Teacher, instructional coach, educational consultant, and author Julie Wright shares her brilliant solutions and protocols to address common problems of practice regarding our current RtI models. Julie’s book, What’s Our Response: Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners, is an invaluable resource filled with tips for breaking out of the RtI box that we sometimes unintentionally corner children into. Julie reminds listeners that teacher autonomy and agency are at the heart of serving and meeting ALL students’ needs.
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Schoolutions - S2 E24: Solving Problems of Practice When it Comes to Our Current RtI Models with Julie Wright
[00:00:00] Olivia: I am Olivia Wahl, and I am honored to welcome my guest today, Julie Wright. Julie Wright is a teacher, instructional coach, educational consultant, and author. Julie's known for matching her pedagogical beliefs to her practices, helping teachers plan curriculum and instruction that meets students’ collective and individual needs.
[00:00:34] Olivia: She's also known for her creative solutions to ongoing and engaging assessment. Julie's inquiry stance and problem solution approach puts those she works with at ease because she uses reflection as a tool for growth and change. Our conversation today will focus on Julie's book, What's Our Response? Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners. Without further ado, welcome Julie.
[00:01:01] Julie: Thanks so much, Olivia. I'm so happy to be here with you today.
[00:01:03] Olivia: I am happy to connect with you. I am obsessed about your book and your practical protocols. I love the alliteration. I kick off every episode asking guests who an inspiring educator is from your life. Would you share with listeners?
[00:01:20] Julie: Of course, and thank you for the nice compliment. I'm thrilled that you're thrilled about What's Our Response? Hopefully, it will be resonating with lots of listeners today. You know, it's interesting with education, there are so many people, I'm sure you know, that like just inspire you day to day. Teachers you come across, people you read about.
[00:01:35] Julie: But the one person I'll highlight today, she's in my mind, is Mary Howard. She has this knowledge of students. She has this knowledge of literacy, and she has this way of being to create opportunities for learning that are so rich and varied because of all of her experiences, and she's always so grounded in teacher practice.
[00:01:54] Julie: I'm often in awe of her and feel fortunate to be able to learn beside her. But more than anything, she inspires joy wherever she goes. I mean, it's contagious. You really cannot help feeling like you need to have joy in your life when you're around. Her education can be tough. It's tricky sometimes, and she is a joy spreader, is what I call her.
[00:02:16] Julie: And so she reminds us that joy should be tucked into every pocket of the work that we do, and I'm so thankful for that.
[00:02:22] Olivia: Yeah, she has been an inspiration to me as well. I'm living vicariously through her Hawaii pictures.
[00:02:28] Julie: Isn't that wonderful?
[00:02:29] Olivia: She's brave, and she also speaks her mind, which I value. We have to be brave in this world when something's not working, as well as when it is. And so calling the issue right out, and then you have tons of fabulous solutions.
[00:02:43] Olivia: One issue: teachers have many, many decisions to make every day. I think the research you offer says that teachers make up to 1500 decisions a day, which is every 15 seconds or 4 per minute. That's nuts! There's too many deficit-based approaches to intervention. Uh, pullout instruction - we'll talk about that, and you highlight five problems of practice, and we will go in-depth with them over our conversation.
[00:03:12] Olivia: And yet you offer a myriad of solutions, which is why I appreciate your work. And because you just mentioned Dr. Mary Howard, I think I'd love to read a quote of hers that speaks to the solution you illuminate. Um, here we go! “She <meaning you, Julie>, models how we can turn our thinking inward in ways that will alter a RtI deficit-focused data culture riddled with numerical laden spreadsheets to label students and justify pullout interventions and shows us an asset-based process designed to view children in terms of their strengths and the day-to-day assessments that can help us to uncover and celebrate those strengths. As a result, she helps us explore approaches that would shorten or even make unnecessary alternative intervention spaces so that we can, at last, reclaim our first line of defense: the classroom teacher.”
[00:04:11] Olivia: Bravo, man. I'm psyched. Let's jump in! How would you define response to intervention for listeners?
[00:04:19] Julie: Well, when I think of response, I think of it as anything at all that we do to support, to move, to motivate, to engage, to connect. I often refer to it as lifting learning and lifting learners. You know, in education terms, it's the balance for me of really good instruction that also serve as some of those best interventions.
[00:04:41] Julie: Often, we can use those terms synonymously if we want to, thinking of instruction and intervention as one in the same. Of course, there are oftentimes that we need to separate those based on students’ needs or their wants, but in general, the students we serve, some of those best interventions come right down to some e excellent instruction.
