Posted by: darcymullin | June 21, 2013

What if They Don’t Get It?

I am fortunate to be finishing my second year at Giant’s Head Elementary – it’s an amazing school where teachers are passionate and work incredibly hard with their students.   That said, we have kids that struggle at our school (don’t we all) and over the course of the last two years I have worked with teachers to support these students.  I don’t do it alone – I am only one of the people working to support teachers, but on more than one occasion when a teacher has asked me:

I have tried everything with ________, what else can I do?

My response:

Good question.  I’m not sure.

Put simply, that answer is not good enough.  It’s not good enough for the teacher, the student or the school as a whole.My learning going into next year is going to be focused on figuring out the answer to that question.

Yesterday, I had the luxury of meeting with my good friend and colleague Tom Schimmer. He has agreed to help me work through this problem.  Piggybacking off the work of guys like Johnny Bevacqua, I want to create intervention strategies/systems that takes the guesswork out of how we respond when kids struggle.

We have an amazing staff who work exceptionally hard with their students, so I want to support them by giving them tools to access support in a timely efficient manner.  I want to share the effective strategies being implemented in classrooms and take the guesswork out how to proceed when students struggle.  Teachers need to focus on what’s important – teaching the kids in their classroom.

Essentially, I am looking to create a pyramid of interventions – nothing earth shattering, but something we don’t currently have.  We know going into a lesson/day/year that about 20% of our kids are going to struggle, so how do we react when they do?

These are my draft notes from my conversation with Tom.

These are my draft notes from my conversation with Tom.

Talking with Tom, he suggests three levels of intervention (well, 3.5 actually).

Level One – Prevention

This is the work that goes on daily in classes.  This level is based on sound instructional design, assessment and classroom structures.  It is based on the assumption that excellent pedagogy sets the best conditions to learn.  However, we know that even in the best classrooms, with the most experienced teachers, doing their best work ~ 20% of the students will struggle, so how are we addressing that in the classroom.  How are teachers dealing with infrequent errors – both academic and social-emotional?  How do students get a second chance in the classroom?

Level Two – Program

This level deals with students whose infrequent errors are becoming chronic.  This is how we deal with students (about 15%) where their long terms success is at risk.  These students are not responding to what is happening in the classroom and need another layer of support (guided reading, small group pullout etc.).

Level Three – Personalized

We know that even with the most dedicated teachers, the best programs and full commitment along the way, some students (about 5%) will still struggle emotionally or academically.  For those students a program won’t work.  We need to create a personalized plan that is going to meet their needs.  They will still continue to get Level 1 & 2 supports, but they will also get individual and personal interventions.

Ultimately, I want to create a system that has interventions that match the needs of students.  The more kids struggle, the more intense the intervention becomes.  These interventions need to be systematic and timely.  Teachers and support staff need to be aware of the interventions and as a team we need to move quickly and efficiently when kids do struggle.  An effective preventative level can pull kids down the triangle…meaning that with hard work we can shrink our Level 2 students by 5 – 10% by intervening on the infrequent errors before they become chronic.

I have a lot of work to do.  Over the next year, my plan is to take this plan from concept to functional working model.  If we do it right, I will never have to answer the question:

I have tried everything with ________, what else can I do?

Rather, I will have people coming to me telling me what they have done to intervene and looking for the next layer of support.  By removing the guesswork out of intervention, we can focus on what’s important.

The kids.

Note: I would like to thank my friend Randy Jones for setting me down this path and planting the seed.  A lot of good ideas are hatched on the golf course :-).



  1. […] I am fortunate to be finishing my second year at Giant's Head Elementary – it's an amazing school where teachers are passionate and work incredibly hard with their students. That said, we have ki…  […]

  2. […] I came to the conclusion that the answer was right in front of me.  As I mentioned in my last post, my inquiry next year is looking to formalize a pyramid of interventions for our school.  I am […]

  3. And just how is this different from the Response To Intervention (RTI) model we have been using for several years now? It sounds exactly the same.

    • Hi Sue, I don’t think it is much different. I am merely taking the fundamentals of that ideology and hoping to apply it to our context. There is nothing “new” in my plan, just new to us – so to speak.

  4. My school (and district) have a common PLC time next year and I am battling with the structure within my school. I have teachers who want to work on their “passion” but I need to see collaboration and firm results. This model (which i’m guessing developed from Tom Hierck’s book Pyramid of Behaviour Interventions) makes complete sense and can allow all those group and individual projects under one common umbrella.

    I’m wondering if I can get on board with you and Tom S on this and create a professional partnership and maybe even involve Tom H.

    On my last day of work this year, my head is swimming in possibilities for this next year.

    • Hi Kyle,

      Our plan was not based on Tom’s book, but it certainly is based on the same principles. One of the great things about our context was that it came from our teachers and was not imposed on our school – therefore we have no issues with buy-in, and we can make it whatever we want. The structure I am going hoping to provide will be in support of and aligned with what we hope to achieve as a school. Chris W, has also indicated an interest in joining in…perhaps we can do a Google Hangout with you two while we meet F2F here in the Okanagan.

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