When I think of the word "culture," I equate it with traditions and success that live on forever through generations, celebrated, embodied, embraced, and most definitely something to be proud of. A standard definition of "cultured" is to be characterized by refined taste, manners, and good education.
Consequently, the same thoughts and equations come to mind when I imagine Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Culture in a school and a school community being MTSS Cultured. I have coined MTSS Culture and MTSS Cultured as terms that explain what must exist in schools for success to be evident in students and educators outside of test scores and data.
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Defined MTSS is a collaborative system of support that wraps around an entire school. As a system-level structure, it provides academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and attendance support for all students. Learn more about MTSS here.
Establishing an MTSS Culture on Campus
As a former administrator and MTSS coordinator, I worked vigorously to ensure that my programs and school community clearly understood what MTSS was and how impactful MTSS is when implemented with fidelity. I created an environment where silos were non-existent because unity through collaboration and strategic planning became the norm. I believe this process led to an acceptance of MTSS, and subsequently, an MTSS Culture was established.
On my campuses, stakeholders began celebrating teachers, staff, students, and parents when they made strides within MTSS. All stakeholders felt accountable for success and failure, and most importantly, those who needed support were identified and quickly helped to succeed by their teams because silos were non-existent.
This was not an easy process; it took time before MTSS culture was evident on my campuses. Once it was apparent that my staff embraced MTSS Culture, it became very noticeable. Some examples:
Staff facilitated MTSS meetings differently:
meeting agendas were concise;
meetings began by celebrating individuals and groups' success with MTSS;
all participants came prepared and were in the "know" about MTSS protocols;
documentation occurred at each meeting, and all stakeholders, including parents, were notified of items discussed through meeting notes; and
veteran teachers taught the "newbie" teachers how to implement and abide by MTSS meeting protocols.
Students were aware of their goals and spoke about their struggles and successes within their tier movement, academic development, attendance, social-emotional learning, and behavior modification. (Read more about the importance of student agency in MTSS).
Parents were actively involved in the MTSS meetings and sought ways at home to implement the same or similar interventions with their students at school.
When I witnessed all this, I realized that I had genuinely observed MTSS Cultured individuals working collaboratively to support students.
The Benefits of a Well-Established MTSS Culture
If school community stakeholders take advantage of MTSS and work to create an MTSS Culture that produces MTSS Cultured students, educators, parents/families, and community members; it will result in the following:
MTSS traditions and academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning (SEL) success live on forever through generations;
individual and group success is celebrated, embodied, and fully embraced;
everyone in the school community is proud to identify with MTSS because it symbolizes unity invested in the growth and success of all involved;
all individuals in the school community have a “refined” taste of what individual and group success is and looks like;
everyone has “manners” that lead to group collaboration for the betterment of all students; and
every student receives an excellent educational experience focused on the entire child (academics, SEL, behavior, attendance).
After I share my above thoughts, most school leaders are inspired but immediately ask me: “How do we develop MTSS Cultured students and school community members?” So, I gladly present four guiding tips to get you started.
4 Guiding Tips for Starting & Establishing an MTSS Culture
I particularly love “starting tips” because they are essential instructions for beginning a particular activity or process for the first time to complete it successfully. My work with educators seeking to support students through MTSS always ends with me giving them the essential items and instructions to accomplish their goals. Below, please find four guiding tips for starting and establishing an MTSS Culture.
TIP #1: Have an MTSS Handbook and Memorialize It
A clear plan for all stakeholders to follow, guide, and refer back to is crucial to building anMTSS culture. All stakeholders develop the MTSS handbook, and once it is established and approved, the handbook should NOT change year to year, outside of any needed staff changes or resources to be added or removed.
The handbook is most potent when it is memorialized for years to come and allows teachers to become familiar and comfortable with it, and that is a game changer. Confusion, frustration, chaos, and exclusion are muted, and collaboration, unity, inclusion, and success are amplified.
MTSS Handbook Quick Tip Takeaways:
Create a handbook with stakeholders that meet the needs of your school community.
Memorialize the MTSS handbook.
Have a process that ensures all educators are comfortable and knowledgeable with the handbook.
Consistently monitor that handbook is being utilized with fidelity and implemented equitably by everyone for every child.