[00:05:05] Olivia: So the other piece that is crystal clear in your book, and I love how it's organized, you call out five problems of practice and then give all different ways and really tangible protocols of how we can approach it. So speaking to that structure in your book, what are the five problems of practice? And we'll go much more in-depth with each of them, but could you give that just layout for listeners?
[00:05:30] Julie: Yeah, of course. What a great place to start. You know, all schools have problems of practice to think about, and so my charge to folks is to say, spend some time naming problems of practice. And maybe you'll find that some of your problems of practice are similar to some that I've outlined, or maybe they'll be different, and finding strategies around those.
[00:05:47] Julie: Um, I think that one of the things that we have to start with sometimes before even defining problems of practice is to get clear on our acronyms. You know, RtI technically stands for Response to Intervention, and MTSS is Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Those are often terms that are used interchangeably when making about when talking about and making changes with schools and school reform because they represent a lot of the same ideas.
[00:06:17] Julie: And so when RtI was launched in the early 2000s, with the No Child Left Behind Act and MTSS is just a more current version of that, although they're similar, they have some differences as well. Um, they’re frameworks. The five problems of practice that I speak about are affirmative statements to think about solutions to some of the problems.
[00:06:38] Julie: So even though I'm naming a problem, I'm actually naming a solution. And so I talk about the idea that, you know, one way to manage and think about the support we're providing to kids in schools is number one to break out of the RtI box. And if you're using MTSS, you can use the idea of MTSS box. You can use those interchangeably.
[00:06:58] Julie: The second problem of practice, which is a solution statement that I name, is we need to honor and increase teacher autonomy and agency. The third - child study teams are needed across schools to focus on student assets. The fourth problem of practice is we need to increase students’ thinking and doing time. And last but not least, the fifth one that I mention in this book is we need good instruction because that makes the best intervention.
[00:07:25] Olivia: So there they are, folks. Uh, let's start with the first. How have the RtI or MTSS Triangles boxed us in?
[00:07:35] Julie: Yeah, so for some, thinking about the box and the triangle can be very visual. While I was working in school several years ago and trying to work inside all of the tiered support that we had created for students, which by the way, was really good intentions, right? I kept saying to myself, is this support?
[00:07:54] Julie: Why do I feel like we're boxing ourselves in? I constantly asked that question to the teams that I was working with. Like, I knew we were working so hard, but we felt a little bit like the walls were shrinking in if you will. Um, this well-intentioned system with everyone working hard. Sort of made us feel like we were spinning our wheels about what to do versus putting in place simple and well-designed responses into action that we could act upon immediately.
[00:08:23] Julie: And so sometimes that happens when we systemize things, and I noticed that was happening. I see that happening in schools all over the place today. Well-intentioned teachers, teams of people trying to get together, spinning their wheels, student is brought to the table potentially. Um, you know, I'm using quotes there, obviously, air quotes, right?
[00:08:44] Julie: Brought to the table to talk about what's happening in the kiddos’ lives and in order to discuss their needs and support to give them the boost that they need. And instead of really thinking about the kiddo because of the structures that we've put in place, we start imagining what our chart says that we should do because we've systematized some things.
[00:09:07] Julie: We put the kiddo on a continuum. Now, I don't want anyone to think that's bad practice, right? This is just something to think about. To think about instead of immediately going to that continuum, thinking about what kind of support does that kiddo need? You know, how much support? How often? And who should serve the student because before we know it, we've put them in some kind of a box because we're trying to be intentional and systematic and really serve that student.
[00:09:32] Julie: Our intentions are so good that we end up creating this pyramid of support and then not really meaning to slapping a label on that student, and that becomes a problem. So just imagine a group of kids that, you know, Joey or Sadie or Deja gets lumped together just simply because of a number or a color or a tier.
[00:09:56] Julie: And that's one of the things that maybe we need to think about differently.
[00:10:00] Olivia: And Julie, I love you just highlighted. It's that frequency; it’s the intensity; it’s the duration for each child individually when you're thinking of a menu of support options. And I also know, I'm hearing from teachers more and more and more that they feel like they're, for lack of a better term, handcuffed by their curricula or by this box that's been created for them to try to address student needs.
[00:10:30] Olivia: So, what's your strategy for honoring and increasing teacher autonomy and agency? Um, if you could first define autonomy and agency for listeners, I think that would be helpful.
