The CALI Initiative in Connecticut

calismalllogocircle2The goal of CALI is to develop and offer a model of state support to districts and schools to support the process of continuous school and district improvement and to accelerate the closing of Connecticut's achievement gaps.

Topics include:

  • School Climate
  • Response to Intervention (RTI)
  • Scientific Research-based Intervention (SRBI)
  • School Connectedness & Engagement
  • The Nature of Respect
  • Bullying
  • Practical Strategies

Optimal learning requires student engagement and success (Academic and Social/Emotional/Behavioral). Our goal is to create respectful, safe and caring environments in the classroom and in the wider school Community that nurture successful learners and as community members.

"Learning is about...the three Rs -- relationships, relevance and rigor."
-- Dennis Littky


  • Teachers know students so well that learning opportunities can be tailored to the needs of each individual.
  • Teachers model integrity and open-mindedness for their students.
  • Teachers trust their students so well that they grant them the moral authority to challenge them.
  • Teachers are committed to their own success, as well as that of their students.


  • Instruction is inherently meaningful and engages students in multiple domains.
  • The learning community values and welcomes the diversity of each student into the life of the classroom and its community.
  • Learning activities develop within each student the habits and curiosity associated with lifelong learning.
  • Assessments are meaningful to students and offer them insights into their own learning.


  • Instruction is grounded in content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and emotionally or personally challenging.
  • Students are engaged in active participation, exploration, and research.
  • Students set learning goals for themselves and monitor progress toward academic excellence.
  • Students develop resilience, flexibility, and confidence by facing academic challenges and temporary classroom setbacks that are opportunities for deeper learning.

"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."
James Comer, M.D., Ph.D.

"Yes, all schools must help kids gain knowledge, (and) they must also help them believe in themselves, believe in others, and love learning."
Dennis Littky

There needs to be an emphatic focus on Rigor. Rigor is an essential (necessary) component of learning. Rigor is not sufficient to achieve high quality learning. It is inconsistent with cutting-edge brain research but the "plateau effect" in student achievement nationally is testament. Focus on student engagement (relevance and relationships) has been lacking and is also essential (necessary).

Recent brain research has revealed the following:

Hierarchy of Needs

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Emotional safety

"Fight, Flight, Freeze Response"

  • Deer in the road example

Chemical and neurodevelopmental changes

  • PET scans

Long term memory affected

  • Cortex changes

Single most important factor determining success is students' perception that their teacher(s) like(s) them.

 The Role of Positive Climate on Optimal Learning: Safe and Productive Schools

The core reason is to create a climate that ensures every student is physically, emotionally and intellectually safe and has the optimal chance for high academic achievement. To do this we must align practices with brain-based research on creating learning environments that support student engagement and attainment. Students must be present to is a necessary prerequisite.

Absenteeism and Academic Success

Learning requires that students be in class. They don't learn if they are:

  • Absent because of sickness
  • Absent because of "vacations"
  • Absent because of being fearful
  • "Opt out" to visit the nurse or guidance

Learning requires that educators be present, available and use engaging and ethical teaching methods (holistic accountability). Some disturbing statistics show that every day in the U.S. 160,000 public school students stay home out of fear of being "picked on." They also reveal that between 5% and 30% of students engage in "bullying" behavior in the school context. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic of all is that between 5% and 30% of adults engage in "bullying" behavior in the school context. Holistic accountability requires that adult behavior, classroom methods and other interpersonal actions be evaluated with respect to:

  • Instructional methods and outcomes
  • Environmental and behavior management
  • Treatment of others: students; families; and colleagues

"I've come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."
Haim Ginott, Teacher and Child

Response to Intervention

(RtI) is the practice of:

  • Providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student needs and
  • Using learning rate over time and level of performance (response data) to make important educational decisions.

 RtI emphasizes prevention in that it is strongly predicated on the presumption that ALL students have comprehensive access to such universal practices as:

  • High-quality, rigorous, developmentally appropriate curriculum; [Rigor]
  • High-quality, relevant, developmentally appropriate instruction implemented with fidelity; [Relevance] and
  • A school and classroom climate [Relationships] wherein:
  • All staff, students, and families feel welcomed, safe, and valued;
  • Students' basic social-emotional needs are recognized and addressed through staff-student interactions; and
  • Expectations, skills, and rules of conduct are identified, modeled, taught, and practiced.

CALI Model: