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    As a school leader, you set the stage for great instruction and intervention — but how can you make sure that your staff members understand both the “why” and the “how” of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)? A one-and-done training just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to supporting MTSS implementation because it requires skillful decision-making, instructional skills, and collaboration among teachers and stakeholders. Even when system change has occurred to organize more comprehensive support for students, there is often a corresponding mindset change and capacity building that must also occur for MTSS to be truly effective. This guide illustrates what school administrators need to know and do in order to develop teachers that leverage MTSS to improve learner outcomes. 

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    In a well-functioning MTSS, teachers have responsibilities and influence at every level of student support, and they require a deep understanding of how the MTSS framework impacts the day-to-day activities of their classroom and school. 

    As we guide staff members along this journey, it helps to apply some of the principles of MTSS to the way we support our teachers! Think about universal supports, differentiated instruction, additional layers of support where needed, and intentional alignment:

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    How can professional learning around MTSS be designed to meet the unique needs of adult learners?

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    How can professional learning around MTSS be designed to meet the unique needs of adult learners?

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    How can the skills involved in MTSS implementation be intentionally modeled, practiced, and improved over time?

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    How can the expectations around MTSS implementation be streamlined and aligned with other initiatives to maximize teacher focus on student outcomes?

    How to Get the Results You Want from Professional Learning

     

    Teachers hate having their time wasted on ineffective professional development. Administrators hate it when they provide training but don’t see any change in practice.

     

    There is a common and unfortunate mindset in which teachers and administrators believe that training is a completion task rather than a long-term growth opportunity. As University Professor Janice Bradley and colleagues (2023) state in their article about professional learning, “Ultimately, a PD mindset attempts a quick fix or offers a small dose of content that is not sufficient to stimulate a change in thinking or practice or address systemic issues.” (Bradley et al. 2023) This is reinforced by bringing in a speaker for the day with no follow-up for the content, and it can lead to frustration among educators who sense that the training they are provided is disconnected from their daily work and the actual challenges they face. 

    This desire for relevancy is rooted in adult learning theory, outlined by the researcher Malcolm Knowles. He proposed insufficiencies in pedagogy for adults and provided a basis for learner-centered adult education. Although there are certainly similarities in learning for adults and children, it is important to consider the unique needs of adults to create a thriving growth culture that translates into better MTSS implementation. 

    1. Understand Adult Learning Principles

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    Self-Concept

    Most adults know how they learn and work best. Competent professionals can be self-motivated and self-directed in their learning, especially when given the time and space to do so. When adults have some choice in their own learning method rather than relying solely on “sit and get” instruction, changes in practice are more likely to occur.

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    Learner Experience

    Adults bring their own experiences and expertise to the table. If the information is differentiated, adults will gain far more than is available in a one-size-fits-all training. Acknowledging what educators bring into the room and what they can offer other learners is important. 

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    Readiness and Orientation to Learning

    Adult learning must correlate with the adults’ work. Because of the pressure and importance of their jobs, teachers will often filter out information that doesn’t relate to their role. Help them get their job done, and teachers will be invested.

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    Motivation to Learn

    Many adult learners are motivated by internal factors, pride in their profession, wanting to meet and exceed expectations, or growing their skill and knowledge base. Other adults may be motivated by feeling comfortable or part of a team or fear of failure.

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    Leaders, remember that teachers are all about practical application. Allow sufficient time to complete learning activities. Accomplish this creatively, such as providing coverage for an extra period of one day for educators to complete a learning task, leveraging early release time, or designating a part of PLC or faculty meeting time.


    2. Set Professional Learning Goals

    Ask educators what irritates them about professional development, and you are likely to hear some of the following:

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    These concerns may indicate a mismatch between teachers’ needs and the training they are offered. From How to Plan MTSS Professional Development: When we set goals and consider the changes that need to occur, it’s essential to consider whether the purposes are technical or adaptive. According to Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky in their book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (2009):

    • Technical challenges can be identified and resolved relatively quickly using established knowledge and procedures. These problems can be effectively managed through authoritative expertise and routine processes.

    • Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, involve a discrepancy between people’s values and the reality they confront, reflecting a lack of capacity to realize those values in their current environment. These challenges often require individuals to disrupt familiar routines and change their mindset.

    It is crucial, therefore, to recognize and support both the technical and adaptive needs of teachers in implementing MTSS. For instance, if a school focuses solely on a technical goal like acquiring a new software platform without ensuring that users possess the necessary pedagogical knowledge to utilize it, the implementation may not succeed. Conversely, if educators receive adequate pedagogical training on a concept, they may start questioning the existing processes and technology and desire to explore tools to optimize their practices.

    3. Build an MTSS Professional Development Plan

    At the outset, there will likely be a large number of technical and adaptive challenges. Trying to address them all at once will overwhelm and frustrate teachers. It is important to prioritize the essential knowledge and carve out learning into manageable chunks. Otherwise, you may provide extensive (and expensive!) MTSS training in August and end up with nothing to show for it in May. Start by evaluating current data to identify the most critical areas of need, along with surveying staff to identify their learning preferences and self-reported gaps in MTSS knowledge. Some of those areas include:

    MTSS Basics
    Teaming and Collaboration
    MTSS Technology Tools
    Tier 1 Instruction and Differentiation
    Tier 2 and Tier 3 Academic Intervention

     

    Classroom Management Basics
    Behavior Intervention Strategies
    Progress Monitoring
    Data Analysis and Decision-Making
    Social Emotional Learning

     

    In addition to the knowledge and skills represented here, consider the mindset shifts for MTSS that drive successful MTSS implementation:

    • Students are treated with dignity and respect at all times

    • All students are “our” students, and we collaborate for their success

    • Data and research informs our instructional decisions at every level

    • We are solution-focused and do not waste time admiring the problem

    • Our MTSS is designed to achieve results, not just document failure

    • We use a continuous improvement process

    Then, build out a professional development plan to build capacity over time for the wide variety of roles and responsibilities in your school(s), and be sure to include accountability and support for each piece of training.


    For District and State Administrators

    District and State Leaders have a specific role to play in creating the conditions that make effective MTSS implementation possible. A long-term plan for training and sustainability is a gift to the campuses you serve and will directly impact students and even teacher satisfaction. A consistent level of support that accompanies the necessary accountability around student outcomes is also a matter of equity:

    • Districts/campuses with higher student needs often also have higher staff turnover, less experienced teachers, and a more mobile student population. It is very difficult to sustain a campus-based training program amidst these challenges.

    • Campus leadership will have different levels of experience with MTSS implementation and may themselves need significant training before providing support to their staff in implementation.

    • When the larger organization provides high-quality training and resources, leaders and teachers gain a clear and consistent vision for MTSS that translates to more consistent student support across campuses and districts.

    A multi-year plan that includes differentiation for new and returning teachers, leaders, and teams is complex but necessary to build and sustain capacity for MTSS implementation.

    4. Communicate Early and Often

    Professional development for adults is to communicate the plan, the purpose, and the expected outcomes for training in as many ways and as frequently as you can.

    • Make information about the scope and sequence of professional development available to those who want to see it.

    • Include information about how MTSS is aligned with all other training and expectations.

    • Communicate in a variety of formats before AND after training, with resources and follow-up information included.

    5. Get Creative with Learning Formats 

    Every professional development hour is precious. Many schools start the year with a few inservice days that also include time for teachers to work in their classrooms and prepare, with some additional in-service days throughout the year. With every department clamoring for training hours, it’s nearly impossible to fit in all the necessary training if a large group formal training day is the only way teachers learn, especially at the beginning of MTSS implementation.

    What value do you or another facilitator add to this content in a large group session, or could this information be covered in a different format?

    Basic information about MTSS is freely available, but the opportunity to learn from and with specific people in a specific context is powerful. Will this trainer model, challenge, and encourage staff members to reflect on their own practice and develop new skills? If not, use a different format and save the large group training for what would have a bigger impact.

