Top 10 Student Engagement Practices For Tier 1 in MTSS

    MTSS Practice, Tier 1 - Core Instruction

    I have spent the better part of the last decade providing targeted support to schools, educators, and students requesting advice on improving engagement at their Tier 1 level. Through this experience, I have re-engaged students who are re-entering school after hiatus, coached teachers who faced chronic absenteeism, and helped schools develop infrastructures to support better staff, community, and student engagement. 

    How MTSS Unveils Disproportionality & Makes a Difference

    Equity, MTSS Practice

    As we round the corner to almost two years of school disruption due to COVID-19, we continue to see the growing impact on our school-wide population; staff, students, and communities. The far-reaching consequences have yet to be seen; inequities in access to resources, quality instructional materials, and current technology have been magnified. 

    It’s no secret that these are challenging times for all educators and our students. Our most vulnerable populations have fallen the furthest behind due to school disruptions (NAEP dashboards - achievement gaps, n.d.). We have an opportunity to make a difference right NOW in all of our students' lives by addressing and resolving disproportionality within our systems, becoming stewards of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. 

    My co-author and I are both former school leaders and Branching Minds consultants. We support system-wide equity initiatives and tackle challenges related to disproportionality and disparities within our schools. We work hard to help schools support the mantra that ALL truly means ALL students receive support through a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). So, let’s begin—grab your data and get ready to bring disproportionality to the light of day. We’ll provide critical examples of leveraging your MTSS problem-solving to address disproportionality and create equity.

    4 Considerations to Support Educators in MTSS Professional Development

    MTSS Practice, Instituting MTSS

    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?

    Strategies for Continuing MTSS with Reduced Staff

    News, MTSS Practice

    The twelfth teacher has called in sick tomorrow, and you are out of substitutes. Now, you’re deciding whether to combine classrooms or ask an administrator to step in as a teacher for the day. Suddenly, you question whether you have enough staff to open tomorrow, with any plans for student learning or interventions suddenly pushed to the side as you go into an emergency response mode. 

    The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

    Whether teacher absences are due to an influx in COVID-19 cases, unfilled positions from the beginning of the year, an overly stressed staff utilizing a much-needed mental health day, or all of the above, a sudden staff shortage can be an incredibly challenging hurdle for school districts to handle.

    In the age of COVID-19, these shortages can come with hard decisions. In a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Colorado, district officials were forced to transition to remote learning for five days when staff absences surpassed 20%. These difficult decisions can disrupt all aspects of a school’s operations, including fidelity to MTSS processes. 

    The Opportunity of MTSS to Support Educators

    However, MTSS is more relevant in times of educational crises than ever before. MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Supports) is a systematic approach to education that accounts for the needs of the whole student, including support for academic and social-emotional elements of a student’s learning. Better yet, MTSS is not just limited to the students it serves; this system also delivers benefits to a school and its staff—benefits that can help alleviate the strain during times of stress. 

    When faced with times of crisis, it can be easy to push our MTSS practice off to the side as we go into crisis mitigation mode, but staff shortages do not need to spell an end to our MTSS process. Instead, this provides the perfect opportunity to evaluate our MTSS practice and system to ensure that we have implemented a process that can survive a “worse case scenario” dilemma. 

    Let’s take a look at some strategies to continue MTSS with a reduced staff.

    How to Plan MTSS Professional Learning Throughout the Year

    MTSS Practice, Instituting MTSS

    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. 

    How Branching Minds Helps Texas Districts Track HB4545 Requirements

    MTSS Practice, MTSS Data Literacy

    In an effort to support the high rate of students who have experienced significant learning loss caused by remote learning and continued COVID 19-related instruction interruptions, Texas has recently passed House Bill 4545 (HB4545). This new statute outlines updated requirements for school districts to provide supplemental accelerated instruction for all students who do not meet grade-level requirements in the state’s standardized assessments.

    Since this statute was enacted in the summer of 2021, school districts have quickly reacted and developed new procedures to ensure these requirements are met, and students are receiving the accelerated instruction they need. As many Texas Branching Minds partners have already discovered, Branching Minds is quickly adapting and providing districts the help they need to implement these crucial changes successfully.

    Beginning in 3rd grade, all students in Texas public schools take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in core subject areas. In high school, the assessment program changes to the STAAR End of Course (EOC) assessments, five of which are required for graduation. According to the Texas Education Agency, students who do not meet grade-level expectations in these assessments are unlikely to succeed in the next grade or course without significant, ongoing academic intervention.

    The STAAR data from the most recent testing administration highlights the importance of immediate action towards supporting students. Among students tested in 2021, there was a 4% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in reading compared to 2019 and a 16% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in math (source). We do not have time to waste!

    Selecting the Right Interventions to Boost Accelerated Learning

    MTSS Practice, Tier 1 - Core Instruction, Interventions and Learning Supports' Strategies

    Accelerated learning is currently one of the hottest keywords in education. It is hailed as the hero to address the “COVID-19 slide,” which is the concern that students may not be prepared for grade-level instruction due to a loss of instructional time over the past year due to the pandemic. 

    We often hear “learning loss” in relation to the COVID-19 slide—a term I have come across countless times during professional development webinars. I disagree strongly with this term. “Learning loss” implies that students have missed out on learning. As educators, we know that learning did occur last year (and as teachers, we are all tired of defending that point). 

    However, traditional instruction did not occur last year. So the phenomenon we are currently facing is an “instructional loss,” not a “learning loss.” While our students did learn, they did not receive traditional instruction, which would have ensured they had all the skills necessary to master grade-level content.

    The solution? Accelerated learning. 

    For those new to the term, accelerated learning is the adaptation of instruction in which curriculum standards are prioritized based on the learning needs of students. It is an intentional, practical approach to intensive instruction to address a significant gap in skills resulting from a disruption to instruction—such as a global pandemic. 

    What is important to note is that acceleration is not remediation. It is not going back and attempting to fill in every student's gap in knowledge in a content area. Instead, acceleration focuses on what skills are most important for a student to master the content and scaffold those skills using interventions and learning supports in coordination with the grade-level curriculum

    Learning supports and interventions play a crucial role in successfully implementing an accelerated approach. Based upon universal screening data, learning supports provide scaffolding at the core level to address the most common skill gaps in a classroom.

    Research-based interventions provide more targeted and intensive support for students who need extra help mastering grade-level content. Without the combination of data and intervention resources, it’s impossible to deliver differentiated instruction for all student's readiness levels, interests, strengths, and learning preferences required to build up necessary skill sets. 

    ➡️ Related Resource: A Quick Review of MTSS Supports, Interventions, and Accommodations

    That’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t address the actual “how-to” when selecting these supports and interventions. Let’s take a moment to analyze three considerations when choosing appropriate supports for accelerated learning:

    Best Practices for Meetings and How to Apply Them to MTSS

    MTSS Practice, Instituting MTSS

    Meetings are meant to be an engine of productivity in the workplace, but let’s face it—you must have been in one of these meeting situations at least once:

    • Wondering why you are in a particular meeting and checking your inbox or doing work while checked out entirely from the conversation;
    • Struggling to keep your eyes open as the conversation droned on and on in the room about something so unrelated to your work;
    • Found yourself stuck in a meeting where it wasn’t clear what was being decided;
    • The meeting gets off on a side tangent, and you spend the entire time talking about something that doesn’t move the work forward;
    •  You have something to say but are unsure whether it’s the right time or place;
    • All of the above!

    Meetings constitute a large part of our work and an essential part of the work of educators as they come together to make decisions that in most cases impact students’ life and future. And to be honest and realistic, nobody wants to sit in boring, unproductive, and poorly facilitated meetings—your time as a professional and, most notably, as an educator is way too valuable for that! 

    Meetings facts:

    While there isn’t a standardized way to count this, this estimate is based upon some data and extrapolation, and these statistics are staggering:

    • In the US alone, approximately 55 million meetings happen every single day
    • If you’re a manager, on average, you’re probably meeting 12 times/week
    • If you’re an individual contributor, on average, you’re probably meeting eight times/week
    Source: Lucimeetings

    School and district teams need to take a systematic approach to run team meetings as in the business world. 

    So let’s unpack meetings, their best practices, and how to apply them in the MTSS context.

    Meeting Lifecycle

    There are only three phases of any meeting’s lifecycle:

    • Before the meeting:
      • Planning an agenda
      • Scheduling a meeting
      • Researching attendees (when applicable)
      • Preparing presentation or discussion material
      • Assigning pre-meeting homework when applicable (reviewing data, reading documents, etc.)
    • During the meeting:
      • Preparing to join a meeting (dialing into a zoom call, planning a commute, or meeting room transfer for in-person)
      • Deciding action items, respective owners, and timelines
      • Taking brief meeting notes
    • After the meeting:
      • Writing detailed meeting notes
      • Sharing notes with attendees and colleagues who were not part of the meeting
      • Entering information into some system of record for tracking purposes
      • Completing your action items
      • Following up on others’ action items

    Meeting Norms & Best Practices

    Meeting norms can be subjective and vary from one organization to another and from one team to another, but the foundations remain the same.

    At Branching Minds, we crafted our meeting expectations from input provided by the entire team after participating in a survey assessing our meeting culture and a series of workshops on how to make our meetings better. Those meeting norms are designed to help us achieve greater productivity while allowing us to live our values best. 

    Our meetings at Branching Minds are expected to be:

    • Inclusive - every attendee has a voice
    • A Shared Experience - everyone has an active role and is contributing
    • Productive - we get in with a purpose, we get out with action steps toward that purpose
    • Responsive - the meeting structure evolves based on the needs of the team
    Although we have designed our norms for us, they do not differ much from the standard norms applicable in any team.

    Here is the comprehensive list of norms for showing up in meetings to consider:

    Before the meeting:

    During the meeting:

    After the meeting:

    • Do your homework before the meeting! Check the agenda before the meeting, address any required actions or preparation needed (e.g., readings, data review, drafting docs, etc.) 
    • Show up and start on time. 

    If you are the meeting caller and/or facilitator:

    • Make sure there is a purpose for the meeting and that the goal is clear
    • Send an agenda early on to allow people to prepare
    • Assign roles: including a note-taker, a timekeeper, and a facilitator.
    • Stay engaged, rather than doing other things unrelated to the meeting 
    • As a participant, you are expected to be engaged and participate. Ask questions actively, and request clarification. Do not assume!
    •  
    • Stay on topic, and avoid tangential conversations 
    • If the host's camera is on, everyone's camera is on
    • Keep your cameras and audio on 

    If you are the meeting caller and/or facilitator:

    • Prioritize items 
    • Stick to the agenda
    • Promote and model ostentatious listening*
    • Make sure all voices are heard (a good practice is to start your meeting with a check-in question)
    • Create a safe space that promotes creativity and where people feel safe enough to speak 
    • Before the end of the meeting, confirm that everyone got what they needed and that their actions are clear
    • End the meeting with a check-out - short feedback on the meeting and a sacred space for each person to share. It will allow seed improvement for the next meeting.
    • Follow up on action steps after the meeting: Define action steps, assign work to specific individuals, and hold each other accountable (e.g., using Asana and scheduling due dates).
    • Follow-through: Send meeting notes or a recap of decisions and action items, when appropriate.

    If you are the meeting caller and/or facilitator:

    • Sum up the meeting with notes and action items. 
    • Make sure these notes are accessible to everyone who attended the meeting. 


