality):

DRAFT-RES 2015-16 Master Calendar3

As with any schedule, this is a starting place.  SPED services, actual lunch times, and other negotiations make things vary from classroom to classroom.  You can see the green Intervention/Enrichment (IE) blocks throughout KG-3.  The yellow is a mix of IE and 1:1 time to encourage use of iPads (4/5 students have their own).  Grade 4/5 IE was set to be together in order to provide overlap for intervention and enrichment opportunities.

This year Reading Specialist is working five days a week with four students from grades KG-3.  As there is a non-IE gap in the morning she has scheduled extra time with Kindergarten, seeing two morning groups and the one marked afternoon group.  This allows for a heavy focus on our newest readers.  We have designated reading as more critical than math – so students that may need both miss out on math intervention opportunity.

Most grade levels are following a Monday, Wednesday, Friday reading schedule and a Tuesday, Thursday math schedule.  For instance, in 3rd grade two teachers and one special education teacher take 4-6 students each for tier 2 reading intervention.  The other 55-60 students are split between the other two classrooms, engaging in enrichment activities such as children’s engineering explorations.  On the other two days the teachers switch intervention with enrichment.

There are variations based on the number of students needing intervention, number of staff available to help, level of student need, level of teacher experience, and other issues.  A few other examples:

  • 2nd grade has chose to use a five day model as they have five teachers, two SPED staff, and the reading specialist available.  Two gened classrooms have six students doing reading, a SPED teacher takes a mix of gened/sped, one gened room has six working on math intervention, and the two remaining classrooms have large classes for enrichment (an aide is helping in one of those rooms).
  • 1st grade felt it was important for flow to own kids with a partner teacher (instead of throwing all the students to potentially four different classrooms).  Three days a week six kids from two classrooms go for reading and all the others go to the partner teacher room.  Then on the two math, days six student visit the other teacher with everyone else going to the other partner teacher.

Lessons learned:

  • For the last two years we’ve tried to give special out of classroom enrichment clubs and activities including sports club, reading olympics, art, chorus, computer coding, newspaper, etc.  This opportunities are absolutely needed.  Unfortunately when trying to give everyone an opportunity during the IE it really hurt the consistency for some students needing intervention.
  • Last year we tried to have all of the teachers provide both intervention and enrichment within their classrooms.  They were tasked with given an independent projects to enrichment students and then honing in on core skills with the intervention group.  This was a problem for a few reasons.  First, the enrichment students always took attention away from the intervention work.  This year one teacher commented how she noticed in the first early days of just having the six intervention students in her room she was scanning the room – realizing how much attention was pulled away from the group the year before.  The other issues are grouping similar needs (better this year) and not being tempted to remediate with your own students on current pacing content – versus concentrating on an intervention core skill lesson.
  • There is not a one size fits all.  And what works for a grade level may change.  Don’t set things in stone and allow teachers to help solve the problem.  We joked in one data meeting where I was trying to lead the discussion of how to switch things up at mid year.  One teacher “elbowed” in and I just backed out of the way, handing the shared google document to them.




RTI: The players

Each school and district is different in the resources it can put towards intervention.  This includes dollars for materials/programs and towards payment for staff.  It’s also a mentality or ordering of priority.  And this ordering may be dictated by the day to day pressures that a school may face.

This post will define those involved in the intervention program at Randolph Elementary.

Our Superintendent, Dr. James Lane, has made RTI development a priority in the last several years.  Our county program is known as the Goochland Tiered Intervention Program (GTIP).  Weekly leadership meetings, possible due to our size of 5 schools, will often touch on student data.  On a quarterly basis the Superintendent will visit each school to discuss results and action plans.  The Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and a central office part time data analyst will join that meeting.

This year our Director of Special Education is focused on GTIP more than in the past.  This trickles down to getting support from the elementary Special Education Supervisor.  Both of these individuals are School Psychologists and can contribute a wealth of knowledge to data analysis, cut score suggestions, interventions, and the process of moving students from Tier 2/3 to the possible special education evaluation process.

This year we have a full time Reading Specialist.  She has helped with cut scores, progress monitoring instruments, Tier 2 intervention material development, teacher education (for Tier 1 and 2), and defining the structure of GTIP.  She also provides Tier 3 reading instruction 5 days a week to students in grades K through 3.  This year she was asked to not pull 4th and 5th grade students, but rather work to strengthen Tier 2 intervention through modeling, training, and resource creation.

The GIST (Goochland Instructional Support Team) Facilitator and County Literacy Lead has helped in many of the same areas of our Reading Specialist.  She can also do student observations and help in the behavioral realm of tiered support.  As she is a reading specialist, the conversations around reading instruction, intervention, and monitoring has been very helpful.

Our teachers and instructional assistants serve as our Tier 2 Interventionists for Reading and Math.  Unfortunately we do not have additional funding (Title 1, etc.) to cover interventionists outside our specialists.  This requires training and discussion about the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction.  Data meeting discussion with teachers first focused on the who, then it switched to the how.  This is both good and bad.  The bad means that we must be efficient in switching classrooms for the 30 minute intervention block and getting a room settled.  Teachers must also own different kids and teach differently (intervention versus remediation).  The good is that they know all kids on their grade level academically well.  And Tier 1 instruction is strengthened as they pull from Tier 2 resources and discussions.

And the principal, that me.  Coordinator, cheerleader, researcher, data manipulator, motivator, accountability holder, cross grade level sharer, resource sharing determiner, etc. etc.  You’ve got to be actively involved and have RTI on your radar as a priority.  Absolutely lean on experts and gifted educators.  But give praise, credit, assignments, and expectations to keep the ball rolling.


RtI Conference Workshop Preparations

On December 30, 2015 I had my very first conference presentation accepted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.  The session I will present is called “One School’s RTI Journey: From Student Selection and Schedules to Interventions and Progress Monitoring.”  This is part of NAESP’s 2016 Annual Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, July 6-8, 2016.  I’m excited for the opportunity!

In order to prepare my presentation and resources I’m launching a new professional blog to store RTI and other information.

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