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    Instituting MTSS

    Reflective teaching is a practice I believe strongly in utilizing throughout the school year. Throughout my work as a University Supervisor at the National College of Education at National Louis University, I work with graduate teacher candidates to develop their reflective practices. Reflection allows educators to think about lessons they observed (or taught), analyze techniques, self-assess and consider areas of strength and growth. Recently, during my own reflective process, I could not help but think about the significant changes in teaching that have occurred over the last 20 months. 

    As educators, we have all come to expect that change is our new norm; especially, after we collectively experienced the transition to remote learning, hybrid learning, and the back-and-forth between the two. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, all teachers at one time or another have experienced a challenging learning curve or a difficult programmatic change. And specifically, in education, it is well known that organizational change historically moved at a snail’s pace in schools and was even more difficult than in other professional settings. 

    Getting Real With Challenges

    Over the past two years, I have passionately written many articles about the importance of implementing MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) in schools to meet all students' academic, social-emotional, behavioral, and attendance needs. In my writing, I have discussed that I am a massive proponent of schools transitioning to an MTSS process as it ensures that no student “slips through the cracks” and wraps support around the entire student body. 

    Internationally, during the pandemic, our students may have been affected by personal trauma, technology fatigue, social isolation, and instructional challenges (or any/all of the above). As a result, implementing MTSS today is more critical than ever as we have all been navigating the pandemic. That being said, and although change is our new norm, let us get “real” and transparently list challenges schools may face when implementing MTSS:

    1. Change Management: Simply said, change management can be challenging.
    2. “Nuts and Bolts”: Practices such as the universal screening of all students, providing research-based intervention for students in need, and monitoring student progress must be in place, or MTSS cannot be fully implemented.
    3. Planning: Without a strategic, well-thought-out short-and long-term plan to implement MTSS, it is not easy to manage a cohesive MTSS implementation. 
    4. Resources: The web offers an astonishing number of guides, blogs, tools, and more to support transitioning to MTSS, and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. 

    As a result, I have put together a brief list of considerations and self-assessments to think about when in the necessary process of implementing MTSS in your school. 

    Considerations for Implementing MTSS

    Consideration #1: Change management can be challenging.

    Successfully managing the challenge of the change management process is critical in implementing MTSS, and stakeholders must understand the “why” and the “how” of MTSS. For example, it is well known that for new initiatives to take hold and be part of daily practice, stakeholders must believe in and understand the mission. To encourage that belief, it is also important to celebrate successes to make the process worthwhile. Therefore, it is essential to illustrate the reality of what MTSS looks like every day in schools (and what it does not look like). Resources such as the MTSS Buy-in and Mobilization Guide help to explain MTSS essentials and help make the change easier for schools by providing commonly used terms, resources, and change management tips.

    Self Assessment: The questions below are important considerations to create a robust change management process. Ask yourself the following questions to determine how you/your school have managed the change management process. Use these questions to trigger your next steps:

    • Are there teacher exemplars in each grade level for modeling best practices and collaboration?
    • Are policy changes communicated frequently and clearly to stakeholders (teachers and community)? Can each staff member discuss MTSS protocols?
    • Does each staff member understand the "why" of MTSS?
    • Does the administration/MTSS coordinator check in regularly through quick surveys and questionnaires to see how the new policies are going?
    • Has the administration created individual touchpoints with those that may be resistant to change? 
    • Are successes communicated and celebrated?

    ➡️ Learn more in this webinar: Organizing for Change to Institute MTSS

    Consideration #2: “Nuts and bolts” resources such as the universal screening of all students, providing research-based intervention for students in need, and monitoring student progress must be in place, or MTSS cannot be fully implemented.

    Universal screeners, evidence-based intervention support, and progress monitors are considered the “nuts and bolts” required for a successful MTSS implementation. Universal screeners provide valuable data about each student’s areas of strength and need, and some screeners offer a snapshot of historical progress. As a Branching Minds MTSS consultant, in addition to my work as a university supervisor, I often like to refer to letting the “universal screening data work for you” and advise my school partners that data derived from screening all students helps to “keep a finger on the pulse” of the efficacy of core instruction and any changes in student learning. 

    Once students are identified with specific needs from screening, SMART goals can be set, and evidence-based intervention support can be applied for areas of need and progress closely monitored. Research-based intervention support libraries, such as the library found at Branching Minds, can help schools save time searching for intervention support. This also gives schools the confidence to choose interventions that have been proven effective, based on solid evidence. 

    Self Assessment: Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your building has the “nuts and bolts” needed for a robust MTSS implementation and think about your next steps: 

    • Are all students screened at least three times a year with a valid, reliable universal screener?
    • Are students’ specific areas of need identified through a SMART goal and targeted with a matched research-based intervention?
    • Is intervention support for each student carried out for a specific number of weeks, based upon the evidence of its success?
    • Is the staff member responsible for providing the support documenting the intervention along with the time/place intervention is provided?
    • Is the student’s progress frequently monitored throughout receiving support? 
    • Is there an easy-to-access library all staff can access to find research-based intervention support?

