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Slow Your Roll

Advice for leaders preparing to introduce MTSS to staff

I’m hearing about some districts launching MTSS initiatives. While I’m sure they have students’ best interest in mind, remember that many teachers are still recovering from the trauma of the last 2 years. Don’t risk further teacher burnout and attrition.
Do the important work with intention. Here are my suggestions.

A Multi Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework designed to meet the needs of each and every learner in a school district. According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015, p 294), a multi-tiered support system is “a comprehensive continuum of evidence-based, systemic practices to support a rapid response to students’ needs, with regular observation to facilitate data-based instructional decision making.’’ This is accomplished through three tiers of support: universal, targeted intervention, and intensive individual support—each with academic, behavioral, cultural, and social-emotional learning (SEL) components. 

But we already use RTI…

It is essential to note the difference between MTSS and Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI was a result of the reauthorization of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and was designed to focus on identifying and supporting students who have disabilities. MTSS is built upon the belief that systems such as schools and districts themselves have disabilities in their systems that can prevent students from learning.

MTSS fixes systems, not kids.

The goal of MTSS is to have supports and resources in place so that they may be seamlessly put them into practice as a result of data-based monitoring. MTSS implementation is rooted in benefit mindset. It uses tools that most schools currently have and views them with a new lens that sees the system as the component that needs to be fixed. This is very different than the traditional support systems which force students to fit into standardized systems. 

Getting Started

The first step in the implementation of MTSS is to take an inventory of current methods of academic, behavioral, and social-emotional instruction and the current supports available from administration, teachers, counselors, non-academic staff, and families and the community. The identified supports are then divided into tiers. 

Tier 1: Supports that are provided in the universal curriculum to all students.

Tier 2: Supports made available to some students in need of targeted support.

Tier 3: Supports provided to students in need of intensified support.

With a current matrix of supports, schools can easily identify gaps in their system for students at various levels. For instance, there may be extensive resources available to some students who are in need of additional behavioral (tier 2) instruction but limited support for the few students in need of intensified (tier 3) support. This may prompt a search for community partners to provide wraparound services. If a school discovers that there are numerous interventions in place for targeted (tier 2) academic support in Mathematics and few for (tier 1) universal curriculum, they will be prompted to explore measures that can be taken to decrease that need.

Decision-makers shift their thinking from deficit thinking

What interventions help students who are unsuccessful?

toward  a benefit mindset

What do students, teachers, and schools need in order to be successful?”  

Slow your roll

When new initiatives are rolled out in schools, there can be an immediate eye roll from exhausted staff who have seen numerous variations of similar themes roll in and out over the course of their careers.

MTSS has the potential to be a transformative system-wide framework that supports students and staff.

Begin by reimagining existing routines, resources and interventions. This does not necessarily mean additional work for individuals but may involve a shift in mindset in order to identify and implement high-leverage practices for academic, behavioral, and SEL instruction. It will behoove an administration to approach the implementation of MTSS with care. Build teacher buy-in by ensuring that teachers view it not as a repackaged version of an earlier, failed initiative, but as a more effective method of putting current valuable resources into practice.  

Stay Tuned

In the coming weeks, I will be diving deeper into methods and resources to integrate MTSS and what it might mean for classroom teachers. I will look into the “levers” that indicate the need for tier 2 and 3 support and what those supports might look like.

Further reading:

US Department of Education Questions and Answers On Response to Intervention (RTI) and Early Intervening Services (EIS)

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