    Could we learn this in a practical setting?

    We learn best by doing, practicing, copying someone who has already acquired the skill, teaching someone else, and responding to feedback. When you think of learning this way, it is not limited to a day of professional development during in-service. Every meeting, formal and informal, can be a learning opportunity that builds those MTSS muscles.

    • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) provide opportunities both to accomplish the work and learn how to do the work. Learning alongside peers, whether departmental or grade level, increases engagement and contributes to the school’s culture. As confirmed by Serviss (2023) in her ISTE blog post, “PLCs allow teachers an easy way to share best practices and brainstorm innovative ways to improve learning and drive student achievement.”

    • Provide hands-on learning when possible. Rather than a professional learning session on how to create an intervention plan for a student, sit down together to create an intervention plan for an actual student. Whenever possible, learn by doing actual work with a guide to model and assist.

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    Access the full “Toolkit for Leading Adults in MTSS Learning”

    Offer educators as much differentiation and choice as possible.

    This could mean offering online vs. in-person sessions for required technology training or a choice of whether to do their learning independently or in a small group. The following is a list of options to consider:

    Large Group Learning:

    • Should be reserved for the most necessary training where this format makes sense

    • Ensures that everyone hears the same message

    • Offer learning support before and after, including slides and a recording for people to catch anything they missed • Follow-up is critical; extend learning into small group and coaching conversations

    Small Groups:

    • Opportunity to use PLCs or grade-level teams for deeper learning.

    • Opportunity for staff-led training • Well-suited for addressing adaptive challenges and the mindset shift

    Self-Paced Courses:

    • Information-heavy training

    • Allows for learning at their own pace

    • Great for the required training at the beginning of the year

    • Useful for technical challenges


    Learn about our Self-Paced Learning PD: The MTSS Learning Hub

     

     

    Online Options:

    • Great for flexibility and differentiated setting

    • Online PD from outside trainers or webinars

    • Allows for unlimited options for content

    Asynchronous Learning:

    • Helpful for teachers to prepare for a session or as prior reading for discussion

    • Makes the most of large and small group time together as participants come prepared

    • Provide short bits of learning through Micro-Learning throughout the year


    Providing Accountability and Support for Your Staff

    When teachers are given a set of expectations to meet, they should also have access to the support they need to reach those goals. Teachers are human beings. They don’t always fire on all cylinders, but a supportive environment focused on growth will build capacity for MTSS over time. Teachers need leaders at the district and building level to support them practically, not just with high-quality professional learning but also through mentorship and coaching at the classroom level.

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    A small way to help teachers feel supported is to drop them a note after a classroom walkthrough or drop-in. These kinds of acts can help build a relationship with a teacher and provide encouragement to them. Here is a template!

    Support Through Coaching

    When implementing MTSS, your teachers will benefit from coaching in the real-life context where the new skill is being used. According to the meta-analysis of coaching by the Brookings Institute, “By providing more personalized support to teachers, coaching can improve the classroom instruction students receive and can ultimately ensure that more students are taught by effective teachers and benefit from a high-quality education.” (Quintero 2019) Research shows that leaders play a role in helping teachers feel empowered and capable in their roles, and coaching is a concrete way to improve job satisfaction and make a positive impact on student achievement.

    However, the practice of coaching should be clearly defined by leaders to avoid leaving teachers with bad experiences that may lead to resistance to the support coaching can offer.

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    Downloadable Resource:

      Appendix H (in PDF): Peer Trainer/Coach Nomination Form

    Additional Resource:

    Learn more about Peer Coaching from this webinar: No Teacher an Island: Deprivatizing the Classroom

    What if we don’t have instructional coaches? Even if hiring a team of instructional coaches is not an option, a great way to build the coaching atmosphere within a school is to have teachers nominate peer trainers and coaches. When principals support peer interactions, they ultimately “increase the effectiveness of instructional-improvement initiatives” (Toll 2023).

    Asking one simple question can provide administrators with a list of expertise within the building. By collecting educator responses to the question “Who would you go to to learn more about _____?” principals can empower teachers to become leaders of future professional learning sessions and to create a web of support for implementation. Even reluctant teachers will feel honored by the nomination and will typically rise to the challenge in support of their peers.

    Strengthen Through Mentorship

    While new teachers bring a burst of energy and excitement amongst the staff, new teachers with a mentor tend to stay in the profession. According to the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium and TeachPlus (2018), “One of the best ways to increase student performance is to invest in classroom teachers by providing high-quality mentorship in their first and second years. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all profession, and teachers need individualized support.” Mentorship also provides a way for all educators, and not just new ones, to grow. Creating opportunities for different generations of teachers to collaborate and work together will only strengthen professional growth.

    Accountability is different from support. It is important to have procedures for evaluation and teacher feedback. However, teachers often feel that these formal evaluations are unrelated to helping their actual performance. A strong support system, with leaders present in the classroom, offering feedback and coaching, will make these protocols much more fruitful and effective: “Indeed, one of the lessons we found in behavioral science is that observation alone can create accountability, even without formal consequences.” (Gill et al. 2017)

    A Note About Leadership Coaching:

    Don’t let your own mentorship and collaboration needs be pushed aside because of the many urgent tasks on your plate. You also need someone to coach you, generate ideas, and even just share the burdens of responsibility you feel for your staff and students. It’s even better if this kind of support can come from someone who doesn’t formally evaluate you. “Leadership coaches may help leaders understand how they can communicate better with staff, students and parents,” and “they can even help leaders understand how to build collective teacher efficacy.” (DeWitt and Klaisataporn 2016)

     

    Aligning Initiatives and Easing The Lift

    Subtract, Align, Streamline

    Each year, leaders strive to make our teachers’ work more focused on time with students. Given the difficulties educators are facing, a top priority is easing the lift for those that are in the classroom supporting students. “Nearly 75 percent of [teacher] respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren’t enough teachers to carry the workload.” (Bryant et al. 2023)

    Fortunately, MTSS is in itself an aligning practice. MTSS isn’t just another initiative; rather, it’s a systematic framework to support teachers in supporting students.

    Schools are continually implementing a wide variety of initiatives and programs, all aimed at benefiting students and staff. MTSS, due to its design, can function as an effective problemsolving and communication approach for a campus. It requires careful attention and effort to align existing school programs and initiatives under the MTSS umbrella, but leveraging MTSS as a catalyst and a guiding framework for the work of educating students can lead to an immensely valuable outcome.

    Teacher Testimony

    • “When we look at everything as a whole in the data, sometimes data can be very overwhelming, but I feel like Branching Minds is able to organize our data as a whole, and we get to see a quick snapshot and overview of where my students are. I can see exactly where my (students) struggled last year. And then when I came in this year, I’m able to figure out, okay, this person needs help exactly in math or this specific skill they try to help them with and they need to go more in-depth with as well.”
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    • Keke Powell, Elementary Teacher from Texas


    Make MTSS Practicable for Teachers

    A system for supporting students and meeting their needs must create efficiencies that ease the workload. Make use of best practices in communication and collaboration along with technology solutions to support those practices.

     

    THE CHALLENGE

    MAKING IT PRACTICABLE


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    • Data comes from multiple sources

    • Each system has different login credentials

    • Many different types of reports are needed.

    • Have one place to find data, pull reports, and provide visibility.

    • An MTSS Platform, like Branching Minds, can streamline the data collection and analysis process with cohort, building, and district reports.


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    • Time is limited

    • Teachers may not walk away from meetings with clear tasks, and next steps

    • Build predictable agendas with information and purpose provided ahead of time.

    • Set roles and expectations for those attending.

    • Learn more about MTSS Meetings here.



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    • Planning and tracking interventions for students can be overwhelming, especially if there are a large number of student needs.

    • Provide a teacher-friendly platform that tracks student progress and provides reminders for progress monitoring and documentation.



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    • It is time-consuming to provide clear, accurate, and timely information.

