When developing strategies to improve academics and social-emotional learning, it’s easy to get stuck focusing on only the curriculum, lessons, and approaches we use with individuals or groups of students. Sometimes, it can be beneficial to take a step back and think about the context and environment in which students are learning and how those can be improved.
Branching Minds (BRM) is honored to have a guest post from Marie Stapleton, Lead Title Teacher at Painesville City Local Schools (PCLS) in Ohio. We began our partnership with PCLS in April 2019, and in this experience spotlight, Ms. Stapleton shares her experience using the BRM platform and reflects on how utilizing an MTSS technology has supported both students and teachers in her school. Special thanks to Marie Stapleton for sharing her valued perspective with us. 💙
“The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive, school improvement is building the capacity of school personnel to function as a school community.” - Milbrey McLaughlin
I spent 10 years as a principal and Chief Academic Officer for a K-12 school network. Over that time, I implemented dozens of new initiatives for my schools, all aimed at improving the outcomes for our students.
I have wanted to be an educator for as long as I can remember. My FAVORITE season is back to school; the pencils, new bulletin boards, clean desks with utility crates in the center filled with markers, scissors, and dictionaries. I doubt that among readers, I am alone in this sentiment.
From my early days as a Special Education teacher to my most recent days as a District-level administrator, I have seen first-hand the impact of "good" communication, lack of communication, miscommunication, and misunderstanding that can occur when meeting with families, and specifically, when discussing Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Communicating can be tricky! Are we saying too much? Too little? Are we even on the same page?
Teaching during the pandemic has been hard. I italicized that because hard doesn’t fully capture the extent of difficulty and challenge our educators have faced in these past two years. Even before the pandemic, teaching was hard. It’s a profession guaranteeing long hours, draining days, traditionally low pay, and the constant questioning of “Am I helping my students?”
As school districts across the country are devoting more and more resources to implementing high-quality Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) processes, many district personnel are trying to figure out where the money will come from to fund such initiatives. While some funds may be available for school districts to improve their MTSS practices, many funding sources are available for school districts to implement specific components of MTSS—either across the school/district or specifically for certain targeted populations of students.
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:
We can all agree that effective educators continuously build their practice and pedagogy by collaborating and gathering new knowledge. As Albert Einstein said, “If you’re not learning, you’re dying.” It has become standard practice in schools across the country to allocate ~five full school days and several half days for Professional Learning and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) dedicated to honing our craft. This dedicated time is sacred for educators, needing to step away from the flurry of plans, decisions, and discussions that define their daily work. Professional learning allows us to reflect, learn, and grow with the ultimate goal of helping students, families, and communities achieve and live the most positive school experience.
Educators can easily get lost in day-to-day operations and mistakenly de-prioritize professional learning planning. Suddenly, we notice that a “Professional Development (PD) day” creeps up, and someone has to scrape together a last-minute plan. It may even feel like one group of teachers can be forgotten and assigned to “work in your rooms.” While all educators can appreciate the time to catch up and breathe, professional learning becomes fragmented, and time can be lost for schools working to meet strategic goals.
When it comes to Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) initiatives, this notion could not ring more true given the complexity of providing academic and social-emotional support to every student at whatever ability level they may fall. Moreover, MTSS requires educators to work much more collaboratively to support all students, which can often be challenging at first given the intricacies of school-based scheduling and the different potential levels of understanding of what MTSS means in daily practice.
What is essential to quality professional learning, specifically for an MTSS implementation, is a thoughtful plan that purposefully considers the intricacies mentioned above, level setting the understanding of MTSS, and the school’s annual goals. To accomplish these goals, every stakeholder’s contribution must be valued.
This article will outline the critical components of a thoughtful professional learning plan within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework. We hope that this guidance supports you for the next year as you begin to consider your school year goals and plan for district improvement with purpose and intention.
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.