Response to Intervention-Dwayne Williams Tier I Education Consultants Founder/CEO

The premise of this blog is to highlight some very important ways that we as teachers, parents, administrators, direct care professionals and any others who have contact with youth can use authentic interactions with young people to build their ability to navigate adulthood. The following is an interview conducted that highlights an important movement in schools called response to intervention. I want to thank Mr. Williams for his time and dedication to this important subject matter.

Tell me a little bit about your organization and what it does?

I am a School Psychologist but also function in the capacity of Founder/CEO of Tier I Educational Coaching and Consulting, where we create culturally relevant Response to Intervention (RTI) models as well as speak to various school leaders, educators, churches, etc about the importance and impact of these types of models to increase performance among students of color. We seek to reduce the rate of students of color who are referred to special education through encouraging classroom interaction and curriculum that accommodates various cultural needs.

Why are Culturally Relevant RTI Models Important?  The majority of instructional models in USA education are consistent with Eurocentric cultural values—values that are often in stark contrast to the experiences of many students of color. We advocate to make instruction more relevant for students of color, which has been shown to enhance engagement and performance in the classroom. We also advocate for school districts to make instructional models more relevant to their students’ lived experiences, to reduce the disproportionate rate of special education referrals among students of color. Students learn best when they are engaged. When they are not engaged, they miss enormous amounts of instruction. Overtime, these students may appear as if they require specialized services due to academic deficits. But again, the question is: Are these deficits due to neurological processing deficits—which we call learning disabilities—or are they due to inappropriate instruction? Most just need to be engaged so as not to seem to be in need of services.

A. Wade Boykin and colleagues have conducted repeated studies that show the value of integrating cultural characteristics with instruction. Boykin and colleagues explain that there are at least 4 core characteristics that are valued within the African-American culture. These include (1) communalism, (2) movement/dance, (3) orality, and (4 )verve.  These differ from the Eurocentric model of education that relies on (1) individualism, (2) competition, and (3) adherence to strict rules in the classroom; when students do not adhere to these strict rules, they are reprimanded and often suspended from school.

 Cultural differences may cause teachers to misinterpret the behaviors of students of color; misinterpretations may influence teachers to incorrectly label a student as emotionally disturbed and learning disabled. These incorrect classifications have known impacts on students who must carry such labels throughout their schooling careers. Research shows that these labels remain with students long after high school in that students doubt their abilities and competencies in the workplace.

The work of Tier I is important to the future of teacher education, which is where the direct impact will flow into the way that students of color are perceived.  With changed perception comes modified interaction and more effective ways of reaching students. As an educator I have learned to interpret students’ behaviors differently as well and consider that they are not abnormal (though abnormal compared to what would be a more prudent question to ask) but instead they are aching to be understood and reached. As professionals, it vital that we understand the students we teach. As the old adage states: We cannot teach who we do not know!