[00:10:41] Julie: Yeah, so if we loop it to the first question that you asked about the RtI box and how boxes us is in, right? We have these things that happen in schools. We sit in meetings. We create plans of support. It sort of fits an algorithm because that's what our team tries to be consistent and equitable, and we're trying to create these supports, but sometimes it doesn't always take into account.
[00:11:06] Julie: And I use the word sometimes because this is not an over-generalization; it’s just something to ponder. Doesn't always take into account kids' backgrounds and their lives and their identities, and then the kids may end up in a type of support for an amount of time. That they may or may not need because simply of, uh, this idea that we've put them in a place because it matches some kind of chart.
[00:11:29] Julie: When we do that, we sometimes then take away, not meaning to, the autonomy and agency that teachers had, desire, or once had. And so when teacher autonomy, when I define that, I think about teachers having this capacity to act or make decisions on their own. That doesn't mean going rogue and doing things outside of what would be acceptable.
[00:11:53] Julie: It means that this feeling of like empowerment and independence, that they can know their kids so well, that they can take action. and be that agent of change with kids and for kids. So they work together. In schools, when we start giving teachers that autonomy and choice, especially at the local level, we start to see some change with what happens with kids because we also then take responsibility.
[00:12:18] Julie: I tried this, it worked. I'm going to do it a little more. I tried this, it didn't work. What will I do next? And so I think the solution is to make sure that teachers, as much as possible, are in the instructional driver's seat, the decision-making seat. That doesn't mean that they have to do it all alone.
[00:12:39] Julie: Obviously, you know, a team can come together to brainstorm and make a plan, but it's really important that teachers are the ones that are the encouragers. To name the responses that they know will meet their students' needs, both individually and collectively. And then, you know, when we think about how that all goes together, we can start thinking about the If-Then statements we might end up making some overgeneralizations.
[00:13:05] Julie: In chapter two of What's Our Response, I share some examples of these If-Then statements to bolster teacher autonomy and agency using this asset-based lens, using some observation protocols to know kids really, really well and to give them power and empowering ways to study kids to ensure that students are kept at the center of that decision-making process.
[00:13:29] Julie: And I hope listeners will check that out as a resource.
[00:13:32] Olivia: I hope they will too. Um, you just made me really think about what the environment is that allows for that agency and autonomy, and I think it comes down to risk-taking and feeling safe. So much of my current work is around learning labs, but the notion that a learning lab is really about coming together and studying children and how they think, how they're reading, how they're writing, how they're talking. I was meeting with a fourth-grade team last week, and we were planning for their upcoming unit, and we were talking about this idea of yesteryear that a workshop, a chunk of time has to always have this 10-minute mini-lesson upfront, independent work time and this debrief, and we thought, no, no, no.
[00:14:21] Olivia: Like, what if we give an exit ticket, and we find patterns, and we look at the needs of most, we look at the needs of some, and we look at the needs of our outliers, and we realize, wait, what I was planning on teaching tomorrow does not match the needs of most in that bell curve. We need to alter, and they have to be able to tailor the instruction.
[00:14:43] Olivia: And one of the teachers at the table is like, yeah, we can do that? I was like, yeah, you have to, like, so that notion of handcuffing, I think it's become more to curricula options and not just being able to pause and say, no, no, no. Based on exit tickets based on our debrief today, what am I doing tomorrow for the needs of my children housed under these bigger umbrellas of units or big ideas?
[00:15:10] Olivia: So, yes, those If-Then statements are magnificent. They're also great for students. Julie, what I love about the way you design this book, anything we will do as adults based on what you recommend is exactly what we want our students doing. So there's such a beautiful parallel practice vibe in your book that I appreciate, and something that's really near and dear to my heart is asset-based thinking.
[00:15:36] Julie: I appreciate that so much. Yeah.
[00:15:38] Olivia: It's everything to me. It's everything. And I want that for myself as an adult learner. I want it for our children. Right? Um, so can you explain what asset-based thinking is and how can we shift that culture in places that it feels more deficit-based?
[00:15:55] Julie: Yeah, I think what you're bringing up is so key to the work we're doing in schools right now or that we need to do. And that is to remind ourselves that when teachers have autonomy and agency, they're more likely to give it to students as well because they've experienced it themselves. And so, uh, the idea of what we do for ourselves is good for kids couldn't be more true.
[00:16:18] Julie: As a consultant, I go in lots of different places, and the names we make up for things, right? It might be a data team meeting or a literacy team meeting, or just a regular PLC meeting, or a time where we pause and reflect meeting. Really what we're doing is what do we know about kids and what do they need next?
