Teachers spend an average of 68 hours in professional development each year (source). This statistic is undoubtedly shocking to many, and on the surface, 68 hours sounds like a lot of time. However, as a school leader, I always felt like I was struggling to support and train my team on everything we needed with the time that we had. I imagine this feeling resonates wherever you are on your school’s MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) implementation journey.
Your summer MTSS professional learning sessions are long in the rearview mirror, and you’re now left wondering where to go next with your team regarding their ongoing learning and development. You’re also probably looking at a school calendar with minimal time for professional development. Between school closings, staffing challenges, and all of the customary competing priorities of the school year, figuring out the time—and more importantly, what to prioritize—for improving your MTSS system can feel like a huge challenge.
With all this in mind, there is a path forward. These questions/considerations can guide you:
In what components of MTSS does your team need more support?
Who on your team needs help?
How do you deliver the support your team needs?
How do you create the adult culture for the learning to take root?
1. In What Components of MTSS Does Your Team Need More Support?
MTSS is a framework that wraps around the entire student body and uses data-driven problem-solving to address academic and non-academic (attendance/social-emotional, etc.) needs. A common misconception is that MTSS is about servicing special needs students only. Instead, MTSS involves thinking about your entire student body, and as a result, it can require an enormous shift in mindset and priorities.
As long as you seek solid evidence and data as you engage, the following questions can help you focus your support and maximize your professional learning time:
Is the core curriculum supporting a minimum of 80% of all students (i.e., are 80% of students on grade level)?
- Data from curriculum embedded assessments - Data from nationally normed assessments
Are efficiencies being found by creating small groups for like needs?
- Information identifying which interventions have been selected for students
Are students receivinginterventionsthat match their needs as identified by screeners, curriculum-based assessments, qualitative teacher observation, and any other relevant data?
Caution!It's essential to go deeper to understand underlying causes as you answer the above questions. Otherwise, you risk spending precious learning time on topics that won’t improve your results. For example, your data may indicate that evidence-based interventions are not delivered with fidelity. This data is essential but not enough to help you act, and you need to peel back another layer and determine why those interventions aren’t being delivered with integrity. There could be many reasons for this; some possible causes include:
Teachers don’t know how to implement the intervention the way it was intended and they need coaching, support, or training.
Teachers may not have access to all of the materials needed to implement the intervention
Teachers may not have enough to plan to implement the intervention
It’s essential that once we have decided what professional development we need to offer, it’s only targeted at the teachers and coaches who will need and use that professional learning. This does not mean that only certain teachers or coaches at your school need training around MTSS. MTSS is intended for all students, which means that all teachers, coaches, and leaders in your building will need training and support to implement it well.
The trick is figuring out what professional learning will be most impactful for all of the different individuals in your building, how to differentiate that support, and finding the time to deliver it all!
3. How Do You Provide the Support Your Team Needs?
Now, more than ever, finding time for professional development is a challenge. It has never been easy to find the time for adult professional learning, and the pandemic has only deepened that challenge. We also know that the need for high-quality professional learning has not dissipated. So, we have to think differently about engaging our teams in the knowledge they need. Here are options you can consider:
In-person, professional development is ideal for specific topics and circumstances, but it doesn’t need to be the only way to deliver professional development. One alternative is using asynchronous videos and screencasts as a part of your repertoire. Perhaps watching a video or a “lecture” together may not be the best use of valuable professional development time. Instead, teachers could watch videos or screencasts on their own about a particular topic and then come together for less time to discuss and apply the learning. You can also consider using a “flipped” classroom model when the student (or educator in this case) interacts with the “homework” before a lecture.
Alternatively, you can create a course in your learning management system (LMS) that has teachers watch videos, complete reflection questions, etc., on their own. Similarly, this doesn’t need to represent the entirety of professional learning but can be a part of your learning. Teachers then spend the time together in person, engaging with one another and discussing.
Breaking Down Professional Learning into Small Chunks:
It can be overwhelming to think about finding several hours to pull your team together to engage in the professional learning they need to make your MTSS implementation stronger. Another option is to break down the learning into small chunks delivered in five-to-ten minute intervals. While, of course, this may take longer, it may also allow you to implement faster in the long run since finding a more extended amount of time to implement professional development is so challenging.
4. How Do You Create the Adult Culture for the Professional Learning to Take Root?
In addition to finding the best delivery method, another essential component of making your professional learning successful is an adult culture that supports teachers in implementing what they learn.
As noted in the Aspen Institutes article “Practice What You Teach,” if teachers experience it as a top-down compliance mandate or are preoccupied with accountability from the outset, positive change can be undermined and progress stunted.” A few essential components to have in place:
Provide Regular Non-Evaluative Feedback:
A part of any professional learning will frequently return to the topics teachers learn through coaching and observation. Teachers need to practice what they know and receive supportive coaching from implementing. If professional learning is seen as “one and done” and not something that teachers return to, it sends the message that it’s not essential and worthy of the team's time and attention.
Focus on Reflective Teaching:
When reflective teaching is part of the school culture, all educators are asked to think deeply about their teaching daily and determine what worked (as well as what did not work). What is the evidence for a successful lesson? Some teachers prefer to keep reflective teaching journals; others incorporate their reflections into their casual dialogue with colleagues during prep periods.
Seek Out Regular Feedback:
To know if what you’re doing is working and having the intended impact, you have to consistently seek out regular feedback from your team. Ask them how the professional learning and subsequent coaching are going and what could be better. Then clearly respond to their feedback, even if the response is that you will not implement a suggestion or idea (and why).
In Conclusion: MTSS Requires Commitment to Professional Learning
The goal of MTSS is to create a system that enables and empowers teachers and school leaders to use adata-driven approach to support all students academically and emotionally. Creating an MTSS system is no small feat and requires a commitment to professional learning and support for all staff members. It’s essential that after spending so much time each year in professional development, teachers feel they can indeed apply their new knowledge and implement professional learning for MTSS to ultimately change outcomes for students.
Branching Minds offers a variety of professional learning opportunities for states, districts, and schools to ensure instructional leaders, specialists, coaches, and teachers are able to implement RTI/MTSS as well as the BRM platform with fidelity and maximizes educators’ efforts to accelerate learning for all students.
Lindsay has over 18 years of experience in education and school leadership. She was the founding middle school principal of Coney Island Prep in Brooklyn, NY. She became the Chief Academic Officer and Chief of Schools of Coney Island Prep, overseeing the launch and support of a network of three schools serving over 1,000 students. Before her work at Coney Island Prep, Lindsay was Managing Director of Institute for Teach for America in the New York/Philadelphia region, overseeing the training for 600 new teachers, and she served as a TFA corps member in Newark Public Schools. Lindsay has a B.A. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and M.A. in School Leadership from Montclair State University.