    *Ostentatious listening is when team members demonstrate they are actively listening by repeating what has just been said, and making eye contact. Watch this video by Charles Duhigg, starting 01:28, about the characteristics of perfect teams.

    Applying Meeting Norms Within an MTSS Framework

    While the initial perception is that adopting an MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) practice adds additional meetings, it actually refocuses meetings—we don’t meet just for the sake of meeting; we meet with a clear structure. As MTSS meets the needs of the entire student body, these processes ensure that no student “falls through the cracks.”

    ➡️ Related Resource: Communication Planning for MTSS

    In an effective MTSS or RTI model, there are different meeting processes, structures and objectives that allow effective problem-solving at the school, grade/content team, and individual student level. These meetings have different functions and agendas, as follow:

    The School Leadership Meeting

    This meeting is conducted three times a year, similar to a universal screener. The goal of this meeting is to understand the school-wide health and wellness around MTSS. The School Leadership team reviews school-level data (assessment scores, tier demographic distributions, tier movement and referral rates, etc.) to answer the question, "Is this a healthy school?"

    The Grade/Content Team Community Meeting

    This meeting happens monthly, during a dedicated grade team meeting time. This meeting aims to discuss and problem-solve for students the teachers are concerned about because they aren't making sufficient progress, typically students' recieving Tier 2 support, and to check in on students' receiving Tier 3 support. Grade/Content teams create/review these students' intervention plans and refer students for a Student Check-in Meeting if needed.

    The Individual Student Support Meeting

    This meeting provides the time and space for individualized deep dive problem-solving for students not making sufficient progress when supported by the Grade/Content Team Community Meeting.

    ➡️ Related Resource: MTSS Resources for School Leadership

    MEETING TYPE

    SCHOOL-LEVEL MTSS MEETING

    GRADE/CONTENT TEAM MTSS MEETING

    INDIVIDUAL PROBLEM-SOLVING MTSS MEETING

    GOAL

    Evaluate school-wide health and wellness of MTSS practice

    Monitor progress of students' receiving Tier 2 support and look for trends in support needs at the system, teacher, or student level

    Deeper dive problem-solving for students not making sufficient progress, and to create/revise Intervention Plans

    DURATION/ FREQUENCY

    1 hour, 3x per year (post-universal screeners)

    1 planning period a month

    Weekly or bi-weekly ½ or full-day meetings (depending on the number of students needing Tier 3 support)

    ATTENDANCE

    • Principal
    • Data specialists (e.g., AP or counselor)
    • Student 
    • Service/instructional service representative
    • Special Ed representative/ teacher
    • Grade-level rep (large schools) OR Gen Ed teacher rep (small schools)
    • All teachers and specialists who are working with students receiving Tier 2 support in that grade or content area.
    • MTSS lead (principal, AP, or school psych)
    • Intervention specialist(s)
    • Rotating gen ed teacher of the student being discussed

    AGENDA

    • Examine the percent of students adequately served by the core
    • Examine equity of core instruction (across demographics, grades, and classrooms)
    • Evaluate student body growth and tier movement
    • Evaluate equity of student growth and tier movement
    • Evaluate quality of intervention delivery 
    • Plan for improved support

    First meeting after screener

    • Review tiers and students that will receive tiered support
    • Create groups and plans for students participating in Tier 2 support
    • Schedule student problem-solving meetings for students participating in Tier 3 support

    Follow-up meetings

    • Review progress of groups receiving Tier 2 support
    • Look for trends in student growth
    • Make course corrections to promote growth (e.g., provide support to teachers, change strategy)
    • Schedule individual problem-solving for students if necessary
    • Teacher presents data
    • Team evaluates individual student progress
    • Team analyzes and identifies problems
    • Team creates intervention plan to support student

    **Should avg 4-5 students in a ½ day, or 8-10 students in a full day

    Get a downloadable version of this chart
    The MTSS Meetings Guide
    ⬇️⬇️⬇️

     

    Example of How to Apply Standard Meeting Norms in an MTSS Meeting

    Before the meeting

    During the meeting

    After the meeting

    • The facilitator is responsible for identifying whether a meeting is needed, ensuring that the meeting has been scheduled and that participants have been invited and are available to attend, identifying participant roles, and reviewing and preparing meeting materials (e.g., agenda, participant guide, student summary information)
    • Key roles to be assigned:
      • Facilitator: Explains the purpose of the meeting and keeps the participants on task 
      • Referring teacher: Completes pre-meeting student summary form, describes the student, and shares student data during the meeting
      • Scribe: Takes informal notes and tracks brainstorming ideas in a visible space
      • Timekeeper: Times each section of the meeting and helps the team adhere to the allotted time
      • Note-taker: Takes formal notes for documentation using a template
    • Ensure that the team includes members who know the student, have expertise in data analysis, have expertise in content, and have authority to make decisions.
    • Collecting and sharing student information and data 
    • During the meeting, the facilitator explains the purpose of the meeting and keeps the participants on task.
    • Introduce the meeting and review its purpose
    • Describe the student and share data
    • Ask clarifying questions to create a hypothesis
    • Promote and model ostentatious listening as participants take turns to talk or share
    • Review evidence-based strategies for intensification
    • Prioritize and plan
    • Wrap-up and establish next steps

    After the meeting, the facilitator will follow up on the next steps identified during the meeting. 

    The next steps are as follows: 

    • Ensuring the follow-up meeting is scheduled
    • Confirming the plan has been documented and shared with relevant educators and team members
    • Confirming information has been shared with parent(s) 
    • Checking in with the referring teacher regarding the intervention implementation and data collection

    Meetings are critical for educators to get together and collaborate to help students succeed, and many people spend most of their time in them. However, at the same time, many feel that the meetings they attend are ineffective and a waste of their time because of lack of structure, unclear purpose, poor facilitation, absence of data and lack of preparation, etc. Creating effective meetings by utilizing agendas, meeting roles, and many of the norms and tactics we listed above can ensure that something frequently done can also bring significant value.

    Sources:

    The National Center on Intensive Intervention - Intensive Intervention Meeting Facilitator's Guide

    The National Center on Intensive Intervention - Implementation & Intervention Data Teaming Tools

    Lucimeetings

    The New York Times - What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

    An MTSS Flowchart: Guiding the Intervention Process

    MTSS Practice, MTSS Basics, Interventions and Learning Supports' Strategies

    There is a learning curve for all educators working through the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) to help identify students’ needs. As a former school psychologist, I was often able to make recommendations on effective ways to support students in school and on following MTSS processes. 

    I’ve heard it said that many school psychologists, case managers, and other student support team members have fallen into the position of reviewing student interventions that were tried but were not “evidence-based.” Or perhaps, having to explain to a colleague that there wasn’t sufficient data to qualify moving a student between tiers, much less qualify for special education. 

    In my experience, I found that utilizing MTSS processes ensured that before a student is ever evaluated for special education, the continuum of support based upon the student's identified needs has already been provided, documented, and it was already determined if the prior interventions were working.

    That being said, it may not be easy for any school team member to remind a colleague to follow a process, and reiterating to my colleagues the critical need to follow the MTSS processes was one of the essential parts of my role. This discussion provided the opportunity for me to help teachers understand the process for supporting growth and meeting the needs of all students. 

    Integrating SEL Into an MTSS Framework: Resolving Four Common Problems

    SEL and Behavior, MTSS Practice

    Many educators are familiar with social and emotional learning (SEL) and a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), but integrating these two frameworks can be challenging. Not only does it require a complete understanding of both SEL and MTSS, but there also needs to be cohesion and collaboration across different leadership teams, classroom teachers, as well as academic, social-emotional, and behavioral specialists. 

    Below, we outline four common problems that educators run into when merging these systems and our recommendations for resolving these issues to ultimately strengthen SEL implementation within MTSS.