[00:16:33] Julie: That's the idea behind it, and I remind everyone that when they're working with me that, you know, we have lots of places where we have fidelity. But when we start talking about students and their needs, our fidelity is to them. That is something I believe deeply in, and that comes from believing in students and, um, really focusing on those assets.
[00:16:55] Julie: So when I think about assets, when I'm doing asset-based learning walks or when I'm doing asset-based labs, I think to myself, where can we catch the good? Where are we going to go sniff it out is what I tell teachers. They often think that's kind of funny, but I really do mean it. Um, everything in the, in the classroom, in the hallway, down to the lesson plans, everything is worthy of sniffing out the good.
[00:17:15] Julie: And if we start with the good, we can start to imagine what kids can do. We can do the same for teacher professional development, right? What can we do collectively, and what can we do individually? And then, you know, where might we need a lift? Every single person has areas where they have strengths and areas that they would like to grow in, and so if we can name some of those places and start there, it usually yields really good results.
[00:17:38] Julie: That's what I've found. That leads me to this idea of thinking about child study teams, right? So we have these kids are being boxed in potentially, so we want to unbox it, and we want to make sure teachers are in the instructional driving seat. So when I get to the table sometimes, and we're talking about assets, it's hard to sometimes break out of the mold and not put up the colored charts that showcase the reds and the yellows and the greens, and that definitely is a boxed-in.
[00:18:08] Julie: So using multifaceted data is super important. Child observations and things like those. So when I think about assets, I immediately go to where are we talking about kids and how might we do that. And it's like one of my favorite, favorite topics because it's where all of the ideas for figuring out how to support kids and and the goals, how it all comes together.
[00:18:31] Olivia: Well, and Julie, I think too, if we are giving teachers choice, students need choice as well. And if we are not clear in our instruction, then guess who else will definitely not be clear? And so that idea of increasing students thinking and doing time, but it's not just saying, uh, we have to build our stamina.
[00:18:53] Olivia: Let's go to jump in. No, no, no. The only way to grow that time is to have such a crystal clear vision for where instruction is going and choice built-in. So there's always a, oh, you think you're done. Okay, well, this is what you can try next. or, wow, this text seems really hard for you. Here's another that may be a little different or of more interest to you.
[00:19:16] Olivia: So that idea of access. You and I both have a friend in common, Sam Bennett, and her book That Workshop Book. Um, it's a fabulous resource for folks as well that are trying to understand the idea of workshop that's not married or bound to a curricula that's being sold. I think that gets confused way too often.
[00:19:41] Olivia: Workshop’s a time structure.
[00:19:42] Julie: Right, right.
[00:19:43] Olivia: We both know Sam always says, “The person who is doing the reading, writing, and thinking is the one who is doing the learning.”
[00:19:51] Julie: So very true.
[00:19:53] Olivia: So very true. So help us understand how can we increase students thinking and doing time as teachers really strategically.
[00:20:03] Julie: Yeah. I always tell teachers that these things that we're asking it's not like they're not simple. You know the work we do in schools is super complicated. So it's not just because the words come out, it's easy to do, but it's worthwhile figuring it out. So when I'm thinking about students thinking and doing time, it 100% comes down to the underlying principles that you mentioned from Sam's book, and it is such a go-to resource that I try to share widely.
[00:20:30] Julie: I'm sure you do as well. It also requires that we back up a step and we know our kids really well. So I say, you know, start with these assets. What do we think we know? Um, and I get down to the nitty-gritty, you know, like, what do we know about kids' strengths? Oh, but I'll also, like, if you're bringing some kids to the conversation table, what are their favorite colors?
[00:20:51] Julie: Who are their friends? , what do they like to read? What do they do? What are their hobbies? And some people kind of giggle, and they're like, you want me to know their favorite color? I'm like; I don't care if you know their favorite color. What do you know about them as human beings? Because in order to increase their thinking and doing time.
[00:21:10] Julie: In order to hand that over, we have to utilize and make the most out of the time we have by feeding into who they are as people. So, you know, it also means that we have to change a little bit of our practices. Uh, we have to start talking, not just about numbers. Kids become, um, more than just a number, lots of kinds of assets.
[00:21:32] Julie: It also means that maybe we have to stop using terms like high flyer or low or cuspy because if we believe kids deserve that thinking and doing time, we have to think about them in ways where we're not boxing them in with those labels. And so, of course, I'm a coach, so I have to approach it gently and maybe ask if we can have a shared agreement.