    ➡️ Related Resource: Aligning SMART Goals to the Just-Right MTSS Interventions

    Consideration #3: Without a strategic, well-thought-out short-and long-term plan to implement MTSS, it will not be easy to manage a cohesive implementation. 

    In working with my graduate students, one of the first items we discuss together is the art of lesson planning. I believe that all educators can agree that if we do not have a plan before we begin a lesson, we do not know where to focus our efforts and what goals we should achieve. Creating a short-term and a long-term plan to implement MTSS has similar value. 

    Planning outlines expectations to ensure all stakeholders (administrators, teachers, community members) are cohesive and on the same page. In addition, many school districts take planning one step further and create their own MTSS handbook. These handbooks help create consistency, provide reminders of new processes and the importance of transitioning to MTSS. For support with learning about instituting new MTSS processes or creating an MTSS handbook, please do not hesitate to reach out to us!

    Self Assessment: As you consider planning for MTSS, use the questions below to determine if you/your school has quick, easy access to the following information at their fingertips, and if not, plan for how to provide this critical information:

    • What is MTSS?
    • Why are we transitioning to MTSS?
    • How does MTSS support our current practices?
    • How will our current practices, procedures, documentation and/or policies need to change?
    • What will the new protocols specifically look like with MTSS?
    • What is the ultimate desired outcome from the change to MTSS?
    • What will it take to make these changes?
    • What resources will be available to transition to MTSS?
    • How will practices, procedures, and resources be documented?

    ➡️Check out these downloadable turnkey slides for Introducing MTSS to Your Team

    Consideration #4: The web offers an astounding number of guides, blogs, tools, and more to support transitioning to MTSS, and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. 

    Since we are getting “real” about challenges, we can all admit to having experienced losing significant amounts of time on the web looking for resources to support our daily work; from lesson ideas, interventions, finding the meaning of new educational jargon, and more. In fact, my quick search of “MTSS” yielded an astounding “about 3,460,000 results”!

    Google search results for "MTSS"As a result of the magnitude of information about MTSS on the web, it's critical to find resources one can trust. For example, having access to a collection of trusted resources saves time and the heartache of finding out that a resource you have used is not backed by research. Instead, the team at Branching Minds has spent a great deal of time curating the Learning Center, an extensive database of resources, success stories, webinars, videos, guides, frameworks, and more. Collaboration regarding MTSS should frequently occur throughout the year during grade-level meetings, school-level meetings, and individual student support meetings. These resources are meant to be shared among stakeholders and collaboration teams and to support implementing MTSS processes in each school.

    Self Assessment: The questions below can be used to help determine the efficacy of both current MTSS resources and frequency of collaboration and to help think about setting your school’s next steps:

    • Are trends being identified during collaboration at the school level, grade level, and student level for student/staff needs across the school?
    • Does the staff have easy access to MTSS framework examples, guides, and planning materials?
    • Are research-based resources shared among staff during collaboration time/professional development?

    Final Thoughts

    Urban legend has it that the late actor/director/martial artist, Bruce Lee, once said, "The truth is found outside of all fixed patterns." Although the transition to fully implementing MTSS is an involved process, the new truth outside of the old "fixed pattern" that is created will be supporting the entire student body, and I cannot think of another more worthwhile mission. 

    Planning for and implementing MTSS is a necessary undertaking, now more than ever, that ensures all student’s needs are met. By thinking through each consideration above and taking each self-assessment, you can understand each issue at its root, work to apply an appropriate solution, and set the next steps. For more information on how the Branching Minds platform can specifically support your school’s MTSS initiatives, request a demo!

    On-Demand Webinar:
    Best Practices on Interpreting Assessment Data

    Best Practices on Interpreting Assessment Data webinar - twitter 2

    Join the Branching Minds team for an hour of learning, as we break down the role of assessments in MTSS, and how to use assessment data as feedback to interventions and instruction. 

    Register now


    The most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform

    Branching Minds has the most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform. Our supports include hundreds of paid evidence-based intervention programs, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources. For each of these supports, BRM helps educators understand what the support is, why and for whom it should be used, how it should be delivered, and connects them to the supporting research and additional material.

    Our learning science team has curated these resources from the most trusted and respected hubs of evidence-based supports, including the Florida Center for Reading Research, What Works Clearinghouse, Evidence for ESSA, Intervention Central, the IRIS Center from Vanderbilt University, Harmony SEL; and, each one has been reviewed and categorized based on the ESSA tiers of evidence guidelines.

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