Early Responders in Schools
By Robert Schroeder
What is the gap between knowledge and practice in schools?
National Louis University's Mark Shinn, Ph.D., professor in the National College of Education, is not shy to claim that the gaps is as large as 30 to 35 years. His co-edited work, "Interventions for achievement and behavior in a three-tier model, including RTI," seeks to significantly narrow that gap. This third edition provides best practices and implementation strategies in early intervention, prevention and data-driven processes with a focus on heading off issues with high-risk students before they start and keeping high-risk students integrated in the mainstream student population.
Closing that three-decade gap starts with eliminating outdated practices. In previous decades, research focused on addressing challenging behavior after the behavior had already begun. Shinn's newest edition focuses on "the explicitness of need to intervene early," charging that concentrating on behavior after an event is a remedial approach; today's school climate needs to be all about prevention and promotion.
"About 90 percent of efforts historically were directed at kids after they engage in challenging behavior," Shinn said. "The goal now is to put 80-90 percent into prevention and creating a safe school climate."
Shinn notes that schools across Illinois are focusing on promotion through explicit signage and themes within the school building. Posters and bulletin boards remind students of expectations for a safe school environment, to be responsible, and to be ready to learn. Instead of meting out punitive consequences after a student misbehaves, Shinn says schools need to acknowledge when students are behaving in an ideal manner.
A second key theme identified in the collection addresses deviant behavior contagion. Some schools tend to group at-risk students together without a very strong treatment. Shinn says the approach is risky business because these at-risk students tend to learn more maladaptive behavior than adaptive behavior. The solution circles back to the central theme of explicit early intervention, prevention and promotion.
Shinn and co-editor Hill Walker, Ph.D., professor in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, brought in content experts from around the nation to sift through the first two versions to update and add to the collection of best practices. These experts included professionals currently working in the field, generating new knowledge of best practices, publishing in journals, and presenting at conferences. The result, says Shinn, is a compilation of the best and brightest new thinking on implementing prevention and promotion.
The compilation is not a rehashing of idea; the goal was to create more of a how-to guide. The race to fix America's schools is no longer about generating new knowledge, Shinn charges.
"In many areas, I would argue we don't need to know more," Shinn said. "What we need to do is to reduce the gap between knowledge and practice—how do we support innovation?
"Schools know what to do and don't do it."
Shinn cites several reasons for the slow rate of meaningful change—leadership issues and a lack of staff development in schools, coupled with the slow rate of change in theory at the higher education level. At National Louis, Shinn says he has found an institution not satisfied with the tried and true.
"It becomes a professional will issue," Shinn said. "Do we want to change, and why if we are comfortable with our theories? "I like to think here at NLU, we are a little faster."