[00:21:55] Julie: And I make my case for why the word high flyer - you might be trying to be complimentary about how it does sort of box kids and because there's no one who's a high flyer about everything.
[00:22:04] Olivia: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:05] Julie: And I still haven't figured out what cuspy means. It's very interesting to me, that whole idea. Um, I'm not going to spend time there, but it is something to think about that, that we do that.
[00:22:14] Julie: So we can make sense of the noise that goes on, and I understand why there's so much noise in schools, but my suggestion is let's make sense of the noise by handing over that thinking and doing time to students. So that means doing what we do when we think about workshop or the student engagement model or the gradual release model, which is all about what you mentioned, which is time, and it's about just handing it over to kids and making sure that the stuff that they're doing is worthy of their time.
[00:22:45] Julie: And that might be that it's something that they like to do, or it might be something that you're tying to your curriculum. There can be must dos and can dos. And so I tell people, take stock of the time you have. You know, analyze it a little bit, decide if you need some mini-lessons.
[00:23:00] Julie: Decide if that's worthy of the whole group or if you need small pop-up mini-lessons based on small groups. Or if you don't like the word mini-lesson, call it direct instruction. If you don't like direct instruction, talk about, I'm teaching the kids some stuff, right? We're all worried about these terms, right?
[00:23:14] Julie: Uh, we get all caught up in it. Uh, I work with a lot of secondary teachers, and they're like, workshop that's for little kids. You're like, no, actually, it's not. Um, right. And then, and then stand back, you know, reflect and figure out if what kids are working on if it's making a difference. And, and if so, how are you going to increase that?
[00:23:31] Julie: The other thing that we sometimes forget is that one of the most important things we can do with kids to increase their autonomy and agency, to also get them out of the box that we may be putting them in, but also helping them name for themselves is ask them, what do you think you need? A construct I use with teachers all the time.
[00:23:51] Julie: I'm going to say it slowly. I'm going to try to put a resource in our giveaway materials. Just a little chart. It's so easy to think about, but you know, what are we doing for kids? We do a lot for kids. That's our job. What are we doing with kids, and what are, what's being done by kids? And sometimes asking them, what do you need me to do for you, with you, and what would you like to do by yourself?
[00:24:13] Julie: I think that can be a really important instructional practice that can increase their autonomy and agency as well.
[00:24:19] Olivia: That's beautiful. I actually, I heard Cris Tovani say to a student, um, I'm trying to think it, was it middle school? The student said, “I, I'm, I don't know. I, I don't know the answer.” And she looked right at him and said, “Well, if you did know the answer, what would you say?” He paused, and he responded with something, and I thought, what, what just happened?
[00:24:39] Olivia: She goes; it works every time.
[00:24:40] Julie: What just happened?
[00:24:42] Olivia: It’s so bananas! And so I think, too, just knowing that. We have to trust that students need processing time to think and give them not just the time of scaffolding with our support but also time to read by themselves, time to write by themselves, and then go ahead, talk it up with people around you.
[00:25:06] Olivia: I think we're often too quick to jump to group work or conversations as learners before we each have time to really dig in ourselves. So just interesting. And Julie, my heart hurts right now because I'm headed into schools. I was in schools four days out of five last week, three days this week. And the numbers of students being recommended for intervention are gobsmacking to me.
[00:25:32] Olivia: It's terrifying. Uh, half the class in some cases. And so I've started to really just pause, especially after rereading your book twice now. And I think we need to ask ourselves; how does good tier-one instruction make the best intervention? I do have a quote to kick off this segment of our conversation because I think your words are so vital.
[00:25:57] Olivia: “We need good instruction. We need good, solid, dependable, flexible, responsive instruction all of the time. Instruction is good when it takes into account the data that we gain from knowing students academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.”
[00:26:15] Olivia: So help us understand teachers are listening. They may say, I'm doing all I can in the classroom, but tier one instruction is at the classroom level. So yeah, how does that make the best intervention?
[00:26:28] Julie: Yeah, it's the real thing. And I think, uh, what you're seeing is a universal conundrum or problem of practice in general across which is when we've worked our way through these tiers or these levels and things aren't quite working, because, let's be honest, sometimes at these decision-making tables, again, remember, well-intentioned, hardworking, dedicated professionals are using a system.
[00:26:55] Julie: A system that they're relying on because either they're told they have to, or it's something they're choosing. Either way, it doesn't matter. They're relying on a system that isn't always foolproof. Because we take into account what the system is telling us, but forget sometimes that some of the best things that happen for kids is right inside the classroom, the tier one classroom because that's where the capital is, right?
