Shifting the Focus from Intervening to Innovating

If educators had a dollar for every time they heard the word “intervention” throughout a school day or in professional development sessions, we would all have a nice nest egg! The fact is, the pendulum took a very hard swing toward looking at interventions when No Child Left Behind first came about. Our focus quickly zoomed in on learning what kids lacked in order to target interventions specific to those skills. Makes total sense, right? There is research to support this response to students’ gaps in their learning. It is necessary and ultimately “good teaching” when we intervene upon observing a deficit. Intervention requires ongoing assessment and continued monitoring of progress in order to determine a trajectory of growth for a particular student. We determine if the child is responding to an intervention, if we need to allow more time for the child to progress, or if we need to try a new intervention. This is part of our role as educators. We teach, we reteach, and we intervene when kids show a deficit or gap. This is best practice–it’s proven. I believe in Response to Intervention (RTI) and have seen the system improve learning within kids..but…I keep thinking to myself,

“Are we missing something? Are we placing too much emphasis on what kids CAN’T do, clouding our vision of what kids CAN do? What if we started not with deficits, but with strengths? What if we started not with diagnostic assessments, but inventories that will inform us of interests, dispositions, and passions? What if…”

Every evening before I leave school, this movie plays in my head. The stars of the show are my most at risk students. When I speak of at risk, academics are the least of the issues. The kids who play through my head are the ones who lack basic needs, stability, (including a consistent place to sleep), control of emotions, social skills, and executive functioning. These kids are resilient, tough, and know how to survive…three amazing traits that they are forced to acquire at a very early age under very tough circumstances. Since they are in survival mode, their brains are not prepared to take on learning the way brains of their peers are. THIS is what keeps me up at night! The children in my mind movie have the same capabilities as their peers, yet their brains are not in learning mode. What if…

Less Focus on Intervening, More Focus on Investigating

What if we spent more time upfront learning about our kids’ backgrounds? Our staff did just that before school began in the fall. All they had was a roster of names. Some were brand new names to our school, others were familiar. Teachers pulled permanent records of their future students and brought them to our media center. They also had assessment folders full of academic data. We spent quite some time digging through the information in the folders, and learned very important details. Consider the following questions, and the implications the answers could have on kids:

  • How many schools has the child been enrolled in?
  • Who lives with the child (family makeup)?
  • Has the child been retained in a grade?
  • Are their legal/court documents regarding custody?
  • Is there a history of discipline referrals?
  • What is the primary language spoken in the household?
  • Does the child have a physical/mental impairment?
  • Does the child take medication or wear glasses?

There are so many more questions I could list! Some of this information will not be present in a child’s records, but with a little digging we can gather most of it. Knowing a child’s history before he/she walks into the building will help us connect with the entire family much more quickly. Empathy is a powerful thing, and when we can place ourselves in the situation of another, our hearts naturally open and consider “more”.


When school begins, we have this amazing opportunity to learn more about a child’s current reality. We must continue to be detectives and investigate through conversations, inventories, observations, etc. The last two years I spent in a classroom (teaching third graders), I conducted an action research project for graduate school that focused on motivating boy readers. The topic was very specific to the disposition of boys toward reading for enjoyment. I started there, but quickly learned that I could apply my methods to all of my kids, and in all aspects of learning. I conducted personal conferences with individual kids and had them complete interest inventories. I also spoke with families personally and sent them information to complete about their child, as well as their hopes and dreams for the school year. I created guiding questions to help me learn more qualitative information about my kids:

  • How does the child feel about school?
    • Reading?
    • Math?
    • Writing?
    • Recess?
    • Other?
  • How does the child feel about his/her intelligence? (confidence)
  • Who are the child’s friends? How does he/she make friends?
  • What does the child do outside of school?
    • Interests?
    • Hobbies?
    • Extra curricular activities?
  • What does the child want to get out of third grade (school in general)? (hopes and dreams)
  • What does the child LOVE more than anything? (tap into passion)

Investigations can lead to eye opening information that will guide us in supporting every aspect of the whole child. When we serve as detectives for our kids, we provide ourselves with more opportunities to positively impact each child. So…what role does investigation play in intervention? Does it play a significant role? What about innovation?

From a Culture of Intervention to a Culture of Innovation


I reflect often on school culture, and spend the largest portion of my time investing in a culture of learning for my school–not only for kids, but for staff, families, and the community. We are learning partners who come together for OUR kids. I recently realized that we spend way too much time focusing on what kids can’t do and targeting interventions to close the gap. This is a vital piece of our role, but shouldn’t be the primary focus. We need to be investing more time in looking at individual strengths within kids. We need to be thinking about how to use these strengths to consider what they kids COULD do if we provide the appropriate conditions for them. We need to find ways to inspire them to want to learn, and to keep them passionately curious! Friends, that falls on US! It starts with knowing each child and having a personal relationship. We build upon that by using kids’ interests and passions to provide that spark.

A culture of innovation requires us to move beyond the rigid schedules of intervention time and chunking components of the instructional day. I truly believe we are micromanaging kids’ learning when we do this. I am completely guilty of doing this! Now that I know what needs to happen, I am diligent about my own school culture evolving into a more innovative environment for our kids. We are not tapping into their passions enough, and if we don’t change something, we are going to lose some kids. Helping them find their passion and discover their own genius might be the thing that saves some of them! I am willing to think bigger than providing interventions for kids at risk. After all, don’t they deserve more than our plans to “close the gap”? The truth is, they deserve a future story. Simply closing the achievement gap won’t help kids see their future story. Igniting their passions and capitalizing on their strengths WILL. This is my belief. This is my new mantra. THIS, a culture of innovation where kids can figure out who they are and how they can contribute to their world…OUR world.