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I am the principal of an elementary school that embraces the inclusion model for special education. We are also in the process of converting our teacher support team over to a RTI model. As I read your post I thought of a number of comments worth sharing. I found that the teachers collaborated better when I made separate common planning blocks for collaboration. I also feel like teachers need to know what collaboration should look like and what the outcomes should be. To expect people to collaborate on common formative assessments is a great vision but I find it needs training and time to get it right. The other thing I thought of is the roles and responsibilities of all the key "players". When trying to build a team every player needs to know their responsibility before they can work together. The last thought went with your final line about changing behaviors. I found you have to change beliefs and philosophy before you change behavior. This is challenging work but can be very effective when done properly. Great post!

Reggie Engebritson

Mr. Cowart - thank you very much for your response. I agree with you that teams need common planning time for collaboration and need to know what it looks like in order to be successful at it. It is not easy work, it takes time, but it can be very rewarding.

Also, as much as I try to work on changing beliefs so that people will buy into what we are trying to do, I have found that there are people who can't or won't change their beliefs about inclusion, or collaboration or just plain changing what they have been doing for years. For those people, I hope to change their behavior and hope that with the change in behavior will come a change in their belief system.

Did you have any staff who didn't believe in inclusion or RTI - no matter how much you or other staff talked to them? If you did, could they choose to opt out of having students with special needs in their classroom or to be a part of RTI until they believed in it?

I am not asking these questions to be sarcastic or accusatory, so I hope I don't sound like that. I really want to know what other leaders do. I do think as leaders we want our staff to see the vision we see and to believe in what we think is right for students to be successful. Yet, some of us have had staff who think because they are tenured they don't have to have students with special needs in their class or if they do, they don't follow the IEP. We have staff who don't want to look at data or have other adults in their classroom co-teaching with them. We have staff who want to close the door to their room and do their own thing and not be bothered. How long do we talk and hope to change their beliefs before we say this is how we are doing business here? Of course, the talking should never end, even after we have changed the way we do business.

Thank you again for writing. I appreciate you taking the time.

A Twitter User

Mr. Engebritson - your willingness to ask and wrestle with tough questions in an honest format is refreshing. Thank you for your courage.

I have come to believe that we need to construct a school environment that makes asking such honest questions safe, encouraged, and celebrated. Teachers cannot wrestle with questions about assessing the achievement of special education students in isolation from other issues that tie into it significantly. Are the objectives of their courses clearly articulated? Does the school have a common understanding of what a "grade" is? If the rigor of the course is modified significantly, what course has the student earned credit for? Is that reflected clearly on his/her transcript? Do students with a course loads dominated by modified curriculum earn achievement awards defined the same as mainstream students? Are they demonstrating comparable achievement?

I believe it is essential to back the conversation up to defining a grade and defining rigor. In our journey, we have spent two years collectively wrestling with these two questions and found it to be a solid foundation to build upon. It is important to take time for this converstation to include everyone, yet at some point, declare a definition and move on. It is at the point of clarity that the real work begins, for much of what we do does not line up with the definitions we have created.

Yes this journey takes an enormous amount of time and energy. In the end, we can feel right about not having to compromise on issues of fairness because we want to help students that need it. We're not there yet, but our journey is well underway!

Keep up the healthy conversation!

Joe D'Amato

In reading your blog, I got the feeling that I was looking in a mirror. My building is a suburban Middle School who is working hard to run a true inclusive environment and we are working towards implementing RTI and getting teachers to collaborate effectively.

Formative Assessments is a phrase that we have just introduced as is the idea of being a PLC.

All I can thing of is "patience grasshopper" from the old Kung Fu series. I too am moving slower than I would like, but we do move forward little by litte.


"Did you have any staff who didn't believe in inclusion or RTI - no matter how much you or other staff talked to them? If you did, could they choose to opt out of having students with special needs in their classroom or to be a part of RTI until they believed in it?"

Yes! I have been the leader in two buildings and there will always be staff that doesn't believe in the vision. And they are not always the "older" or "seasoned" teachers. I had a few cases where the teachers came around. In at least one case the teacher really become effective. I also had teachers opt out of inclusion. In every case the teachers were regular education teachers.

You can run but you can not hide from inclusionary practices. First, almost every school is moving towards inclusion. Second, 504 accommodations are becoming more common. Third, RTI requires real specific interventions with progress monitoring. Last, all teachers are expected to differentiate instruction.

So, whether you like inclusion or not doesn't really matter. All teachers will be expected to use many of the strategies and intervention you would typically see in an inclusion classroom. My selling point becomes "if you are going to be responsible for modifications, accommodations and intervention you might as well get some help from a special educator." Also if a teacher is very passionate about their position against RTI or inclusion, then they should not be in education. And I tell them that, which is usually when they opt out!

Finally, in our school (and we are also just starting) RTI is a building-wide initiative. The teacher and student support team is now the RTI team. We are working on benchmarking, progress monitoring and formative common assessments. This PDI happens at faculty meetings. I think they will embrace it in time if there is a clear process and they see results from that process. If there is good support and communication I am confident that I will see results and so will the teachers.

Ed Halbert

Mr. Cowart - thank you very much for your response.

Reggie Engebritson

Once again, Mr. Cowart, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my questions. I wish you all the best as you move forward!!

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