[00:27:21] Julie: The number one thing is that kids want to jump out of bed. When you're a little kid, you love to jump out of bed for your teacher and your friends. When you're older, you love to jump out of bed for your friends. I'm not being very eloquent about it, but there's research and great statistics about that. That's not a stat that we really need to argue over.
[00:27:39] Julie: What we need to figure out is to say, how can we take those pieces of capital and turn that into places where kids can shore up the things they don't understand? And so that least restrictive environment for kids, which is law, right? That's a piece of legislation that is right on that kids deserve to be in the least restrictive environment. For most children.
[00:28:02] Julie: Not all, but most. That's right. Inside their classroom, most of the time, working and learning next to their teachers and peers. And so, um, again, there are always times where that isn't the case. But in general, the tier one classroom is a place where we can activate all the systems around kids like you mentioned, the academic support of both teacher and their classmates.
[00:28:23] Julie: The social-emotional piece is really important for reasons we don't have to discuss at this time. The cultural piece is as well. When we inform one another and then using the physical environment and the way kids are communicating with each other are all assets. They're there to maximize the students’ know-how so that they can put their knowledge into action.
[00:28:43] Julie: And that's the place that it often happens. You know, it's funny if we go back to some of the other problems of practice - so teachers and teams are putting kids into a certain tier, and then because of that, they might be required to use a certain resource because the intention behind it is a good one, but it may not be what the kiddo needs.
[00:29:01] Julie: And then we might even do some pullout because that's what the chart says we should do. Sometimes what that student needed was more time to read and someone to float them a stack of books that they actually might find super interesting. And so that chart doesn't always say those would be the interventions, but the classroom teacher can be doing that for all kids and then ramping that up for that student who they're extra worried about.
[00:29:28] Julie: So I always say to people, increase your volume if you're thinking about practices that make a difference to shore up the tier one practices. Think about your reading and your writing and your talking and your math and your science and social studies, as well as your community building, and ramp those up with volume. And think about if you want to get better, uh, at something, you just have to do it more.
[00:29:52] Julie: I always use the example with teachers and with kids. You know, I love basketball. I love playing with my two sons, and I have, over the years, not been as good at free throws as I used to be. Well, if I go out into the driveway and I practice, and I have volume around it, I, I will get better. And so if kids can name, here's what's tripping me up.
[00:30:16] Julie: And we can create opportunities for them to have volume around that thing. That might be a good idea too. The second practice I remind people to do if you're trying to shore things up and create that least restrictive environment is to focus on early intervention. Being able to get in there early, and that has always meant make sure you have K-2 all nice and steady and consistent.
[00:30:38] Julie: Well, I do think that's super important. To me, that is early intervention. But early intervention is also from day one in fourth grade or fifth grade, or sixth grade. Early intervention is. Getting in there and figuring out what kids can do and figuring out what they need next immediately, and then lift those things within the setting that you're in and try to keep that in tier one.
[00:30:59] Julie: The other thing that I try to remind people to do at practice is, is that they can launch and sustain small group learning without it having to be a thing. You know, we're so used to like guided reading, and small group reading is such a thing, and it's reserved for the younger kids. Really, if you want to make huge gains, it is getting kids in small, small groups and reminding yourself that with the right type of tools and resources at the table, you can, as the teacher, you can be in some of those conversations.
[00:31:32] Julie: Or you cannot, you can create structures for kids to be able to do that for themselves, and then you become the person who leans in or jumps in as needed while also intentionally structuring some of those groups to make it a difference. We also think sometimes, oh, it's so hard to manage small groups.
[00:31:46] Julie: Well, if small groups feel hard, there's lots of tips and tools for that. But my number one go-to is to say, you know, keep the small groups small. There's a beautiful thing that happens in pairs and trios for kids, and the support that they might find, especially when you create student choice around that as well.
[00:32:04] Julie: Um, so I'm hoping that some tips and tools that I'll share in some of the resources we're going to give away will be helpful to that as well.
[00:32:09] Olivia: Yeah, I think it will be, and I again think it goes back to that notion of workshop as always having to start with this chunk of direct instruction. And I think we almost need to, again, flip that on its head of start with the debrief at the end of the day or the end of a workshop. Look for patterns. What did students get out of our work today based on targets, and what do they need next?
[00:32:34] Olivia: And those are your small groups. Right? And my biggest fear right now is I feel like decisions are being made based on schedules and people's availability, not kids. And that sounds so strange because we're all serving children, but I worry so much when the response (especially about pullout) from school districts is, well, you know, we, we have one person that's got to serve K-5, and they've got a jigsaw and pull from classrooms. What do you say to that?