    • Family communication can be difficult to coordinate among various stakeholders.

    • Create templates for easy MTSS notifications and documents.

    • Develop a simple method to document communication with visibility to the whole team, like within a platform like Branching Minds that allows for a record of family communication.



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    • Teachers are juggling many needs of students within one classroom

    • Interventions must be evidence-based, interesting to students, and on the appropriate grade level.

    • Plan a regular audit of district and teacher resources for research-approved interventions eliminating any delayed interventions.

    • Learn more about the Branching Minds Intervention library.

     

    Conclusion

    As a school administrator, you are the driving force behind MTSS implementation. Your support, dedication, and strategic leadership are what empower teachers and create an environment where every student can thrive. MTSS provides a framework that organizes this work and leverages available resources (including the collective strengths of teachers!) to improve student outcomes. With the right training, the right tools, and the right support, teachers CAN succeed in supporting all students, and you can create avenues of success for your goals as a leader.


    Empower Your Schools for Success with Results-Oriented MTSS Coaching and Professional Development

    At Branching Minds, we pursue our mission by providing schools and school districts with engaging professional development that deepens educator practice and strengthens each infrastructure component needed to sustain a multi-tiered intervention system.

    The BRM Professional Services team is responsible for providing both virtual and in-person professional learning and coaching planned collaboratively with each district/school partner. Each BRM facilitator or coach is an educator with an average of 15 years of hands-on classroom, administrative and/or central office experience. Branching Minds consultants have extensive experience leading MTSS and practicing a “results” coaching model. Our partnership includes a suite of professional learning and system-level support services that help our partners achieve high-fidelity MTSS by honing the knowledge and skills needed for their specific roles and responsibilities.

    While many Branching Minds synchronous training sessions tend to serve building MTSS teams and district staff, the Professional Services team also crafts asynchronous course offerings that are available to all educators who use the Branching Minds platform. These courses are designed for educators to access on-demand from within the MTSS Learning Hub. We will continue to grow the course offerings in the MTSS Learning Hub to provide even more comprehensive training, personalized learning, and ongoing support to meet the needs of educators at all levels.

    Branching Minds provided us with models, examples, and ongoing professional development from wonderful coaches who have endeared themselves to our staff with their kind and compassionate demeanors, and have guided us in the creation of a working RTI/MTSS practice that meets our needs.

    Dr. Donald Murphy, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Hauppauge UFSD (NY)

    Learn More About Our Professional Learning Services


    About the Authors

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    Trudy Bender

    Trudy Bender is the MTSS Content Manager at Branching Minds. She has extensive experience as a teacher, school psychologist, and district administrator. Most recently, she served as the Coordinator of District Behavior Intervention at Waco ISD, where she facilitated the implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports for behavior along with initiatives to improve school climate and to build teacher capacity in classroom management through peer coaching. She is passionate about helping teachers and administrators to develop systems that reduce disproportionality while improving social-emotional and academic outcomes for all students. Trudy is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and holds an Ed.S. in School Psychology from Baylor University.

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    Larissa Napolitan

    Larissa Napolitan is the Digital Content Creator for Branching Minds and the host of Branching Minds’ podcast “Schoolin’ Around.” As a former middle school English teacher and instructional coach, she has over 13 years of experience building systems for improvement, training and coaching teachers in new technology and instructional methods, and leading efforts to build curriculum and literacy initiatives. She holds Masters’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Education Administration from Emporia State University. Not only is she passionate about using her experience and academic knowledge, but loves to use her writing and voice to make a broader impact on education, teachers, and students.


    So, just in the comparison itself with all the other programs that are on the market, Branching Minds honestly is the complete package. You have all of the intervention support and guidance. You have all of the capability of focusing your support library on exactly what you want it to be for your district. The amount of support that Branching Minds offers in itself really gets that ball rolling for the district. It really gives that expert backup and proactive guidance to set your MTSS framework up for success from the beginning.
    — Emma McBride, Multi-Tiered Systems Specialist, Beaumont ISD, TX

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