TIP #2: Have Meeting Guides and Consistent Habits When Implementing MTSS
The best way to build MTSS Culture and traditions is to make time and prioritize it in daily practices around your school building, classrooms, and community. In addition, time should be built into educators' schedules to have effective meetings: discuss data, engage in problem-solving, develop intervention plans, progress monitor, and most importantly, understand their role in helping every student succeed. Habits should be built around seeing each child as a whole, not looking at pieces of a child, and consistently monitoring academics, attendance, SEL, and behavioral needs.
Protecting time for these components to happen consistently and efficiently builds capacity within all stakeholders to form positive habits that lead to effective implementation of MTSS practices/processes.
Meetings should include all internal stakeholders, and some meetings must include parents and guardians. This inclusion builds the habit and expectation of all stakeholders being involved in the educational process because everyone's input is valuable and essential. The meeting should also include celebrations.
Branching Minds has a meeting guide that walks educators—at every step of the MTSS process—through what is required of them and their peers to have successful meetings that lead to student success.
Building MTSS Meeting Guides and Consistent Habits Takeaways:
Just as every culture has embedded traditions and celebrations, MTSS Culture should have embedded daily habits.
Have a meeting guide, system, process, and team to track progress and celebrate everyone when they have success within MTSS.
TIP #3: Build and Establish Traditions and Celebrations
Traditions and celebrations can be simple or grand. Whether small or large, it is vital to have inclusive traditions that all stakeholders can identify and build upon, celebrating educators, students, and parents/families acknowledging growth and progress. For example, gifting an "MTSS Success" shirt or pencil for the student, parent, and educator who had the most improvement each week is readily identifiable, inclusive, is a tradition, and celebrates growth and progress.
There should be multi-places on your campus that exhibit and celebrate student and educator success with MTSS and all the other wonderful things happening daily on your campus.
Build and Establish Traditions and Celebrations Quick Tip Takeaways:
Involve all stakeholders to create traditions and healthy habits to implement MTSS effectively.
Whichever MTSS traditions you choose, always remember to celebrate progress to build a positive MTSS Culture.
TIP #4: Have an MTSS Platform That Streamlines It All
Eliminating multiple places where educators have to find critical student information such as current screening data, historical data, support and intervention plans, and parent communications is essential to creating a healthy MTSS Culture. It is well known that utilizing multiple unaligned processes is counterproductive to student success and causes educators to be frustrated and reluctant to embrace MTSS. We have all been there, and it's not a good place to be; for example:
sharing information with colleagues through email (many times, the email goes unread);
walking around the building to get input forms (that your colleague has not filled out, even after several reminders);
spending hours and paying out-of-pocket expenses to obtain resources (that’s never exactly what you need, and you still must alter it to meet your student’s needs);
sorting data from universal screeners in one place and analyzing data in another; and
finding time to meet within your extremely busy schedule with your extremely busy colleagues, sharing data, and making plans in teams, but progress monitoring in silos.
We can all agree it is beyond tiring, unproductive, and not a culture anyone aspires. Instead, change that narrative and build a productive MTSS culture by having one platform that meets all of your school community’s MTSS needs.
Have an MTSS Platform Quick Tip Takeaway:
A single platform, such as Branching Minds, is essential to making MTSS efficient by cutting prep time for meetings and collaboration, reducing documentation, increasing understanding of students’ areas of strength and need, matching the just-right intervention support to specific needs, and as a result, meeting student’s intervention goals.
Creating an MTSS Culture takes time, attention, consistency, and dedication. It's not an easy task and requires hard work, but it is nevertheless worthwhile. Use these four guiding tips to begin developing your MTSS culture and keep moving towards completing it. You will know you are successful when MTSS cultured individuals and groups are thriving within your school community!
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LaTisha Cole is an expert Educator with 12+ years of experience in various capacities within the educational realm including serving as a teacher, MTSS Coordinator, and Administrator. Her passions within the education system include: making high-quality education and resources accessible to all and removing socio-economic disparities and racial inequities that impact students' and families' educational opportunities and outcomes. She is dedicated to working with educators, parents, students, and community members to ensure every stakeholder has a valuable role in ensuring every child receives an equitable and excellent education experience