[00:33:04] Julie: Yeah, you know, I think that that is a system-wide discussion, right? Because it all impacts one piece decision impacts another decision. So I know that this is not going to be wildly popular, but at the right time of year, probably not in the middle of it, right? It might be over a break or during summer.
[00:33:22] Julie: To sort of step back and dismantle it on paper, right? It doesn't have to be dismantled in the moment where we leave kids hanging, but to actually ask ourselves if we believe in the least restrictive environment, and we believe that kids deserve the thinking and doing time, and we want to increase teacher autonomy, and we want to make sure that there's natural built-in responses right in the classroom that don't even have to be purchased.
[00:33:48] Julie: They can be the natural flow of what we do day to day in the classroom. We've now given our time and space to those goals. Now what we have to do is we have to say, well, in order for us to do that, we’ve got to have learners in the right spots. What kind of spots might that be? And really use those as bridges to make headway.
[00:34:07] Julie: And then, of course, pause and reflect. Once you make a change, you’ve got to stand back and say, wait, is this working? And if not, what are we doing about it?
[00:34:14] Olivia: I know you’re probably booking already for next year, but I think school districts that are trying to figure this out and have struggled and are not finding success, and I'll say especially after Covid, but this was a long time before Covid, that this whole system was kind of a hot mess. And so I think you working directly with school districts on the ground is another amazing support that you offer as a consultant and coach.
[00:34:41] Olivia: Um, that would be invaluable for a school district to know that you're out there.
[00:34:44] Julie: Thank you for that.
[00:34:45] Olivia: Yeah, I know we have to focus on closing the knowing-naming-doing gap. What in the world does that mean, though?
[00:34:52] Julie: It's a mouthful, isn't it? You know, I, I say it all the time, like, okay, we we're going to think about the knowing and the naming and the doing gap, and they'll say the gap. It sounds like what you know because schools are super dynamic. They're super complicated, and they're sophisticated places with lots of moving parts, and oftentimes, education-educators, we have noise coming at us, even us consultants where we're have to like really shut down the noise and say, what is actually the priority?
[00:35:19] Julie: What are the high leverage moves? And so for me, I think, well, if we stop and reflect, I know I've used that word several times, but for me, it is the number one practice that we can do as educators. and we can actually teach our kids to do it as well. Because we then own it, right? I'm going to reflect on what's actually happening, what is our goal, and how will we reach that goal?
[00:35:39] Julie: When we name those things, we can then decide if we need to make an adjustment in order to move toward that. And so if we're not on the right track, we can adjust or shift. If we are on the right track, we might increase what we're doing because we're getting the results that we like. So we might ask ourselves, what are the things that we do?
[00:36:00] Julie: For example, what are our top three instructional interventions or responses that we give to kids as an example? And we might name of those three to five, what are our actions that give us the biggest yielded results? And then we might say, well, after we pause and reflect, what are we going to do the same for kids?
[00:36:20] Julie: What are we going to do differently? What might we increase or add? What might we decrease or eliminate? And that can then become the synergy around the new asset-based data team meeting to say, if we know kids really, really well and we have this autonomy to say, I tried this, this, and this, and it worked, I think I'm going to do more of that.
[00:36:40] Julie: Or I tried these two things, and it did not work. I have to shift. So oftentimes, teachers, because of the system, they wait for the next meeting because that's what they were told to do. I'm way overgeneralizing there. I know a lot of teachers that break out of their own mold and say, I can't wait. I have to take action.
[00:36:59] Julie: And I'm certainly not wanting to take credit away from them. Um, even the teachers who are not doing that are just actually responding to a system that's been put in front of them, not because that's necessarily what they would choose to have done, as you mentioned before in yesteryear. Right? Um, so we have to figure out what kids know.
[00:37:16] Julie: And then we have to name what's working and figure out what changes we need to make.
[00:37:19] Olivia: Yeah, and I am thinking of a teacher that I have the privilege of working with this week. She's a first-grade teacher, and the last time I was with them, she had such a sense of agency and urgency to support her first graders. She was being incredibly transparent and vulnerable to say, I am not doing the same thing any more.
[00:37:42] Olivia: It hasn't worked. It's, I, I'm, I'm going. She, I think, may have said rogue, but she's not going rogue. She's done copious amounts of research. And so something I also adore with the structure of the book is in every chapter, you have sections that speak to this, I believe, and then because of this, I will. And Julie, I don't think, as educators, we can take the risks that we want to be able to take unless we truly know each other like we want to know our children.
[00:38:15] Olivia: One of the most memorable moments of my work with a high school teacher. Last week, Sam was facilitating a planning session, a learning lab, and this teacher put a context statement together for all of us of why she became a teacher, what she believes to be true. And Sam also coached me on altering my website to share my beliefs.
[00:38:37] Olivia: Because if you're a school district and you want support, you need to know what I believe to be true. And the research is everything. So you can say, right, you can say this practice is what you believe to be true. If there's not research to back up what you're doing, then you need to alter your practices, period.
[00:38:56] Julie: That's exactly right.
[00:38:58] Olivia: I'm thinking call to action moving forward. And you have a quote in the book that shook me to my toes. So I'm going to start with that. “Educational work is multifaceted, and the young people we serve deserve for us to act NOW. If a student is having trouble comprehending the text they read, we can't wait. If we want to decrease that gap, the time to act is NOW. If a student needs scaffolds built in to support their social emotional well-being, we can't wait four weeks to have an initial meeting to discuss observations and next steps. The time for that meeting is NOW.”
[00:39:37] Olivia: So there is a sense of urgency for every child to thrive in the ways that we trust that they can. That's why we're in education. What would you say is our call to action moving forward? Knowledge to actions, Julie.
[00:39:55] Julie: Well, teachers show up for lots and lost of reasons, and that's the most interesting part about getting to know teachers, how their journey led them to inspiring, empowering, teaching into younger people. But there's something that is true for all of us, and that is we do show up even if we have lots of reasons.
[00:40:15] Julie: We do all show up because somewhere in us, we're interested in being a part of someone else's growth and development. And we're thinking about the whole student or child now, right? There's lots of ways to impact that growth and development. And if that is our goal, then we cannot waste resources and time and energy.
[00:40:37] Julie: We do have to act now and feel that we have, um, the ability to act naturally and professionally and to make those decisions that we were trained to make and be ready to say- that worked, and that's a celebration or be ready to say, that didn't work. I need to get some help from someone else to get some ideas and have this become a study for me.
[00:40:59] Julie: Um, and not waste the time that it takes to maybe sometimes have that meeting. You know, we’ve got to name what matters most to us. I'm very clear in my literacy work what matters most to me, and I want teachers across all content areas. Because I work with all content areas, as you probably do too. And I lean on my literacy beliefs because I think they transcend all the content areas.
[00:41:22] Julie: But I'll say, you don't have to believe what I believe. What do you believe? So that I can coach into that and help them live out their beliefs because teachers are inherently. really, really great people. And they're there for all the right reasons. And so I'll say to teachers, you know, what is our response?
[00:41:37] Julie: That's why the book is named that because I run around saying, what's our response going to be? And people will say, you know, oh, like, yeah, what's our response? What was your response just now? You just did an amazing thing with a kiddo. Can you name it? And they'll think it's not a big deal what they did, but they took a little kiddo by the arm gently and said, come with me for a minute.
[00:41:58] Julie: I want to show you something. That's a response that might have made a huge difference. Leading them to new knowledge or pairing a kiddo up with someone else. Um, you know, what is our response going to be? It doesn't have to be fireworks around it. It can be really simple and elegant. What do we hope our response is now?
[00:42:17] Julie: What do we hope it will be or become? What goals are we going to set for ourselves? How will we get there? How are we going to help kids set goals and help them get there themselves with our support so that we're really thinking about all learners as these capable, amazing in our future and toward our future human beings?
[00:42:38] Julie: That's the goal.
[00:42:39] Olivia: Well, I can only hope. And your book is now residing. You have a permanent spot in my backpack everywhere I go. When I was meeting with an administrative team this morning, I said, I'm bringing Julie's book. I want you to really look at it, and we need to do a book study because you don't have to read the book front to back.
[00:43:00] Olivia: It's so accessible. You can jump in. The protocols are there. You can start tomorrow. So I appreciate the way you captured what you believe to be true in a book, and so we can clone you, and if we can't have you in person, we can at least learn from you. Um, I thank you so much for your time and being willing to be a guest on Schoolutions.
[00:43:23] Olivia: Thank you, Julie.
[00:43:25] Julie: It was a pleasure. Thanks so much for championing some of this work in schools every day and for all your hard work, for all you're doing in service of teachers and kids. Much appreciated.
[00:43:34] Olivia: Right back at you. Take care.
[00:43:36] Julie: You too.